Monday, August 08, 2011

Dahal Charts A Middle Path

Pushpa Kamal Dahal the geopolitician has consistently made far greater sense than he has as a politician. Look at how he sought to brush aside the stubbornly sticking pro-Chinese tag the other day.
“If you recall, when I was prime minister, I had mooted the idea of an east-west railway,” Dahal said in remarks to a daily newspaper before his departure for Kuala Lumpur. “That process is still on. Does that give me a pro-India tag?”
Dahal’s comments came in response to his increasingly active involvement in the Asia-Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF), an organization widely projected by the Indians and their Nepalese protégés as a front for the Chinese government.
In the past, when Dahal left to attend APECF sessions, he sparked fierce speculation on which ranking Chinese official he was actually meeting with and what new twist he would then give our hopelessly contorted politics.
When APECF proposed a $3 billion project to boost Lumbini as the equivalent of Mecca for the world’s Buddhists, Dahal’s involvement became even more headline grabbing. Then when it emerged that former crown prince Paras Shah, like Dahal, is a co-chairman of the foundation along with eight other individuals, heads started spinning faster. (Dahal never said he would pick and choose his associations with Nepalese commoners, so Maila Baje thinks he owed no explanation there.)
The announcement in Beijing last month that Hu Yuandong, head of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s China Investment and Technology Promotion Office, and Xiao Wunan, Executive Vice-Chairman of the APECF, had signed a formal agreement pertaining to the Lumbini project split our republican establishment right across the middle.
It took several weeks for an official response to come. The configuration of the ruling political alliance must have deterred an immediate response. One civil society luminary, flustered by China’s assertive intentions in post-monarchy Nepal, urged Beijing not to trust the Maoists. He coupled that assertion by explaining to us that the Chinese were only looking out for themselves in Nepal.
As the din of the collective ‘duh’ permeated the Nepalese ambience, the government secretary responsible for Lumbini’s development criticized the agreement, saying Nepal had not been consulted. Ordinarily, such a caustic remark would have sounded the death knell for the project. But in these extraordinary times, this bureaucratic appeal to our patriotism fell flat and the hapless official was forced to resign.
If news of Dahal’s departure to Kuala Lumpur gave a gripping headache to opponents of the Lumbini plan, just imagine how they must be feeling that he is scheduled to return home accompanying a senior delegation to discuss the details of the project. The team, led by senior Chinese leader Zhou Yongkang, serving as special envoy of Chinese president Hu Jintao, will hold discussion on conducting a feasibility study for developing Lumbini – and not just as a pilgrimage but a much broader special development zone.
“The birthplace of Lord Buddha is important for Nepal with regard to our economic prosperity and cultural development,” Dahal said in his newspaper interview. Officially still a confirmed atheist, Dahal would have a hard time peddling the four-fold noble truths in defense of the project. So the commercial aspect has come to the forefront. Yet there is more than a whiff of the spiritual in Dahal’s espousal of the middle path between our two neighbors.