Sunday, September 25, 2011

Who Really Needs A Maoist Split?

With the Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Mohan Baidya factions engaged in a full-throttled war of words, talk of a split in the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) has become louder. Despite the growing acrimony in their public references to each other, Dahal and Baidya both claim the Maoists will defy Nepalese political convention by remaining united.
Still, the escalating duel has sent reverberations at multiple levels. The cynical school still maintains that the wily Maoists have manufactured another crisis for public consumption while aiming to gain further ground. Regardless of how the infighting ultimately affects the future of the Baburam Bhattarai government, the prime minister will still be complicit in putting the party above everything else.
Let’s take the realist school next. The decision to hand over the keys to the Maoist weapons containers and the four-point pact with the Madhesi alliance to cobble together the ruling coalition are the two things that has infuriated the Baidya faction. It is hard to believe that Dahal and Bhattarai could have pushed through either by keeping the hardliners in the dark. So any bad blood today would have to take account not only grievances accumulating over time but also the shifting alliances of the recent past.
What specific commitments did each faction make and who double-crossed whom? Here, too, the Maoists have only deferred to the personality and patronage-based debilities that are intrinsic to the system they have entered (which, again they had originally vowed to overthrow).
The more disturbing element of the discussion of the latest intra-party rivalry is the one that is being pursued with the greatest seriousness – superficially, though. The fighters in the camps do not support Baidya and his bluster of an armed revolt, we were told right after the keys row erupted. The Maoists have invested too much in the political process – and have become too dependent on its patronage – to do anything but struggle along through peaceful competition.
That narrative seemed to lose its luster pretty quick. Now we are told – including by expatriate conflict experts – that there is a real chance of at least a faction of the Maoists reverting to armed insurgency. Should they do so, one expert warned the other day, all of us should be prepared to bear responsibility.
Maila Baje, as usual, believes that alien hands are getting off too easily here. The external dimensions will define much of the international deliberations on the Maoists. Just consider the following:

* The Indians, who nurtured the Maoists the most during their most lethal years, are having the toughest time dealing with them in their ostensibly defanged form.

* The Chinese, who not only publicly repudiated the local adherents of the Great Helmsman as a stain on his memory but also continued to arm the royal regime until the very end to suppress the rebels, are today seen as the primary beneficiaries of the political rise of the Nepalese Maoists.

* In a span of three years, two American presidents – representing sharply polarized political parties – spared time for Nepalese Maoist prime ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly while still keeping the organization on the terrorism list.

And we’re not even talking about the Europeans who have collectively and individually deployed the Maoists as a tool of autonomous assertiveness. (The international non-government sector has only picked up from where officialdom has chosen to restrain itself.)
So, who really needs our Maoists to split? Given the current goings-on in the party, the one-party Nepali Maoist state that everybody seems to dread might not be so all-round asphyxiating after all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Relevance Of Being Deuba

“They took four years to hand over the keys of the containers with their weapons; how long will
they take to hand over the actual weapons,” Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba mused the other day. Some took that as an intelligent inquiry from a former prime minister widely dismissed as dreary.
The three-time premier has had much calumny heaped on him primarily because of his purported lack of acumen. Shortly after he took the oath for the first time in 1995, someone happened to mention casually that he was Nepal’s first western-trained head of government. The howls of derision erupted all at once.
Sure, Deuba had a brief stint at the London School of Economics, once critic conceded, but he spent most of his time out of academic circles. Others recounted the number of unskilled and tedious jobs he had held in and around the British capital all the while presuming to be a student. Still others claimed that the Nepali Congress had merely exiled him away to prevent him from joining the Panchayat system and that London – with or without the School of Economics – simply happened to be the first opportunity available.
Deuba managed to keep his coalition afloat through a variety of underhand means. Today, he can count some of the key beneficiaries of his patronage among those who continue rail the loudest against the vileness of his politics. Yet it has become easy to forget that his government was brought down through the foulest of means. Deuba was egged on by his party leader Girija Prasad Koirala to hold a vote of confidence he was not constitutionally obliged to seek, only to have Koirala prevent two ruling party MPs from voting, thereby depriving him of the crucial votes.
Deuba’s second stint, as the head of a majority government, proved more tumultuous. He held peace talks with the Maoists and, once they failed, mobilized the military against the rebels. He met the sitting U.S. president in the Oval Office and became the first Nepalese head of government to organize a regional summit. Besieged, he split the party and pressed ahead with his plan to hold elections, all the while reviled as a tool of the palace. The fact that he ultimately fell victim to the palace did little to rehabilitate his image. He tried to shame the leaders who pushed him to postpone the elections and resist resigning, but it proved futile.
Shunned by the fraternity, he became a palace-appointed prime minister of a multiparty coalition. At this point, he began losing some of his steadfast supporters. But Deuba knew they were with him primarily because they either opposed or had been shunned by Koirala. Again, Deuba sought elections above everything else, while his deputy prime minister, Bharat Mohan Adhikary, pressed for peace.
When the palace sacked Deuba a second time, he didn’t say much because it wasn’t too hard for him to accept that he had been a royal appointee serving at the pleasure of the monarch. He did end up on the receiving end of a high-profile corruption case.  Buried in the recent dump of Wikileaks cables Maila Baje found an interesting nugget.
Shortly after his release from detention in the twilight of the royal regime, Deuba was quoted as telling US Ambassador James F. Moriarty that five years down the road, people would stop blaming the king for the affairs of state, regardless of how things unfolded. Amid the general jubilation over the sidelining and eventual ousting of the monarchy, Deuba rued the absence of proper mechanisms to contend with the Maoist steamroller. In their comments, embassy diplomats seemed to discount his sentiments as the grandeur of someone struggling to retain his relevance.
Deuba never exuded exclusivity. When party colleagues cited his poor command of the English language as host of the SAARC summit, he conceded that he had a hard time with Nepali as such. Deflected by his self-deprecation, critics continue to cite his elite matrimonial relations, his general geopolitical orientation and a host of far less pertinent tidbits to denigrate his relevance. But to little effect.
Deuba may have lost his bid to become a consensus prime minister, but not without forcing his principal rival, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, to step down from his self-constructed pedestal and become a mere mortal majority premier.
In the larger scheme of things, Deuba may have dismissed Dr. Bhattarai’s 40-point charter because of the exigencies of the Mahakali Treaty. Yet unlike most in his fraternity, Deuba is still is willing give the Maoist leader a chance to implement the vision that document championed. That may not necessarily be smart politics, but it is by no means irrelevant.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Unholy Or Not, It Sure Is Full Of Holes

Barely two weeks in office, is Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai already so firmly entrenched on the defensive side of the field? No one has the power to bring down his government, Bhattarai is said to retort every time someone of any consequence broaches the oddity of the alliance he sits atop.
Bhattarai’s defiance, to be sure, contains a stronger tinge of displeasure than determination. After all, no less a personage than Communications Minister Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) insists that the government is already heading down the path to failure.
In the midst of this brouhaha, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Bhattarai’s staunchest ally – at least in public – goes ‘missing’ for almost 48 hours. Gupta, the most outspoken critic of the government from within, may be embittered by Bhattarai’s failure to grant him one of the deputy premierships. But let’s not forget that Gupta has become quite close to Dahal in recent weeks.
Critics of all colors are finding enough dirt to tar the ruling alliance. And the muck seems likely to stick the hardest on the man on the top. Most of the UDMF ministers bring a distinct reputation, for better or worse, to their latest jobs. The Maoist ministers, too, have become sort of known quantities. The cleanest slate belongs to Bhattarai. Unfortunately for him, it’s also the easiest to blemish.
The legislative numbers game apart, what make the motions of this alliance interesting is its interlocking antagonisms. If the Dahal-Bhattarai decision to hand over the keys to the Maoists’ arms containers has made Mohan Baidya livid, Gupta blames the Maoist squabbling for non-compliance with the four-point pact that sealed the coalition.
Baidya, however, sees the commitments as reflected on paper as an unmitigated threat to the nation. Specifically, he has disdain for the manner in which his party rivals agreed to establish a separate group for Madhesis in the national army while virtually surrendering away the right of wholesale entry of former Maoist soldiers into the state force. (You can quibble with the way Baidya seeks to establish equivalence between rebels and regular folks, but one point cannot be missed: the Maoist fighters have already proved their mettle).
Asked by a reporter for a leading daily whether the peculiarity of the ruling alliance would ultimately help him to revive his party’s nationalist plank, Baidya dodged. Yet his chuckles (which the interviewer made a point of inserting in the published piece) said it all. Anticipating irreparable rifts within the Maoists, some Nepali Congress and CPN-UML leaders have spoken of their readiness to prop up the Bhattarai government. At the same time, rival factions in each of the two principal opposition parties are becoming more candid in calling the Maoist-UDMF pact unholy.
The Gaur massacre brought out our north-south divide in gory vividness. A coalition that could have stood as a symbol of a much-needed healing process has brought back spasms of that pain – with the complicity of those who complain about it.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

‘Less Risky But Still Dangerous’

That’s how Nepal has been described in a survey of 198 states. Well, actually we share the category with the likes of Turkey, Mauritania, Morocco and Myanmar. While the Terrorism Risk Index – compiled by the British firm Maplecroft – ranks the world’s most dangerous countries, it also reflects the investment image there.
The first group on the list includes the 20 most dangerous countries, with Somalia at the top. Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan are among the other countries in the group. The two categories behind us are “moderately risky” and “safest” countries. In the region, we’re better off than Pakistan and India, but worse than Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (which, by the way, fares better than Britain). Globally, we outdo Russia and Israel.
Professor Bishwambher Pyakuryel, however, does not seem terribly impressed. “Nepal, though named less risky, has not been able to retain minimum growth and failed to attract any big multinational investment,” he said in a conversation with a leading daily. The prominent economist added that there is a systemic error in the country’s governance. “Without identifying the systemic error, it will be difficult for policy intervention.”
Experts insist that lack of internal capacity building, infrastructure bottlenecks, the energy crisis and militant labor unions, among other things, have hindered foreign direct investment. Yet according to published figures quoting the central bank, Nepal attracted FDI worth Rs 6.06 billion in the first 11 months of fiscal 2010/2011, compared to Rs 2.41 billion in the corresponding period the previous year.
With the country officially in peace – albeit a tenuous one – and foreign investment having more than doubled in a year, you might have expected to find Nepal in a different league. We may be the subject of intensifying Sino-Indian rivalry, but we are not as internationally isolated as Myanmar is. Nor do we have a religion-versus-secularism conflict at the state-level that is as searing as Turkey’s.
As our once-armed Maoists were poised to lead the government after their electoral success in August 2008, the military in Mauritania stage a coup against an elected government. Unlike Morocco, we tend to be in undisputed possession of the territory under our sovereign control. (Or at least an overwhelming part of it).
Now, Maila Baje recognizes that the risks are becoming ever more obvious. Even in our state of secular ecstasy, Christians are worried by the criminalization of proselytization. Deep down, homosexuals see the recent manifestations of our liberalism as the tolerance of a populace in transition. Civil society and their external enablers are so obsessed with addressing the impunities of the past that they are blinded to those of the present. (Maybe that’s their investment in the future.)
Yet look at it this way. Maybe we shouldn’t be worried by the systemic error in governance that Prof. Pyakuryel alerts us to.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be worried by our place on the Global Terrorism Index or its implications for our economy. With all our ills, FDI did – and can – grow because the Indians who do most of the investing themselves fare worse on the index than we do. And let’s not even talk about the indirect inflows that make unholy alliances and break existing unfaithful ones. The Chinese, on the other hand, don’t even need to make public what kind of money they deal in – direct or indirect – because they know no one’s going to believe them anyway. As for the rest of the crowd, they know the kind of security risk and danger affords.