Monday, June 27, 2011

A Ruse Or Real?

Is United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal battling for his political life or is the public war of words within the party merely a clever ruse?
The facts on the ground seem to point to the former. Vice-chairmen Mohan Baidya and Baburam Bhattarai, who can barely agree on anything, have mounted a joint challenge to Dahal. Together, the duo represents two-thirds of the parliamentary party. The former prime minister, who is now said to be in the minority on all party fronts, can no longer hope to pull ahead by pitting his two deputies against each other.
This is a sordid twist to a political saga woven with elements of suspense, intrigue and drama. From someone who was once thought not even to really exist, Dahal managed to meet the Chinese President, Indian prime minister and American president (albeit briefly in a wider gathering) within his first 100 days as premier.
His powers of evasion and prevarication were so masterful that flexibility and firmness became interchangeable terms on the negotiating table and on the battlefield. The country couldn’t figure out whether Dahal was really a republican or not until that vote during the first session of the constituent assembly in 2008. (Rumor has it that he was, until the last moment, still cautioning then-prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala that putting the issue to a vote might not be the right way forward.) Maila Baje has a nagging sense that Nepalis in general still do not seem to really know, given the number of escape clauses he has constructed over the years.
Even when he was caught on tape treading at the height of dishonesty on the number of Maoist combatants, he found admirers flabbergasted at his skills in juxtaposing time and context. For a while, he seemed to enjoy a personality cult reminiscent of the Great Helmsman that was largely devoid of the fear and coercion that characterized the phase up north.
Yet today, people on the lower rungs of the Maoist leadership have stuck their necks wide out to criticize the party chairman’s imperious ways. The fear of being turned into another ‘Alok’ has simply evaporated. Reports of Dahal’s alleged cowardice under fire are percolating from precisely those who were in the battlefield with them.
Charges of nepotism, favoritism, financial vice – the pervasiveness of which led Dahal to transform an organization based in four mid-western districts into a national party and the largest force in the last election – have come to hobble him. Although he chuckled them off on hearing them, rumors of a Sri Lanka-like crackdown under a prime minister K.P. Oli after the latest three-month extension of the constituent assembly expires are said to be haunting him these days.
Dahal has milked the Birendra-Madan-Bhandari-and-me defense to its fullest that is going to be of little help now. Even if he compromises with the foreign masters he accused of forcing him out as premier, will he have any way of knowing that they have shed their core inhibitions?
Will his persona and predilections allow him to concede the party leadership to Baidya and the premiership to Bhattarai? Will he be able to extricate himself from the special interests that have come to surround him and his family?
These are crucial questions. Yet it is hard to believe that Dahal has lost his ability to amaze us. That is why we must return to the original question. By keeping us guessing on the real-versus-ruse deal, Dahal could yet pull ahead of his detractors.