Sunday, March 25, 2012

Comrade, Don’t Sit On The Sidelines

With many in the country fixated on whether the Maoists might actually capture state power and turn us into inmates of a giant national re-education camp, CPN-UML leader K.P. Oli is crying wolf in the other direction.
The failure to draft the constitution within the latest extended deadline would pave the way for a rightist coup, Oli told an audience in Khandbari, Sankhuwasabha district last week.
The advent of spring once again has instilled the political ambience with much anticipation. So many political surprises have been sprung out of the hat this time of year in the past that you cannot realistically constrain the realm of possibility.
Before you contemplate a restoration of the monarchy, however, consider this: In Oli’s estimation, former king Gyanendra will not be the right-winger grabbing power. Who, pray, then, could be lurking further to the right of the crown?
Let’s ponder a little deeper. Is Oli talking about the reactionary right and its penchant for aristocracy and established religion? Or is he signaling the moderate right and its fixation with limited government and distrust of intellectuals?
Might, on the other hand, the UML leader be referring to the radical right and its espousal of romantic and aggressive nationalism? Or is he indicating the extreme right with all its association with anti-immigration and implicit racism?
Or perhaps the former deputy prime minister is alluding to the neo-liberal right, which combines a belief in a market economy and deregulation with the traditional right’s beliefs in patriotism, elitism and law and order?
Specifically, in our context, this could mean anything between right-wing elements of the national military or other armed forces who believe a gory national makeover is unavoidable and theocrats who deem that Hinduism can no longer take everything coming its way.
Oli is too smart a politician to stop being banal and cryptic. And let’s not forget that he is considered a leading contender to succeeded Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, without, one might add, even being a member of the legislature. (Not that that is something new in his party.) To that extent, Oli has made our task harder.
Impelled by Marx and Lenin to become among Nepal’s first headhunters, Oli has subsequently been in and around power long enough to have finally, as they say, understood Marxism and Leninism. Yet, in the manner of his comrades, he cannot disavow communism outright without risking political irrelevance.
Still, when he sees the Maoist alligator opening its mouth, Oli doesn’t know whether it is trying to smile or preparing to eat him up. Thus, he has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the Maoists (who consider him a leading rightist).
As a middle-aged communist confronting his own mortality every time he flies out for medical treatment, Oli recognizes the corruption of a dream of justice when he sees it.
Maila Baje cannot claim to have peered into the soul of Oli and ferreted out the preceding sentiments. All this comes from a few books of the greatest quotations of the 20th century on communism.
If Oli thinks such assertions are too banal and cryptic for our own good, then might want to employ a little more candor and tell us what he means by a right-wing power grab.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Children Of War Learn To Cope With Peace

Let’s willfully suspend our disbelief for a moment and accept that Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal really did not know their daughter and son, respectively, were to become beneficiaries of the government led by their party.
Still, Manushi Bhattarai and Prakash Dahal would have been able to gauge the scale of discomfiture they were inflicting on the two leaders.
Manushi, in particular, could not have been unaware of the ‘family factor’ behind the precipitous decline in the image of her father ever since that Mustang ride went south. Could it not really have occurred to her that our distraught premier could not afford another controversy so close to home?
An elected student union leader at the Tribhuvan University (TU), Manushi told an Indian newspaper: “The international cricket stadium is within the university premises, and there are often negotiations between students and cricket authorities. The TU was also recognized as a separate team in the national games. I had been nominated in that capacity.”
Just from the tone of that clarification, it’s clear that Manushi’s refusal to take up the position in the Cricket Association of Nepal offers little mitigation to the circumstance.
Prakash Dahal has already mortified his father far too much to plead ignorance of the implications of the latest bout of influence peddling. Of course, the money the government planned to spend on the Everest expedition was an investment in a national team. But Prime Minister Bhattarai’s spokesman Ramrijan Yadav still chose to press the obvious. “This is not the first time the government provided such financial support to those aiming to scale the world's highest peak. The money is not provided just because there is the son of the party chairman, it is provided to a team."
Yadav raises another vital question. Would the government have made such a hefty investment had the Maoist chairman’s son not been part of it? In his quest to appear magnanimous, Prakash subsequently rejected the government’s $25,000, asking it instead to spend it on conflict victims. The conflict of interest was so palpable that the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, no strangers to influence peddling, decried the move as a manifestation of an administration run amok.
The larger issue relates to the progressive degeneration of the Maoists into just another party. Every threat of state capture or renewed revolt becomes hollow diversionary tactic. Whether the ex-rebels’ internal rivalries are real or contrived becomes less relevant to the nation.
As new entrants to the community of one percenters – as measured by both power and pelf – the Maoists’ children are entitled to their share of the good life. They could be less ostentatious in their assertion of a sense of entitlement.
Just imagine how many offspring of today’s fringe leaders may be pushing their folks to bypass regular political organization for unconventional yet proven recipes for preponderance?

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Joke Is On Us All

Now he tells us.
The Maoists, according to CPN-UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, had used their fighters, arms and Young Communist League cadres to capture booths during the election to the Constituent Assembly four years ago to emerge as the largest party in the legislature.
Let’s not trivialize Nepal’s remarks just because he made them – of all places – at a talk program organized by the party’s women’s department of the special coordination committee on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. This bout of revisionism must be addressed for what it is: political pusillanimity.
Sure, Comrade Nepal had had his share of grievances with then-king Gyanendra. Like most Seven Party Alliance (SPA) leaders after the April 2008 uprising, Nepal remained suspicious of the motives of the Royal Nepal Army. Allowing the Maoists to keep their fighting force largely intact served, if not the peace process, the imperative of neutralizing the royalists.
But what did our wizards of smart think? That the Maoists would use their armed might to protect the SPA’s so-called ‘hard-won gains’ once they had overwhelmed the first of their two targets?
The former rebels had thought this through. After studying former U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s post-White House political psychology and grasping the depths of his antipathy to the George W. Bush administration’s gung-ho foreign policy, the Maoists encouraged him to certify the elections as free and fair. (Upon departing Nepal, Maila Baje recalls, Carter went on straight to embrace Hamas as a credible partner for peace, which drove the right-wing U.S. media nuts for weeks.)
Meanwhile, Nepal, smarting from his own twin defeat in the polls, found in Carter’s response a convenient way to celebrate the triumph of Nepali democracy over the legacy of royal absolutism. Like the rest of the SPA pack, he continued claiming how the political mainstream, through its moral high ground, had brought the Maoists out of the jungles and would shepherd them along.
Admittedly, it would be unfair to single out Nepal for being so crudely timorous. Former speaker Daman Nath Dhungana claimed the other day that it was civil society that pushed the SPA toward the Maoists’ republican agenda (despite the fact that it was not an explicit part of the 12-Point Agreement underpinning the march toward a new Nepal).
Not that Dhungana broke new ground here. Some civil society leaders had even claimed the presidency in recognition of their role as the ‘conscience of the country’. Perhaps sensing the political opportunism they actually represented, the SPA, to its credit, checked this brazen overreach well in time.
Still, Dhungana can make his claim with a straight face because he is not accountable to the Nepali people for the chaos that his fraternity was complicit in creating. Or shall we say because the Nepali people do not have recourse to holding him and his ilk accountable? The principal civil society cheerleaders for the Maoists can today get away by claiming the ex-rebels represent a mortal threat to their lives and limbs.
Nepalis can afford to laugh off these men and women because they do not matter much. But mainstream politicians like Madhav Nepal are central to the political life of Nepal. Nepalis may choose to elect or defeat them but they certainly cannot ignore them.
The UML, like the Nepali Congress, chose to join hands with the Maoists to press ahead. The Maoists have not changed. As always, they continue to speak in so many voices about their intentions that it is useless to try to decipher what they really mean. They will try to make the best of every opportunity without closing the door on any option.
The mainstream parties fell for the Maoists despite all the warning signs flashing in deep red. How easy it would be to make fun of Comrade Nepal today if the joke were not really on all of us.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Takeover Talk – Here And There

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai sees a vast right-wing conspiracy to reverse the Nepali people’s hard-won gains and is exhibiting ever greater anxiety by the day. Yet, some people in the Philippines, acknowledging our Maoists as out-and-out victors, are warning of a Nepal-like communist takeover in their archipelago nation.
Pastor Alcover, a legislator representing the Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy, has urged his country’s military to “wake up because what happened in Nepal might happen in this country.”
That fear centers on the intentions of Jose Mari Sison, the exiled founder of the Philippines’ Maoists. President Benigno Aquino III confirmed the other day that Sison would be returning home, but only after a formal and comprehensive peace agreement is signed between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), a coalition of far-left groups including the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Both the government and the NDF are playing down the prospects of an imminent breakthrough. Still, there has been persistent speculation that Sison, who has been in a self-imposed exile in Utrecht, Netherlands, since 1988, may have already entered the country. Sison and the Philippine military both have denied the report, describing it as part of a disinformation campaign.
Alcover, however, believes that not only is Sison already in the country but that he and his allies in the legislative branches and key positions in government are already consolidating power.
In April 2008, congratulating our Maoists on their electoral victory, Sison expressed hope that the CPN (Maoist) and the people of Nepal “would play a crucial role in promoting the advance of movements for national liberation, democracy, social justice, development and peace against imperialism and reaction.”
Following the inauguration of President Aquino in June 2010, Sison’s NDF made an optimistic start to peace talks. Mercifully, our Maoists did not take credit for having nudged their cousins along the peace path. (Nor could they. The Nepali Maoists were already being denounced by their more radical brethren for having betrayed the cause.)
The Philippine talks soon hit a roadblock and remain stalled over demands by the NDF that the government reinstate certain peace negotiators representing the rebel panel and grant them immunity from arrest.
President Aquino is said to have offered Sison a senior position in the cabinet in an effort to end the country’s long-running communist insurgency. According to Alcover, however, a Nepal-style takeover is already being plotted, which could lead to the ouster of President Aquino.
“Nepal’s parliament has been taken over by Maoist communists that ordered the integration of the rebels into that country’s armed forces and the army chief was kicked out,” Alcover said. “So, [in our case] the military should wake up, wake up, wake up.”
Some sources suggest the Philippine armed forces are split between supporters of Aquino and those of his predecessor Gloria Arroyo, advocates and opponents respectively of peace talks with the communists. Adding to the confusion are reports that Sison himself may have lost control of the NDF and the communists’ armed wing, the New People’s Army.
Our Maoists probably aren’t too eager to point out the holes in Alcover’s narration of events. But a Nepal-style takeover in the Philippines? Just take one measure of the integration mess our ex-rebels are in.
Comrade C.P. Gajurel, who seems to be quite familiar with Sison from the picture above, intimated to us just the other day that had Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal still retained his military position, he would have merited little more than a major’s post in the national army.