Sunday, February 05, 2012

Stop Whining, Mr. Prime Minister

For a man who knows how to dish it out, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai sorely lacks the ability to take it. His latest gripe involves how some Kathmandu-based ambassadors have insulted him.
“Ambassadors direct their shoes to my face while seeing me at my office,” the prime minister reportedly complained to a group of friendly scribes. The diplomats’ postures also seem to pinch Dr. Bhattarai a lot.
Before castigating the premier for singling out this fraternity of foreigners, you have to concede one thing. Dr. Bhattarai knew what he was getting into domestically when he consented to taking the top job. Politicians of all stripes were going to pillory him at every opportunity. (Isn’t that what Dr. Bhattarai did to his predecessors and a great many others?) The diplomatic corps was somehow supposed to be another thing altogether.
Prime ministers before Dr. Bhattarai had had to deal with their share of haughty and overbearing envoys. Awkward slippers and even more awkwardly crossed legs were the least of their concerns.
Yet Dr. Bhattarai’s predecessors were at least dignified enough not to whine about it. (Would Dr. Bhattarai have refused the premiership had Comrades Jhal Nath Khanal, Madhav Kumar Nepal or Pushpa Kamal Dahal volunteered their worst moments with ambassadors? Didn’t think so.)
This brings us closer to the kind of person Dr. Bhattarai seems to be. Or, to be more precise, the kind of his skin. Even if you can’t see through it, it does seem very, very thin.
Remember how, during his underground days at height of the insurgency, he engaged in a blistering exchange of magazine columns with BBC Nepali Service journalist Rabindra Mishra?
Or the ease with which he took a few media critics to court for defamation just because they had the temerity to question whether there was a quisling behind his peripatetic nationalistic exterior? (After having thrown around the Q word with such abandon himself all these years.)
What Dr. Bhattarai does seem to have is an inflated sense of self-worth. The we-are-the-ones-we-have-been-waiting-for attitude is eternally palpable in the premier. Even if Nepalis tended to go along with that carefully crafted image, should foreigners do so, too? When they see that trained architect, Maila Baje must ask, how likely are they to also recognize one known more for demolishing things?
This is by no means a defense of the diplomats, who are here to further their own national interests. If they saw in Dr. Bhattarai’s decades of prose literal translations from Mao Zedong’s Collected Works updated only for local context, would they have pointed out those points of similarity, especially when the convolution suited their governments? Yet could they be expected to restrain their body language in the way they did their words. These ambassadors, too, follow the news, all the way from the Mustang to the talk of merger.
Sure it should pain every Nepali when his or her leader is hurt by foreigners. If our premier is so intent on bolstering himself from external arrows, a better way would be to start building a shield by winning over more of your own people.