Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tentativeness… Here, There, Everywhere

Even after a major organizational split, both factions of the Nepali Maoists have managed to exude an aura of inconclusiveness around the whole affair. The fault lines, running as deep as they were, should have injected a sense of finality.
Mohan Baidya Kiran and Chandra Prakash Gajurel, the perennial malcontents, were in detention in India when the Maoist rebels and the Seven Party Alliance signed the 12-Point Accord in New Delhi in November 2005. Even before that, the two men were considered more anti-Indian than they were anti-palace.
When Baidya and Gajurel emerged in Kathmandu amid the hopey-changey ambience, they seemed to have accepted the new realities as a price for their freedom. But only grudgingly, as they instantly went out in search of new allies. Gajurel, as Maila Baje recalls, was quite candid about the comrades’ real intentions during what he mistakenly considered a closed-door meeting with Indian supporters during a visit to New Delhi later that year.
These ‘hardliners’ seemed to have attracted the Chinese, or at least an influential section of the mandarins up north. Having once denounced the Nepali Maoists as a stain on the memory of the Great Helmsman, Beijing seemed to have embraced Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in a new tilt by encouraging him to visit Beijing before New Delhi as Nepal’s first elected head of government in half a decade.
But Dahal was prone to exaggerating, like most things else, his China connections. Who saw whom as more unreliable remained unclear, but Dahal ostensibly chose to throw in his lot with New Delhi.
More ruthless and regimented than the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML in meshing their ideological and illicit tendencies into an organized force, the Maoists managed to outfox the rest by forcing them to wonder whether their internal fractiousness was for real or merely a ruse.
Today, the Dahal-led Maoists are denouncing the Baidya group as tools of foreigners. Baidya loyalists in turn accuse Dahal of leading a political chaebol. The slurs balance out each other, engendering same-old-same-old smirks among long-time observers of Nepali politics. So when both factions spell out terms for reunification, the pressures on our collective facial muscles mount excruciatingly.
Yet something must have pushed Baidya toward his long-threatened split. Could Beijing be behind it? When an emphatic reporter posed this question to Ma Jiali, the prominent Chinese academic only seemed to expand the space for speculation.
You could hardly blame him. The neo-Maoists in Beijing, who probably would be the most promising allies for Baidya, are not in terribly good shape right now. They partially overlap with the ‘princelings’ as the campaign to succeed President Hu Jintao gathers pace.
The enduring mystery surrounding Bo Xilai and Zhou Yangkang leaves much to the realm of imagination for now. The political dimensions of the crises should become clearer after the 18th national congress of the Chinese Communist Party later this year when the new leadership line-up becomes more visible.
Reports from Beijing, however, suggest that the party congress might be delayed by a few months. Amid this flux, Beijing would not want to find itself having to respond to a new crisis on a volatile section of its periphery, much less engineer one.
The Indians, too, are in the process of a major transition. By personality and temperament, Pranab Mukherjee, the putative new president of India, is likely to be anything but ceremonial in his high office.
As the driver of India’s Nepal policy for decades now, he would be hard-pressed to cede that role. Mukherjee’s ascension in July – and the larger one he is expected to oversee, i.e., Rahul Gandhi’s – is more assured than the transition that may be evolving in Beijing. Logically – that is, if logic were trapped in a time warp – this would be the best time for India to strike to preserve its version of the Monroe Doctrine.
But the Indians and Chinese seem to have grown far more comfortable with each other in Nepal than with any third country. The latest personage to make this plain is Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, Indian ambassador in Kathmandu during the April Uprising. Much as Washington might want to pit the regional powers against each other, Beijing and New Delhi recognize the costs of any misstep now.
Nepalis must be able to juxtapose the well-known sources of tensions between their two neighbors with the $100 billion in annual bilateral trade they are set to start enjoying soon, not to speak of the common cause New Delhi and Beijing have been making on the international stage on crucial issues such as the environment and pariah nations.
Again, geo-politics is not a zero-sum game. The Indian intelligence agencies, particularly RAW, could be behind the Baidya split to foment the kind of confusion that at once perpetuates instability and affords official India much-needed plausible deniability.
The added incentive for India this time may be the arrival of a new American ambassador in Kathmandu. The last time Peter Bodde, recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Washington’s third ambassador in Kathmandu in five years, served in our midst, the CPN-UML had become the first democratically elected communist party leading a government at a time the United States was heralding the ‘end of history’.
The conspiracy theories going around then was that the Americans – and the wider West – sought to clip the wings of the UML by promoting a more radical communist organization. (For the record: during Bodde’s first tenure in Kathmandu, in the early 1980s, the American Embassy was finding ways to ward off Soviet influence in Nepal.)
The upshot: the Maoist split (and possible reunification), like the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (and its possible restoration), can best be understood within the tentativeness that our two neighbors have constructed as policy for now to check third countries.