Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Last Hope Of Our Republic?

The time may have come to rally around Baburam Bhattarai as premier. And no, it’s not because he remains by far the most popular among the leading contenders.
Over the past three years, Dr. Bhattarai has remained unabashed in claiming personal credit for turning Nepal into a republic. To the extent that any single person could claim ownership over that endeavor, Dr. Bhattarai may even have a point. But the self-assertion has lost none of its arrogant ring.
Yet you have to acknowledge that the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist vice-chairman might be able to give a semblance of sanity to this whole peace process precisely because of the personal stake he presumably sees involved here.
Then there’s that other reason. Dr. Bhattarai insists that he doesn’t want to become prime minister just to add one more portrait on that illustrious wall inside Singha Darbar. This means he comes to the job with a sense of purpose, regardless of how hazy that might sound to the rest of us.
A few months ago, he claimed to have started the process of developing a new model for Nepal, equating the country’s precariousness to that which Bhimsen Thapa had faced. He can’t be forced to show his hand unless he becomes prime minister, can he?
Our most favorite Maoist across the southern border is not anathema to the north. A visiting Chinese dignitary had bestowed on Dr. Bhattarai the title of Nepal’s Deng Xiaoping. Forget the layers of disparate meanings associated with the Great Mandarin’s pronouncement because there is a more important message. To the best of Maila Baje’s knowledge, the Chinese epithet has not provoked the slightest trace of derision from the Indians.
Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal will have to work the hardest to swallow his pride. Without the arsenal of Dr.  Baburam Bhattarai’s vocabulary, Dahal knows he would have had long lost his war on the battlefield. Mohan Baidya, too, crossed the rubicon when he joined hands with Dr. Bhattarai against Dahal. He can just as easily begin collaborating with Dahal in undermining Bhattarai once again, but not before the latter takes the oath of office and secrecy.
By blaming the Nepali Congress’ “recklessness” for King Mahendra’s takeover in December 1960, Dr. Bhattarai seemed to have imperiled his position within our top democratic party. His lament that fake republicans were dominating national politics by sidelining the real ones, too, was a thinly disguised attack on the Nepali Congress.
The CPN-UML, too, will be hard-pressed to go along. Bringing Madhav Kumar Nepal into the Constituent Assembly, overruling the people’s mandate, was the greatest mistake of the Maoists, Dr. Bhattarai once lamented. He also had called the CPN-UML under Jhal Nath Khanal as a band of eunuchs.
Yet this is a time for the other parties to show magnanimity. If Dr. Bhattarai were to seek another extension of the constituent assembly, the people might actually turn out to be more sympathetic. If things are really so hopeless as to defy even Dr. Bhattarai, then Nepalis might be more inclined to look for reasons not necessarily related to the political class.
It would perhaps be too much to expect Dr. Bhattarai to acknowledge failure in formal words, should it come to that. His resignation would say it all. But would it hurt to expect him to succeed?