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.