Sunday, October 23, 2011

Which Lhendup Does Our PM See?

It seems the specter of Kazi Lhendup Dorji is going to haunt us ever more haughtily after Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s visit to India. When people ordinarily as far apart as Ram Chandra Paudel of the Nepali Congress and Ram Bahadur Thapa of the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist join in revulsion at the centerpiece of the bilateral agreements signed during the visit, the departed Sikkimese leader has a ghost of a chance at salvation.
Since Lhendup Dorji has become much more than a metaphor in our national consciousness, Maila Baje feels we need to look at the apparition squarely in the visage – or whatever we can find of it. As he performed stylishly during different acts of Sikkim’s national stage, did Lhendup Dorji ever recognize how all that would culminate in the phenomenon that would live on as his singular legacy? Or was Sikkim’s merger into the Indian union in 1975 an amalgam of decisions, traits and attitudes whose denouement the leading protagonist could scarcely have been aware of at each step?
To be sure, Lhendup did not have boisterous detractors warning of the impending degeneration of his name into the kind of infamy it has sunk to in Nepal. (And, yes, Nepal, we must emphasize, until we learn of an outbreak of any serious independence movement in Sikkim itself). How much of the kazi’s animus towards the monarchy was personal? Even if it were significant enough, could it by itself have so blinded Lhendup to the possibility of the loss of his country’s independence? In the grand geopolitical scheme of things, how much were the wives at fault, the queen being an American and the kazini a European?
Or was Lhendup mindful of his moves all along? Perhaps, like the chogyal, he saw Sikkim’s status as an Indian protectorate an anomaly that needed to be rectified. Full independence – the chogyal’s choice – was perhaps impractical in the prime minister’s view. If so, Sikkim’s full merger into the Indian union would have been the only road left.
Yet, in his later years, after serving as Sikkim’s first chief minister, Lhendup left his state as if for good. Decades later, warning Nepal’s leaders of the perils of a prolonged democracy-monarchy fight, Lhendup cited his own statelessness as the ultimate eventuality. When the Indian government awarded him the Padma Vibhushan – the second highest civilian award – euphemistically for ‘public service’ in 2003, it listed him as a resident of West Bengal.
For all his ostensible penitence aimed at audiences in Nepal, Lhendup did not reject Indian honors flowing in his direction. When he died in Kalimpong in 2007, the Indian government paid fulsome tributes to Lhendup as the father Sikkim’s democracy. Indians unconstrained by official propriety were even more effusive in recalling how without Lhendup, Sikkim would never have become a part of India.
In Nepal, over the years, there have been numerous contenders for the Lhendup epithet. The current prime minister, who labeled several predecessors as such, has now come under the most rigorous suspicion. Rarely has the Indian media gushed over the arrival, presence and departure of a Nepali prime minister. Yet Nepalis feel they have little to feel good about.
When Dr. Bhattarai said he would not have become who he is without Jawaharlal Nehru University, it may have been a sincere expression of his appreciation. For a man with a definite way with words, he must have recognized the connotations the remark would acquire back home.
If the opposition parties and the Maoists are to be believed, Dr. Bhattarai signed the bilateral investment promotion and protect agreement against the explicit wishes of fellow politicians. If so, he took a risk and will have to live with it politically. The Indian media will no doubt continue praising his contributions to the development of bilateral relations.
Coming back to Lhendup Dorji, since our prime minister had the opportunity to study the man in detail in his quest to project the epithet on his rivals, maybe he understands Sikkim’s first chief minister better than most of us will ever. As someone who long rued Nepal’s post-Sugauli Treaty status as a semi-colonial and semi-feudal entity, which Lhendup does he recognize today? More specifically, does the prime minister even consider Lhendup a pejorative now that he is in the driver’s seat?

Monday, October 17, 2011

All Fired Up And Ready – For What?

Who knew CPN-UML Chairman Jhal Nath Khanal had all this in him? He’s up in arms, stomping his feet and lashing out his tongue – all at his successor as prime minister. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai has no right to continue in office, Khanal declared the other day, describing the incumbent government as packed with criminals and the corrupt.
In fact, he was being charitable. Earlier in the month, Khanal virtually called Dr. Bhattarai a liar. “What has the government done so far to bring peace and the constitutional process to its positive end?” he asked. Before anyone could answer, Khanal growled: “Bhattarai has begun deceiving people in broad daylight.”
The sailing was never going to be smooth for our first Ph.D. prime minister. He may be the most educated head of government Nepal has had, but Dr. Bhattarai had to amend state regulations to appoint several members of his advisory and personal staff because they did not have the requisite academic qualifications.
While the people at large seem sympathetic to Dr. Bhattarai’s public gestures ever since he hopped onto that moving thing called the Mustang, they are growing restless about his ability – even willingness – to deliver. Dr. Bhattarai had begun by saying he would conclude the peace process within 45 days of taking office, only to clarify upon his return from New York that all he meant was the clock would start ticking after the parties reached consensus on key issues.
Fed up with Dr. Bhattarai’s trademark linguistic legerdemain, Khanal began accusing the premier of something more sinister: personal involvement in the murder case engulfing a member of his cabinet, Prabhu Sah. It is unclear whether Sah’s resignation was in any way linked to Khanal’s grand allegation, but Maila Baje is still compelled to think. Just a day or two earlier, Local Development Minister Top Bahadur Rayamahi, a key Bhattarai confidant, vowed that controversial ministers would not resign because that would distract from the peace process.
Khanal has vowed to obstruct parliamentary proceeding until Dr. Bhattarai sacks Defense Minister Sharad Singh Bhandari for his recent secessionist remarks. After Sah’s exit, pressure is mounting on the prime minister to show Bhandari the door, too.
It’s not just Khanal’s tone that’s gaining traction by the day. Consider some of the content. “Those hardest hit by the Tanakpur, Koshi and Gandaki [water agreements with India] and the [Indian] land invasion in Susta are the Madhesi population,” Khanal pointedly said at a recent session of the legislature. “What are the Madhes-centric parties … doing while the defense minister is making secessionist remarks?”
“The Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Maoists hold a greater stake in the Madhes than the Madhesi parties,” he went on. “Do we want separate military battalions for Himal, Pahad and Tarai or do we want a National Army?” You can’t really quibble with his questions just because he never raised them while he was premier, can you?
Khanal’s defiance was hardly dull. “Look here, I am criticizing [the four-point deal underpinning the Bhattarai coalition], can you cut my fingers?” That came in response to Health Minister Rajendra Mahato’s pronouncement a few days earlier that anyone who raised a finger against the four- point deal should be prepared to have it chopped off.
Even if Bhandari is recalled, Khanal is unlikely to cease his tirades against Dr. Bhattarai. The former prime minister may not blame Dr. Bhattarai personally for having brought down his government. But he’s the man who now has his job.

Monday, October 10, 2011

In The Name Of The Father

In death, Muktiram Dahal was deprived of that ultimate privilege a father of his generation would ordinarily expect. Although his eldest son, Pushpa Kamal, did light the funeral pyre, he chose not to perform the full rites traditionally deemed necessary to ensure that the departed soul attained ultimate salvation.
Yet Muktiram was fortunate in knowing ahead of time that he might not be destined for full adherence to tradition from his first offspring. Mother Bhawani Devi, who died in 1994, was deprived of Pushpa Kamal’s participation in her final journey altogether. The funeral rites were performed by the younger son, Ganga Ram, as the underground revolutionary had barely evaded arrest at the hospital where his mother was being treated.
In his tribute, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai described Muktiram Dahal as a leading figure of Nepal’s agricultural revolution. “The Maoists have lost a guardian,” Dr. Bhattarai continued as cadres draped the corpse in the party flag.
While this posthumous revelation must have been the first time many Nepalis heard of the extent of Muktiram Dahal’s links to the party his son created and led, the country will not know how he viewed Pushpa Kamal’s trials, tribulations and triumphs.
It could not have been easy being father of someone blamed for over 12,000 deaths, billions in devastation and immeasurable fraying of the national fabric. Or perhaps Muktiram shared the feeling that civil war, as a nation’s collective tragedy, is incapable of apportioning blame to one side or individual.  But, again, it must have been hard for a father to recognize that he was central to the radicalization of his son.
On several occasions, Pushpa Kamal has credited his revolutionary fervor to the injustices meted out to his father right in front of him by feudals and reactionaries. As that personal injury morphed into ideological inferno in his son, Muktiram Dahal must have struggled to reconcile his role in it all. Early on, Muktiram tried to dissuade his son from politics, arguing it was not something for the poor. But Pushpa Kamal was adamant and the father simply stepped aside.
During the height of the insurgency, Muktiram had urged his son to abandon violence and join peaceful politics. Pushpa Kamal did so several years later in radically altered political conditions. Muktiram knew his son would go far in life, he told a reporter in August 2008, but not as high as the premiership.
The fact that most Nepalis were prepared to put the decade-long spree of death and destruction in the interest of a new beginning must have eased Muktiram’s dilemma. When traditional political shenanigans returned to eviscerate the national spirit, the father could not have remained unaffected. The fact that the Maoists would be mired in the same malaise they had mocked in the other major parties must have exacerbated Muktiram’s anguish.
Describing his father as an honest man, Pushpa Kamal pledged to continue to work toward fulfilling his dreams. There is no way of knowing how the Maoist chairman feels about his father’s overall sentiments towards his political methods. During many moments of reflection, Pushpa Kamal must have grappled with the question valiantly. Lingering doubts – if indeed there are any – should not distract him from the task ahead. The virtuousness of Muktiram Dahal’s hopes and aspirations for the nation he left behind is powerful enough to guide his eldest son.