Sunday, December 25, 2011

Maybe Communism Has Defamed Dr. Bhattarai

CPN-UML chairman Jhal Nath Khanal has accused Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai of defaming Nepal’s communist movement by, among other things, forming the largest cabinet in the country’s history and packing it with sleazebags.
Addressing a gathering of the party activists in Dharan last week, the former prime minister also accused the Maoist-led government of deviating from its major assignments, such as sending home those Maoist combatants who opted for voluntary discharge. All this, in Khanal’s view, has raised questions about the Maoists’ sincerity in concluding the peace and promulgating the new constitution.
At one level, Maila Baje feels sorry for Khanal, for the kind of inanities he has been reduced to uttering. Communism has been so thoroughly discredited universally that there is little one man – even of Dr. Bhattarai’s caliber – could add. But, then, you have to empathize with the UML chief. In the last test of popular strength, after all, communists in Nepal won nearly two-thirds of the votes cast.
The only way of understanding the contradiction is by recognizing that our heavily splintered communist movement survives in the debris of the ideology’s progressive decay, deepening agony and irrelevance to the human condition. Where it seems to be thriving, it is because of its external label, which is devoid of its internal substance.
In our own context, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the CPN-UML had to repackage itself into a deceptive People’s Multiparty Democracy. It retained a left-of-centre personality that helped all the second- and third-tier besieged commies in Eastern Europe to reinvent themselves as social democrats. The CPN-UML’s first chairman, Manmohan Adhikary, conceded as prime minister that “communism” merely provided a label.
The Maoists had to pander to ethnic, linguistic, regional and other forces to muster collective grievances and magnify them several fold. Sure, the “People’s War” was modeled after the Great Helmsman’s strategy and tactics. But the principal external drivers did not have as their objective the creation of a one-party workers and peasants’ paradise. In the end, the Maoists could not prevail in their principal quest – the abolition of the monarchy – without following the parliamentary parties they had once opposed with equal vigor.
Mao Zedong was too much of a territorially defined mortal to canonize his life and times into any form of a universal ism. In Nepal, Maoism merely became a convenient tool for a motley demolition crew. To remain in power, our Maoists today have had to embody such diverse tendencies as corporatism, Christianity and homosexuality and fuse them into big-tent tolerance while at the same time peddling promises of that ultimate utopia.
True, there are statists today even in the land of the free and the home of the brave who have not given up. In their view, the comrades of yore simply did not do things right. Through several layers of analyses, the drivers of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the czars of Obamaville seek to lure shlubs and sophisticates alike by proffering a sense of direction and moral justification.
The media spinmeisters sanitize what is happening with the ChiComs, almost glorifying the system as a paragon of efficiency in contrast to the gridlock those dead white men bequeathed all those years ago. The Soviet Union is such a distant memory that the free health and education and lifetime employment beckon without a trace of their logical shakiness and practical shoddiness.
Dr. Bhattarai has been at the forefront of peddling precisely that kind of mendacity for so long that sometimes you wonder whether he really still believes what he professes are his beliefs. One is tempted to ask whether it is really communism that has defamed Dr. Bhattarai.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kicking The Can (Of Worms) Down The Road

Seeking to paper over its chronic internal woes, the CPN-UML wants to bring Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, together with Bam Dev Gautam and Amrit Kumar Bohara, into the constituent assembly.
The precedent certainly exists. The party brought in Madhav Kumar Nepal, someone who lost in both constituencies from which he had contested the 2008 elections, who rose to the premiership. Admittedly, that move was engineered more by the Maoists, whose chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal would subsequently come to rue. Yet, Maila Baje feels, we must not forget that Madhav Nepal’s ‘undemocratic’ entry came at a time when the assembly had a clear degree of legitimacy and embodied much hope and expectation.
Oli, like Gautam, was defeated in the election. Bohara, nominated by CPN-UML under the proportional representation system, refused to take a seat, citing his party’s poor performance in the polls. Today, all of the members are staying on beyond the two years the people had hired them for. It should be less of a blow to democracy should Oli and Co. eventually enter the assembly.
Yet a section of the party is opting for a go-slow approach. These members are more keen on giving Oli greater respectability in the party before sending him to the assembly.  Members want Oli – who currently ranks 10th in the party hierarchy – to get the third position after Khanal and Madhav Kumar Nepal, with the title ‘senior leader’.
It might be useful to consider Nepal’s own contribution in the aftermath of Dahal’s resignation in 2009. What could have been a truly catastrophic succession struggle came to an easy denoument because of Madhav Nepal’s easy availability.
Now that the one the nation was waiting for – Dr. Baburam Bhattarai – has proved no different from his predecessors, Oli might be emboldened to seek the office that Madhav Nepal so assiduously denied him (and Gautam, for that matter) during the first phase of royal rule in 2002-2004.
Make no mistake. Jhal Nath Khanal is not acting out of any sense of altruism. And it’s not as if Oli allowed Khanal an easy time as premier. The UML chief needs to restore control in the party and rejuvenate the base. He sees an opening in the reality the CPN-UML has become more disciplined than either the Maoists or the Nepali Congress. Moreover, the UML chairman must have learned something from the dividends Dahal has reaped from his ‘magnanimity’ in allowing Dr. Bhattarai to take the top job.
Oli, too, has the benefit of wisdom. Instead of flaunting his external support – which we understand is considerable – he can hope to rely on either the Sher Bahadur Deuba or Ram Chandra Poudel faction, depending on the case. By pushing Dr. Bhattarai back into the swamp of the party, he could hope to benefit from the process of another realignment within the Maoists. The fact that the former rebels would be able to evade the full spotlight on their responsibility for the sordid state of affairs should give Oli some breathing space.
The smaller parties inside the assembly and those outside could still rail against the monopoly of the ‘big-party syndicate’. Our venerable civil society notables could continue pretending they have nothing to do to with the mess. (They were the ones, weren’t they, who believed they could lead the leaders before and after the April 2006 Uprising?)
The peace process will remain in good shape as long as we can kick the can down the road.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wen Jiabao: A Tale Of Two Trips

As the nation prepares to welcome Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, we cannot but ponder how spectacularly things have changed on the geo-strategic front. Seven years ago, Wen studiously left Nepal out of his South Asian itinerary in deference to India’s sensitivities. This time, he is scheduled to arrive as part of his country’s sustained drive to challenge India’s traditional predominance in Nepal.
After chiding the Nepali government for prematurely announcing Wen’s visit in violation of accepted diplomatic practice, Beijing subsequently has been leaking bits and pieces of information that are clearly aimed more at arousing the interest of audiences in India. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Nepal was never really a blip on the regional radar screen whose importance successive monarchs exaggerated for their vile ends. What is certainly new is that the Chinese have come forth in acknowledging Nepal’s importance with ever-greater candor after the country became a republic.
In February 2005, when King Gyanendra seized full executive control, China stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the world by calling it an internal matter. The royal regime, if not the monarch himself, sought to portray the stand as Beijing’s support for the takeover.  The Nepalese opposition and key sections in India sought assiduously to reject the notion that the Chinese were in fact supporting the king.
In a flush of revisionist history, some Chinese experts, too, contended that the royal regime was needlessly reading too much into China’s traditional tenet of non-interference in foreign policy. But lest we forget, two months after the royal takeover, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Wu Dawei told a news briefing in Beijing that his government supported the king and the government of Nepal to ensure national stability and reconciliation and for economic development. But Wu did not stop there. “The international community should respect the choice made by the Nepali people,” he counseled.
Wu’s forthrightness, however, could scarcely mask Beijing’s wider ambivalence. This was a time when the Chinese were miffed by the growing Indian and American involvement in the Tibet issue through the exile community in Nepal. Keeping quiet posed a problem for China. But openly backing the monarchy while New Delhi and Washington were both opposed to the royal intervention risked bringing the two largest democracies closer.
If the Indians could countenance greater American involvement in a country they jealously considered their exclusive sphere of influence, in the Chinese perspective, then that could only bode well for the evolving partnership between Washington and New Delhi to contain Beijing.
Anxious to keep the Indians away from the Americans, Wen decided to skip Nepal. But Beijing sent Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing to Nepal on a stand-alone mission, whose utterances backed the royal regime.
Since the real fight in Nepal was not over democracy, but a contest among disparate external players to deepen their foothold in a strategically sensitive region of the world, it formed weird alliances. India and the West were pitted against the Chinese, Pakistanis and Russians. Democracy gave a veneer of legitimacy for intervention for one set of players. Suddenly, the Maoists gained greater acceptability as responsible partners while still branded terrorists (assisted no doubt by their shrewd assurances on a wide range of often-contradictory “international” issues as Christianity and homosexuality.)
Washington and New Delhi, to be sure, were still not on the same page. But they felt it would be far easier to compare notes this way than having the Chinese to spoil things. The Americans and the Chinese continued to hold bilateral consultations on Nepal within the framework of their strategic dialogue. New Delhi, ever mindful of maintaining its strategic autonomy, kept Nepal on its formal consultations with Beijing.
Despite the growing warmth in relations between the Asian giants, China believed India was not being reciprocal. Less than three months after Wen’s much-touted visit to India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to Washington and signed a document that established New Delhi on a path towards military and security partnership with the Americans.
The suave Shyam Saran, former Indian ambassador in Kathmandu turned foreign secretary, flew in to Beijing in early 2006 with assurances that New Delhi was not out in a grand campaign to contain China. The Indians shrewdly fed the Chinese information on Nepal that aroused some alarm in Beijing. The quid pro quo was a go-slow on the US-India nuclear deal, which the Chinese anyhow believed their Indian surrogates in the Indian political left would be able to derail. State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan gave the first intimation of a rethink of his government’s Nepal policy by postponing his visit to Kathmandu.
To Beijing’s disappointment, during a March 2006 visit to India, US President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Singh signed a nuclear cooperation agreement dramatically reversing long-standing US policy punishing India for its nuclear programs and its non-membership in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Worse, from Beijing’s perspective, the agreement allowed India to strengthen its civilian nuclear capabilities even while building a credible minimum nuclear deterrent aimed in large part at China.
When Tang did arrive in Kathmandu, it was too late for Beijing to walk back. Tang seemed to equate the royal regime with the alliance protesting it (by which time the palace had revitalized channels with Washington, which was queasy about the New Delhi-brokered 12-point alliance between the opposition parties and the Maoist rebels).
 New Delhi, for its part, had hoped to pressure Beijing into settling the long-standing territorial dispute and failed. The Indians who pushed that approach today are openly calling for the deployment of the Tibet and Taiwan issues for that precise purpose. The game continues. Those political forces who railed against the monarchy for playing one neighbor off against the other in order to secure itself in power today find themselves able to do little else as a matter of daily survival.
It would seem audacious to some that an already weakened Nepalese monarchy was somehow a chip in the larger strategic rivalry of the times. Yet Maila Baje thinks it is within this framework that we can comprehend our current plight with a plausible degree of sanity.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Dahal’s Faith In The Tripartite Bargaining Model

United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal wants Nepal to engage in some still nebulous mode of trilateral cooperation with India and China in the interest of boosting regional stability. Interestingly, his latest reiteration of this comes at a time when relations between the Asian giants, by both sides’ reckoning, have grown frosty.
Then almost in the same breath, Dahal says his party has not given up on the idea of a full-blown revolt to capture the state. In fact, he believes the Maoists may be closer than ever to achieving that underlying goal. These two assertions, Maila Baje feels, might not be as contradictory as they sound.
Dahal’s leadership of the drive to develop Lumbini into a Buddhist mecca has not impressed our local Buddhists. A large chunk of the otherwise placid community is in a confrontational mood. You can’t blame them. To have the world’s major officially atheist state patronize what ranks among the five largest religions is bad enough. Now the man associated with the worst killing spree in Nepal’s history is trying to reinvent himself as an advocate – if not exactly an acolyte – of the Light of Asia.
For the best part of a year, the Indians have been as candid as they could be as far as the geopolitical dimensions of the Dahal-China dalliance are concerned. Almost conceding their apparent failure to disprove that Siddhartha Gautam was born in what is modern-day Nepal, New Delhi is intent on building a rival movement of international Buddhism.
Having stripped Dr. Baburam Bhattarai of his self-righteous claim to singularity at this juncture of Nepali history, Dahal is now eager to return to the premiership on his terms. No, he doesn’t want to do so to complete the peace process and produce the constitution – processes that seem superficially to have progressed remarkably under Bhattarai. The Maoist chief wants to be able to lead the country to new elections to a body that could craft the constitution to the Maoists’ liking.
In this aspiration, Dahal is closer to Baidya. The duo believes – and many think Dr. Bhattarai, too, agrees – that the Maoists have at least three factors going for them: their ability to claim leadership of the Nepal’s splintered communist movement, the disarray in the Nepali Congress and Madhes-based parties, and the sheer financial resources at the disposal of the former rebels.
With some 65 percent of the vote having gone to the communists in the last test of popular popularity, the Maoists believe they can unite the fraternity in terms of influence. The C.P. Mainali wannabes can stay out and conduct home-based politics in the absence of organization and people.
The mess in the Nepali Congress is too obvious, while the disarray in the Madhesi parties provides an opportunity to the Maoists – in their view – to return to their pre-Gaur Massacre glory. As for financial heft, let’s not forget that, according to one Asian newsmagazine, the Maoists, while in the jungles, were the richest rebels in the continent.
Having demonstrated their flexibility on the democratic path, the Maoists believe they can blame their rivals to show the utter hopelessness of that quest. On the face of it, a violent capture of state power may lack international legitimacy. But what alternative would the rest of the world have? Dahal is said to have been particularly elated by the views expressed by some members of the Chinese media delegation that recently visited Nepal, who praised him as the man of the future.
We can’t be sure the delegates were speaking for their government – as much as we can’t be that they weren’t. The speculator in Dahal probably feels that by roping in the Indians in a tripartite partnership, he could force the West and the rest to fall in line. Certainly nothing to squander time on what constitute the principal and non-principal contradictions.