Monday, June 20, 2011

Politics In An Age Of Elitism

A conspicuous sense of elitism has been creeping into the body politic for a while, culminating in the recent utterances of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. No, the Maoist vice-chairman insists, he doesn’t want to become prime minister just to add one more portrait on that wall at Singha Darbar.
But he doesn’t restrain his minions from claiming that India, China, the United States and the European Union would all like to have him in the top job. (Thank goodness, he is popular with Nepalis, too. Imagine what it would be like to be in his party if he were less so.)
Dr. Bhattarai concedes that the Maoists, too, have been consumed by the factionalism and rivalries that have been the bane of other Nepalese parties. But that is only because of the former rebels’ increasing contacts with those same other parties.
Granted, without Dr. Bhattarai’s specialness, the Maoists would not have been the success story among the international revolutionary left despite their lack of a complete victory. You can go beyond that. Many a person who has topped his or her batch’s SLC list has soon lost the rush to excellence.
If Dr. Bhattarai had been cowered by the heavy police batons in the vicinity of Nepal Electricity Corporation during his relatively obscure days in the early nineties, he probably wouldn’t have become a serious contender for the premiership. Today his persona is such that his wife can become a minister just because of whom she is married to. (Although one must acknowledge the suffering she endured while joining her husband in that reform camp in the months preceding the 12-Point Agreement.)
But you can’t help notice the ludicrous levels the I-know-better-than-you air has taken. Dr. Bhattarai recently claimed that Nepal could fall victim to overt foreign interference within the next decade if we are not collectively careful. Aren’t we already there yet?
At another place, he decried the King Mahendra-style of foreign policy of playing one neighbor off against the other as thoroughly unworkable. But didn’t Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi visit the airport transit lounge for talks with King Mahendra whenever he was en route to a third country?
And didn’t Mao Zedong pay the much-maligned monarch that rare return visit to his residence in Beijing? If it was a game King Mahendra was playing, then New Delhi and Beijing were willful participants, weren’t they?
A senior Chinese leader not too long ago described Dr. Bhattarai as being Nepal’s Deng Xiaoping. (The more diehard Chinese communists and their Nepali cousins would probably see him more in Khrushchev’s mold.) Maila Baje feels the honorific may have also resulted from the Chinese belief that they could help Dr. Bhattarai save himself from becoming someone else.
In the aftermath of the Narayanity Carnage, Dr. Bhattarai had labeled King Gyanendra as Nepal’s equivalent of Lhendup Dorje – the Sikkimese quisling – an assertion he virtually said he stood by a decade later. That Dr. Bhattarai today should be battling to ward off the same epithet from within his own party – not to speak from a section of the country – says less about the country’s political craziness than about the corrosiveness of the careless talk by people certifiably smarter than the rest of us.