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.