Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reaffirming The Status Quo

It seems Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is intent on proving that he is no better than his predecessors were. The populism that began with the Mustang grandstanding persists in the Hello Sarkar ruse. But Dr. Bhattarai appears to recognize the limits of pretense. The supposedly most qualified contender ever for the premiership has a demonstrable capacity for abjuring any desire for excellence.
That Dr. Bhattarai prefers the company of criminals and other unsavory elements within his ranks of loyalists should not be surprising considering where he is coming from. That he can be so energetic in flouting his much-vaunted pledge of financial austerity bespeaks of an abiding and unsurpassable satisfaction with his record as finance minister. The size of his cabinet and army of advisers and aides is matched by the lavishness of his government’s expenditure on entertainment.
When the prime minister candidly concedes that he does not recognize all of his own ministers, claiming that a bloated cabinet was a political compulsion, you get a feeling that he is still out to expose the iniquities of the democratic process he has accepted for now. After all, the Maoists had taken up arms against both the monarchy and the parliamentary system.
In any other context, that would have been a shrewd way of Dr. Bhattarai underscoring his ideological steeliness. But it is becoming increasingly hard for him to prove that, while he might differ with Mohan Baidya and Pushpa Kamal Dahal on tactics, he still intends to build that Maoist utopia. All Dahal had to do was to silence his guns. The web Dr. Bhattarai has built through his words is too tangled to permit an easy exit.
After disfiguring the domestic ambience with his dour haughtiness, Dr. Bhattarai has disrupted the precarious geopolitical equation. While embracing the Indians with the flamboyant contortions of a proud supplicant, the prime minister has proceeded to alienate the Chinese with equally abhorrent intensity.
Indeed, the prime minister may have sought to deflect attention from those domestic woes by announcing Premier Wen Jiabao’s impending visit to the muddled republic. It was taken in such bad form from those up north that it did not matter whether they registered their dissatisfaction in writing.
Whether that premature announcement would be enough to sabotage the visit – if it were indeed in that stage of finalization – remains unclear. Regardless, Dr. Bhattarai seems to have sought primarily to bolster his credentials within his principal external constituency down south. Whether that fealty would hold him in good stead is a different matter. After all, when Girija Prasad Koirala sunk deeper into the Tanakpur morass in the early 1990s, one of the first Indians to counsel his government to dissociate itself from the man was the venerable Sukh Deo Muni.
Even after all this, Dr. Bhattarai’s wife, Hisila Yami, insists that he remains the best person to complete the peace process. Hard as it may be to acknowledge, Maila Baje feels she may have a point.
With the incumbent faring no better or worse than his predecessors, why upset the applecart? Such status-quoism may be something even the rabid revolutionary in Dr. Bhattarai might be prepared to embrace.