Sunday, August 05, 2012

Adrift In A Zone Of Desperation

If Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is showing solid signs of downright desperation these days, it is not difficult to see why.
As head of government during such a critical period, he cannot but have realized how staggeringly he has squandered the political capital he came into office with.
How much of that capital was authentic becomes immaterial in a day and age where perception trumps everything else. When a ‘dynamic’ finance minister climbs up the political pole only to become enmeshed in gaudy gimmicks, the people are quick to take notice.
Any man (or woman) could have held the premiership during this time and have pretended to govern. Nepalis had been led to expect Dr. Bhattarai to be much more than just another man.
Personal and political incompetence tends to stand out more starkly among those who are somehow deemed special. When that specialness itself comes into sharper focus, mud and slime tend to acquire greater tackiness.
The exasperated side of Dr. Bhattarai has evinced a desire to step down. But he says he cannot do so in the absence of consensus on what might follow. No one believes magnanimity or altruism is at work here. He has reached that point where he must speak from all sides of his mouth. All the more so when his Indian mentors are getting edgier by the day.
Dr. Bhattarai may be technically accurate in providing the context to the now infamous letter the Nepali Maoists wrote to the Indian government way back in 2002 pledging not to harm New Delhi’s core interests. However, it is in today’s context that the Nepali people are prone to comprehending the interests and implications. (The telling reality that the Indian government at the time was led by the ostensibly pro-monarchist and Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have been lost in the discourse.)
As one of the foremost surveyors – at least through his writings once upon a time – of the systematic erosion of Nepali sovereignty since the Sugauli Treaty, Dr. Bhattarai may have felt added justification in criticizing the Chinese for challenging the wisdom of radical ethnic federalism the Maoists forced upon Nepal. Most Nepalis are tempted to see in his comments displeasure over the way Beijing seems to have shunned him.
The aura of erudition surrounding Dr. Bhattarai is inadequate to bail him out of his general plight. Neighbors – people as well as states – are guided by their own interests.
During the height of the Tanakpur controversy in the early 1990s, Professor Muni was among those who urged his government to distance itself from then-prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala.
For all intents and purposes, the likes of Muni, P.K. Hormis and Ashok K. Mehta are professional agitators. They excel at shaking the established order on various pretexts but fail to shape the aftermath. (Any coincidence that these three men have had virtually the same reaction to former king Gyanendra’s recent public utterances?)
As the prime architects of the April 2006 arrangement, these Indian men stuck out their necks quite far ahead of the prevailing Nepali public sentiment. Now that the experiment has crashed, these men need scapegoats to present to their superiors in power. The Nepali leadership, in their view, is congenitally incompetent, regardless of ideology or orientation.
The Chinese, for their part, are more subtle pragmatists. At the moment, they do not want to precipitate another crisis on the periphery. Above all, President Hu Jintao wants stability and harmony, at least superficially, to insert as many protégés into the leadership rungs as the power transition in the Chinese Communist Party gathers pace. Yet Beijing knows how to express its displeasure to Nepal. The Chinese did not like the way Dr. Bhattarai’s inner circle was leaking information on the eve of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit and its aftermath. And that was only one of a host of issues.
All prime ministers have faced the kind of external pressures the incumbent is complaining of. Many Nepalis thought Dr. Bhattarai possessed the skill and energy to work around such pressures.