Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Peace Muddle

Count on Comrade Narayan Man Bijukchhe to make sense of the peace muddle.
“Unless the internal dispute in the Maoist party is resolved, conclusion of the peace process as outlined in the seven-point deal is impossible,” the chairman of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party presaged the other day.
Lest the country castigate him as a spoiler, the comrade barely paused for thought. The majority of the points incorporated in the new deal are ones the parties had agreed upon two years ago, Bijukchhe continued. He’s a little suspicious that the parties have suddenly decided to give it formal shape after Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s visit to India.
Bijukchhe was far from charitable about the overall political process. Claiming the seven-point deal was unconstitutional and against democratic practice, he accused the three principal parties of hobbling the legislature.
But let’s focus on the Maoists, since they are in the driver’s seat. Whether authentic or contrived, Maila Baje feels the Maoists’ internal rift is unlikely to be healed soon. This is so for a variety of reasons but predominantly because of a traditional one: the rift fits into the traditional Indian playbook.
The principal success New Delhi achieved during Prime Minister Bhattarai’s high-profile visit lay in tightening the pro-India tag around his neck. Dr. Bhattarai probably thought that if he could only be seen as taking on in earnest the fallout from the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA), he might shore up his personal position in his primary external constituency. But that was never the objective of his hosts.
Back home, in the intervening weeks, even sympathetic quarters have begun to question the way the prime minister has been going about defending the deal. For someone who long railed against the pernicious legacy of unequal treaties to go and sign a controversial one – regardless of the merits – was audacious enough. Seeking to defend the deal with every shield he can pick up has had a demeaning effect. Suddenly, Girija Prasad Koirala and Madhav Kumar Nepal have been resurrected as paragons of patriotism for their refusal to sign the agreement during their visits to India.
Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, having succeeded in sullying Dr. Bhattarai’s reputation after having conceded to him the premiership, has turned his attention to the Lumbini project, that other geopolitical fixture of our times.
Hardliner Mohan Baidya knows that he has little choice but to go along with the rest of the party and the political flow, be it the four-point deal with the Madhesis or BIPPA. But he also knows there is an opening here. If his faction could get the support of the traditional demolition derby across the southern border – which seems increasingly likely – he can hope to deflect any criticism of hypocrisy by projecting his group’s perceived northern tilt.
The mandarins up north, for their part, could be expected to relish that ruse. If perpetual political conflict is where India’s Nepal policy thrives, the Chinese have perfected ambiguity as the core of their pragmatism here.