Sunday, December 29, 2013

Unfair, But Still Fun To Watch

It turns out that Kamal Thapa was ahead of the pack in more ways than one.
The president of the pro-monarchist, pro-Hindu statehood Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), who led his party into fourth position in the newly elected constituent assembly, became the first leader to name members in the proportional representation category. But he ignited a firestorm within.
Disputes over how the 24 members were chosen have reached a point where the principal dissident, prominent constitutional lawyer Bal Krishna Neupane, has taken the party to court. Ordinarily, the episode would have provided ample opportunity for rivals to ridicule the RPP-N as a repository of reprobates irrelevant to new Nepal, notwithstanding this last gasp. But, then, Kamal Thapa chose to dispense with early on what would rankle the three bigger parties a little longer in the game.
When the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) submitted its list of 84 names the other day, key aspirant Ram Kumari Jhankri was aggrieved by her exclusion. If anything, she said, the experience confirmed to her what she had long heard others say: politics is a dirty game.
Actor Bhuwan KC was more sanguine. Insisting he would not leave the UML, he pledged to continue to toil for the party and its cause. Yet he couldn’t help preface his reaction to the list with this brazen declaration: “It is natural that citizens are angered as their dream of seeing Bhuwan KC as a lawmaker could not be fulfilled.” The Nepali Congress and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist won’t fare any better when they submit their lists.
Now, don’t get Maila Baje wrong. Politics is no charity work (although the analogy for these purposes has long lost its bearing). People join campaigns and work their rear ends off to elect parties and leaders in the expectation that their contributions somehow would be recognized later. Yet there’s only so much that can fit the goody bag. Everyone is free to harbor the level of ambition they desire. But no benefactor is obligated to accommodate everyone and everything, simply because the sheer impossibility of doing so.
If Jhankri is miffed that she lost out to a moneyed lady, she can hardly be faulted. In 2008, Jhankri declined the party’s nomination to focus on her responsibilities in the UML’s student wing. She then made history by becoming the first woman to lead a student organization. This time around, UML leaders considered it fit to keep her out of the whittled-down list.
These same leaders also thought the party would be served better by political actors than by a celebrity like KC. And, as for Neupane, those familiar with his road to fame would probably better understand why he chose to drag the party all the way where he did.
In making their decisions, RPP-N and UML leaders were guided by all kinds of considerations, shady and stellar alike. The outcome may have been controversial but it is not criminal.
To be sure, those who made the decisions recognized the risks to their own reputations. But they also understood how much damage the complainants would do to themselves by breaking out sulking and moping.
Now, is this fair? No. But let’s not pretend it’s not fun to watch.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Let Not The Confusion Confuse Us

With all the ‘sky-will-fall’ urgency that gripped the November elections, you’d think that by now we already would have a full and functioning government at least attempting to put things back on track. The political vacuum Nepal found itself in was so untenable, the argument within and abroad went, that elections had to be held at all costs. The scale and scope of those boycotting it was an unpleasant reality, but one that had to be bravely endured under military-grade security.
Nepalis did heed that call in record numbers. Yet almost a month after the results emerged, we’re no closer to institutions and individuals representing the fresh mandate. The two principal victors – the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) – are mired in internal factional struggles, even as they are at each other’s throats. The vanquished – the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-Maoist) and the assortment of Madhes-based parties – still cannot comprehend what really hit them.
India and China, the principal external guarantors of our security and stability – and by extension their own – now warn us of the risk inherent in keeping the breakaway Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) out of the political process.
The persistent allegations of electoral fraud lacked sufficient credibility from the outset. But that, Maila Baje felt, never really mattered to the parties making them because it provided a camouflage for political bloodletting within amid the shifting political contours.
Among the victors, the abject chaos pervading the surface, alienating a populace already at wit’s end, has allowed leaders, factions and interests an opportunity not only to project their claims but also to preempt those of rivals. On such shifting ground, the fraud allegations provide an excuse to continue their battles under a noble guise.
Inanities, meanwhile, continue to add up. Parties that boycotted the polls began seeking respectful representation in the new assembly. That impelled parties that did participate but failed to win a single seat also to pursue their place. The head of the election government is finding it difficult to return to his full-time job as chief justice, so he will have to be adjusted respectfully within the assembly. The future of President Ram Baran Yadav, hardly an issue in the election campaign, has become numero ono. The latest absurdity making the rounds is the suggestion to make CPN-Maoist chairman Mohan Baidya – the titular head of the alliance that boycotted the elections – president of the republic as a way of calming the streets as well as less agitated senses.
Adding to the general uncertainty is the parallel process that seems to be playing out in different directions. In whispered albeit audible tones, the twin-pillar theory has begun to reappear across the southern border – and not in pejorative terms. Baidya himself has intimated that the country has reached the pre-2006 phase, amid calls for the dissolution of the newly elected assembly.
Former king Gyanendra, whose silence during the entire electoral exercise acquired much significance, has embarked on an extended private tour of the south, during which it may be difficult to separate the personal from the political. The 1990 constitution – particularly with respect to how it was the best political document Nepalis had ever crafted – has never really left the political discourse.
Taken individually, these strands may not mean much. Together, they suggest that the formal political course will assume shape and speed once the informal dynamics are substantially set in motion. So let the confusion continue, without letting it confuse us.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Remorse, But Not Quite…

For United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) leader Baburam Bhattarai, this is the season for lamentations. In a recent post on his Facebook page, the social-media-savvy former prime minister lamented his failure to enforce his well-known ideology and commitments, to the point of owning up to a lack of will power.
That attribute was on full display when he congratulated the country for the successful November 19 constituent assembly elections, only to join a day later party colleagues who alleged massive fraud.
“Personally, I have raised relevant issues on prosperity and development time and again”, Bhattarai said, recalling that doing so earned him a ‘decent amount’ of public trust. “However, I couldn’t take control over my own will power at the disposal of feeble strength of my own party.”
On the night of May 28, 2012, Bhattarai said, he made the biggest mistake of his life: backtracking on his intention to extend the term of the constituent assembly yet again by imposing a state of emergency. Now, Maila Baje wonders, would our erudite comrade have volunteered such remorse if his party had won an outright majority in the recent elections?
He blamed other forces within the country and outside for his failure to extend the assembly. Forget the totalitarian thought at the root of that contention. The attempt to blame others carried the same political infantilism many educated leftist elitists at the helm in countries – developed and developing – have been prone to exhibiting. When things go south, it’s always the other guy’s fault.
Yet, in fairness, Bhattarai conceded that his party could not stand out from the contemporary political powers and leaders, despite its vaunted promises. But, again, that sounded less a personal dirge than a public indictment of party colleagues.
The former premier said he would move forward coordinating with people, institutions and parties with similar ideology within and outside the UCPN-M. But we know better than to expect sudden outburst of cooperation and consensus from Bhattarai.
This is wounded pride speaking. A man who virtually sought credit for singlehandedly turning Nepal into a republic now warns despairingly of the restoration of the 1990 constitution his party rose up against. But isn’t there more an air of having been victimized than an acknowledgement of having been defeated?
The victimhood the Maoist leader seeks to project was evident in his earlier reaction to the arrest of a party cadre on a charge of murder. Bhattarai challenged the government to arrest him instead since he was the head of “revolutionary government” during the time of the alleged crime.
Bhattarai is smart enough to know that if his wartime status were the issue here, the arrest of a murder accused should be the least of his worries. Sure, the lack of a Truth of Reconciliation Commission has impeded efforts to address some of the central wartime issues in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But wasn’t it the Bhattarai government’s insistence on a blanket amnesty for Maoists what stymied the process? Why, then, should justice, in this case, be held in abeyance?
It’s reassuring to know that national independence and inclusive nationalism, inclusive democracy and inclusive development will remain Bhattarai’s personal political commitments. What he should know is that his tenure in power was not in vain. He has wizened up Nepalis in no small measure. They will remain most vigilant of leaders who make the grandest claims about their powers and purposes.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Kingly Craft Of Conjuring Compromise

As the country continues to decrypt the November 19 election results, the subplot has suddenly thickened. Pundits of all persuasions were twisting themselves into pretzels trying to make sense of the 24 seats the pro-monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) won exclusively in the proportional representation category. Now party chief Kamal Thapa has given analysts an opportunity to undergo even more contortions.
The RPP-N was ready to compromise on its agenda to ensure that the country got a democratic constitution, Thapa said at the Reporters Club the other day. That remark set off a flurry of suppositions. Let’s focus on the three major strains. Did Thapa mean that the party would abandon its restoration-of-monarchy line, somehow conceding that a singular focus on reviving Hindu statehood might have produced it more seats?
Or was Thapa expressing displeasure at former king Gyanendra, who, it was rumored, financed the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), to the disadvantage of the clear claimant, the RPP-N?
On the other hand, was Thapa merely establishing his credentials as a pragmatist once he figured out how high he would have to roll up his sleeves? The RPP-N, after all, does not have the numbers to press ahead with its distinctive twin line, either through the consensus or majority route. Logically, it would not want to be blamed for the deadlock most analysts are predicting would grip the new assembly from the outset.
On the first count, it would be foolish to expect the RPP-N to be identified as a republican pro-Hindu-state organization. At the popular level, the monarchy and Hindu statehood are so interlinked that even if Thapa had run on a republican-religious platform, he would have been accused of stealth royalism. Just ask leaders of the rival RPP, whose avoidance of Hindu tag has done nothing to bolster their avowed republicanism.
There is no way Maila Baje could fathom whether the former monarch funded any parties or candidates, or, if he had, whether he favored one or two over the rest. But it would be entirely understandable if Nirmal Niwas bestowed its financial blessings on the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. The restoration of the 1990 constitution would be the easiest route to restoring the monarchy on the ex-monarch’s terms. Since the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML were two of the three architects of that document, their empowerment would only make sense for Nirmal Niwas. As for the RPP-N, some of Thapa’s pre-election remarks implied a heavy tilt towards India’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, whose private conduct in power, as recent revelations suggest, was detrimental to the palace.
The pragmatism explanation seems to make most sense. Even if the constituent assembly managed to produce a document this time, it is very unlikely to win sufficient endorsement from the street, considering the noises already being made. By appearing to compromise on his electoral agenda, Thapa has set out to preempt himself from disproportionate blame.
The outright failure of the second constituent assembly to produce a document, on the other hand, would bolster those seeking to pronounce the post-2006 march as a drag on the nation. The case for restoring the status quo ante, which has vocal advocates in the Nepali Congress and more stealthy ones in the CPN-UML, would thus be bolstered. Should the domestic realities so crystallize, segments within both flanks of the regional power system, who saw the period so far as an opportunity to rein in both the Maoists and extra-regional mischief-makers, would be impelled to enter the next political act.
All of this, to be sure, could be easily dismissed as pointless conjecture. Yet when every breakthrough in our recent political experience has had the tendency of raising immediate and dire questions, conjuring every conceivable scenario at least should have some soothing value.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Consensus By Any Other Name

For starters, can we dispense with the Great Myth?
No, Nepalis, in their collective wisdom, did not elect the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) as the two largest parties in a fractured constituent assembly so that they might work together to achieve some amorphous consensus on our behalf.
The electoral verdict was a mere reflection of that weird amalgamation of the fluid popular mood, mixed electoral system and disparate appeals of candidates and parties in the common consciousness.
So if the UML wants to put the presidency to a new test against the new realities of the day and the Nepali Congress doesn’t, all this should be seen as pure politicking. If the UML demands an equal share of power and privilege, in view of the narrow gap between the Big Two, the Nepali Congress is well within its rights to say no.
Few scholars, scribes or citizens had divined the imperative of a second constituent assembly and enjoined the rest of us to prepare the paraphernalia. The peace process was no elaborate road map brilliantly conceived or flawlessly executed. Let’s not forget that the whole thing began with a 12-point agreement between two principal signatories who actually did not deem it necessary to affix their signatures jointly on a piece of paper.
It has long ceased to defy the imagination why the international community would want to continue legitimizing a march toward some nebulous newness where the destination is hazier than the road. Yet this is where we stand at this juncture of history.
The presidency is just the beginning of a plethora of questions that must be addressed in light of the new political dynamics. On drafting the new constitution, should the assembly start from scratch or resume from where its predecessor had left off? The Maoists want to preserve every iota of what they believe is their legacy and build political capital for the future. Those in the mainstream counseling that the presence of the royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal must be taken into account are equally preparing for the prestidigitations ahead.
As we proceed, we can pretty much write off constitutional niceties at every turn. The politics of it would be more defiant. And let’s not even consider how profoundly popular acceptance of the final document will come to rest on the political realities of that day.
Nevertheless, those who won the most seats in the assembly have the greatest responsibility to smooth the way ahead. And, rest assured, they will find a way to do so. Last-minute late-night numbered agreements mediated by shadowy foreign hands have become standard operating procedure. Sure, Nepalis will continue to grumble and grieve. If we can’t do anything about it, as they say, we’ve learned to enjoy it. At a minimum, this default mode allows us to detach ourselves from the process, blame our politicians, and then keep electing them.
It seems our politicians, too, are learning to enjoy the gig. The party that boycotted the election and vowed to sabotage it is now signaling its acquiescence to a respectful presence in the assembly and government. The victors give that sentiment a sympathetic hearing. Everybody gets something to get on with their lives.
Come to think of it, it’s consensus by any other name.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Winners And Losers – Take Your Pick

What stood out the starkest from the handwringing and hubris over the results of the second constituent assembly elections was Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s clarification. The outcome of the election was by no means a repudiation of the Maoist agenda. (Translation: Nepali voters were too stupid to recognize the great work the Maoists were doing on their behalf and sooner or later realize that.)
Before rushing to ridicule our erudite Dr. Bhattarai, let’s not forget the larger question. What is it with these leftist/liberals everywhere? On the other side of the globe, we have a president who finally apologizes to his people for the disastrous rollout of his signature healthcare plan. But, no, he is not sorry for having misled the people that they could keep their existing health plan if they liked it. He apologized for not being able to make the people understand more clearly that national healthcare meant universalizing a lousy plan that gave out free birth control but drastically raised premiums and deductibles.
When you know you are running out of excuses, you start the kind of sordid contortions Dr. Bhattarai engaged in. No, the Maoists might not join the newly elected assembly in protest against the rigged vote, Dr. Bhattarai suggests. But, in the same breadth, he proclaims his party actually won the elections because the constituent assembly was its longstanding demand in the first place, which the other parties agreed to kicking and screaming.
To twist and turn things further, if the assembly Dr. Bhattarai so fervently supports were to affirm the framework of the 1990 Constitution, would he accept? What 1990 Constitution, you might ask, considering the flatness of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal’s fall in the first-past-the-post category of the polling? Nepalis may have voted against ethnic-based federalism, but they did not deliver a verdict in favor of restoring the monarchy. (For heaven’s sake, three members of the republican faction of the party of the former panchas were directly elected.)
What did Nepalis vote for then? The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) two-thirds of the 1990 framework, surely, in a fractured assembly. Which then forces us to contend with our past more than with our future. In the CPN-UML, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Bam Dev Gautam won from two constituencies each, joining party chairman Jhal Nath Khanal and his challenger Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli.
We spent five years ridiculing how Madhav Nepal managed to become prime minister despite having lost the election from two constituencies. Do we believe he would not want to extract the full price of having won doubly this time? (He did imply as much to reporters after his triumph, forcing Oli to flinch.) And Gautam knows a thing or two about dissidence and its ultimate manifestation.
On the Nepali Congress side, of its three principal leaders, Sushil Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba won from two constituencies each. What both can agree on is that Ram Chandra Poudel has less of a claim to the premiership. Before we go gaga over the likes of Gagan Thapa, let’s not forget that people like Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Arjun Narsingh KC, Ram Sharan Mahat and Prakash Man Singh are pretty much around, not to speak of the second-generation Koiralas. Prime minister they may not become. But they sure can determine who does. (And don’t even get Maila Baje started on what Khum Bahadur Khadka might be contemplating).
If the Maoists have retained even a fraction of the political skills they exhibited during the people’s war, they might be the ones to watch throughout. A UML-backed Pushpa Kamal Dahal premiership or a Nepali Congress-backed Baburam Bhattarai government may sound too far-fetched at this time. But you get the drift.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Fall Guy Isn’t Tripping Yet

The pre-poll rancor proceeds apace on two levels. Who was responsible for pushing the Baidya Maoists out of the electoral arena? And, second, which party among the principal mainstream contestants really does not want the polls to take place now the most?
Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist chairman Mohan Baidya, like most Nepalis, probably recognizes how both trains of thought are in a sense chugging along one track. Are we really expected, Maila Baje wonders, to sit here and believe the Nepali Congress, Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist are engulfed in despair that the Baidya Maoists have decided to boycott the elections?
Or that they are really afraid his alliance (which for all practical purposes is the Baidya party) might subvert an exercise they wanted so desperately that they had to deploy the military?
The elections are a formality that must be pursued as evidence that Nepal has both peace and a process driving it after it escaped the clutches of the monarchy. The exercise, more importantly, is meant to mollify the legions of do-gooders around the world who aren’t supposed to be anywhere close to the polling booth but believe they have all the prescriptions.
Few Nepalis, if instant online surveys and casual conversations are anything to go by, expect the next constituent assembly to write a new constitution. Prominent leaders are claiming with a straight face that the elections will be successful because the international community wants them to be.
Other top leaders are candidly asking us not to worry because the constitution could be enacted through referendum should agreement elude the drafters this time as well. (Are they going to disagree with the draft but come out with one anyway? Or they going to come out with multiple drafts and ask the people to choose from among them?)
The three principal parties each claim they will come out on top. But each one is mired in internecine battles within. Individual leaders – senior, junior, self-appointed and catapulted ones, alike – are more alarmed by their party rivals’ prospects than they are imbued with confidence in the prospects of their triumph.
What all this means is that, collectively, no one is sure which way the wind will blow. Even Jimmy Carter can’t expect to affirm an uncontested stamp of approval this time. The best thing the big parties think they could do is postpone the elections. But that’s a no-no for the international stakeholders.
The obvious fall guy isn’t showing signs of tripping. Baidya, having rebuffed invitations to the top table via the backdoor, is carefully positioning his alliance for a peaceful boycott. Now, that could mean anything – ranging from sitting out in the wilderness to become the chief critic of whatever the winners do end up drafting, to reinforcing the royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal in a united front against gyrations choreographed elsewhere.
So, if the big parties still want to delay the polls, they will have to find some other excuse credible enough to the international community. Might something like popular apathy work? Heck, the parties could use their own supporters to organize anti-election rallies to force the rest of the world to step back, all in the name of the peace process.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Big Tent And Small Talk

Okay, enough with the cackles. The Big Three are serious when they say they want to nominate representatives of the poll-boycotting 33-party alliance to the new constituent assembly. We all need a big tent, unless we want to keep choosing every couple of years people who might be able to draft our constitution. Even in that case, who is to say that the Nepali Congress or the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) would not mount their own boycotts down the road for one reason or the other? So let’s do what we have to while we still can.
Comrade Rohit of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party is most appalled at the idea. But, then, he’s the guy who signed the 12-Point Agreement in New Delhi only to land in Kathmandu to tell us how bad it was. Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepali Congress leader senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN-UML senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal all have broach the idea because, Maila Baje hears in not so soft whispers, it originally came from the real architects of the 2005 accord.
There is precedent here. One that precedes the entry of Madhav Nepal into a body voters affirmed they didn’t want him in – twice. Nepal went on to achieve his long-held dream of becoming head of government but also became one of the longest caretaker premiers in the world.
Come to think of it, our whole post-April 2006 peace process is predicated on such magnanimity. The Maoists, who facilitated Nepal’s circumvention of the popular will, were themselves brought into an interim parliament that rose on the debris of what had been duly dissolved by an elected prime minister. When the king revived the House of Representatives to cool passions on the streets, he employed the same arbitrariness the mainstream parties and the Maoists had longed condemned him for. Consensus trumps constitutionalism. Who can forget how Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, having lost the election to the first parliament in 1959, went on to become its speaker anyway?
But there is a problem, here. The breakaway Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which heads the anti-poll alliance, does not want a place in the assembly. That it has fallen to leaders of the hardest-line major party to point out the inherent undemocratic nature of the proposal is beside the point.
The international community must be a little discomfited here, too. Jamie McGoldrick, the top United Nations official in Nepal, urged CPN-Maoist leader Mohan Baidya to make sure his boycott was peaceful.
The campaign, meanwhile, has turned colorful and clichéd. Dahal’s critics continue to mock him as ‘wall president’, while the Nepali Congress is dismissed as a sinking ship. The UML is being called what it has been since its inception: wishy-washy. The pro-monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal expects an “unexpected” outcome, while the regional outfits are trying to figure out who they want to represent.
As November 19 approaches, there still is the possibility of a postponement of the polls. An equal likelihood could be a last-minute point-by-point deal that would bring Baidya & Co. onboard to fight their next battles. This is the fun of our relentless search for newness. While we’re still at it, Baidya might want to do a Comrade Rohit: maintain the boycott, refuse nomination to the assembly, but extend support from outside.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Freedom Beyond The Frenzy

From the slosh and frenzy of the crowd of supporters who greeted Khum Bahadur Khadka as he walked out of prison earlier this month, you’d be forgiven for expecting him to head directly into Singha Durbar to take charge. From the vermilion-saturated, flower-heavy and motorcycle-driven festiveness, it was easy to forget that the man had just done time on corruption charges.
The Nepali Congress luminary, for the most part, sought out the future. Yes, a kangaroo court had hauled him in on trumped-up charges, he suggested. But incarceration had only steeled his inspiration. He had strong words of caution for the party leadership, across the factional alignments. And, predictably, he hoisted the mantle of B.P. Koirala and the party icon’s clarion call of national reconciliation.
Khadka, Maila Baje feels, has a strong claim to that legacy. And not just because he’s the only notable who disembarked that aircraft with B.P. in 1976 who is still breathing in our midst. Forget the brave face the Nepali Congress is putting up before the upcoming elections. The party may yet do the best among the principal contestants. But that will have been because its rivals have done a pretty lousy job in power.
Like it or not, the Nepali Congress needs a Koirala to survive. The children, nephews and nieces of B.P. staking their claim to the party’s soul all share the last name. Yet far from uniting the organization, none has been capable of rising above kindergarten squabbling or silliness. So the best the party can hope for is someone who can channel B.P.’s spirit, something Khadka has fully grasped. Could he be that person?
At one point, Khadka was the party’s kingmaker, having at least a quarter of the party’s legislators stashed into his pocket. If Sher Bahadur Deuba could break away from the Girija Prasad Koirala-led mother organization in 2002, it was largely because he had Khadka on his side. As home minister in the Deuba government, Khadka insisted he could conduct the parliamentary elections over the Maoists’ threats. Yet the prime minister thought otherwise. When King Gyanendra sacked Deuba and took executive control – in the relatively benign first phase of royal assertiveness – Khadka was among the handful of Nepali Congress leaders put behind bars.
His controversial and ostensibly corrupt ways had made him an open target, and the masses cheered on. If the criminalization of Nepali politics could be blamed on one person, Khadka critics contended, then he was the man. Then there were other throbbing questions, such as whether it was purely coincidental that the Maoists gained in lethality on Khadka’s watch.
At this point, Khadka began flaunting his republican credentials. He recalled his statement at a party meeting a few years earlier where he had suggested that the Nepali Congress might be better off offloading the monarchy. Years later, when Girija Koirala did just that, Khadka did not seem too happy. Careful to reject the monarchist label, Khadka nevertheless lamented the rashness with which his party had acted. When he appeared with former king Gyanendra at a religious function, people started speculating. But, then, the judges intervened.
As Khadka presses on with the B.P. legacy, he faces the same challenge other would-be successors have in defining the notion of national reconciliation. If B.P. had lived five or ten years longer, would he have had the same affinity for the monarchy? After all, B.P. was the head of a party that had tried to kill Kings Mahendra and Birendra. His version of the validity of the monarchy was rooted in local and geopolitical traditions he came to grasp largely after his release from Sundarijal in 1968. With so much internal and external change having gripped Nepal, could B.P. still be held captive to the same set of beliefs? These are only some of the questions Khadka would have to answer.
If national reconciliation today is in fact much more than a code word for the Nepali Congress’ imperative to return to its constitutional-monarchy roots, then Khadka has an even more onerous task. If anything, the party always has been a polarizing force when in power. In opposition, its sanctimony continues to rile its rivals. If the Nepali Congress really thinks it is Nepal’s only true democratic party and is prepared to bet its life on it, then it must learn to act like it. Khadka should begin anew by driving the point harder.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

So It’s In The Way The Stars Spin

In case you’re worried, our pre-poll apathy won’t immediately agitate the political atmosphere. At least not when it comes to deciding on the leader of the next elected government. But you have to put your full faith in the stars. They have aligned in favor of Sher Bahadur Deuba, according to veteran starwatcher Angiras Neupane’s latest estimation.
Deuba’s Nepali Congress is poi
Whether the new assembly, even having surmounted the boycott and bluster, would be able to address its principal task – drafting the new constitution – remains uncertain. In predictions made several weeks ago, if Maila Baje recalls correctly, Neupane didn’t seemed too thrilled with the November 19 date. Postponing the exercise by a mere three days, if you went by him, would have boosted our chances of finally flipping though the printed version of the articles and clauses fresh off the presses. But we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do to maintain the optics of a functioning political process.
Given the likely new configurations, there is no guarantee the assembly will even try to take up from where its predecessor had left off. A new mandate also means casting a new look at things. That could mean anything from a full reversal of the arbitrariness that has become the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, to a considerable tinkering around the corners, to a lightening leap in another direction few might have contemplated.
Granted, our record with such assemblies – nominated, elected, non-party, multiparty, first-past-the-post, proportional – is not encouraging. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For that, we’ll need a new government. And there, at least, the stars provide some sunniness.
Deuba, according to Neupane, will head the government enjoying support from the key parties. This is biggie, considering that members of our political fraternity so hated one another that they had to saddle the Supreme Court Chief Justice with a second job to get to where we are now.
The interesting part of Neupane’s latest electoral analysis is geography. Or, specifically, the notion that the places the principal candidates are contesting from will determine our collective fate. Those choosing their birthplaces or traditional constituencies, barring Deuba and CPN-UML chairman Jhal Nath Khanal, will have a hard time getting into the assembly. So would those who have veered a little west, north or south this time. Those venturing eastward have the best shot at victory.
Thus, UCPN-Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal would lose from Kathmandu, but win from Siraha. Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala can forget Banke and focus on Chitwan. CPN-UML senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal is likely to be routed in Rautahat but may squeak through from Kathmandu. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai would triumph from Gorkha (he moved to an eastern constituency) but would lose from Rupandehi.
There is wisdom, after all, in all these candidates contesting from more than one constituency. All this is good until you consider those who call easternmost Taplejung, Panchthar, Ilam and Jhapa their ancestral or political home. Where can they go? But, then, nobody said elections were 100 percent fair.
sed to become the largest party in Constituent Assembly II, which we seem on course to elect November 19 under a heavy blanket of security and acrimony. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist – which dominated the last assembly – and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist are set to be distant second and third placed.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Comrade Nepal Covers His Bases

With every election season, Madhav Kumar Nepal seems to emerge ever more committed to the principles and processes of democracy. As ambivalent Nepalis prepare a second time to elect representatives to write a constitution, the senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) states his party is taking part in the polls to strengthen democracy and the foundations of nationalism.
At a programme organized by the Kathmandu Chapter of Press Chautari, a group of reporters and editors allied to the UML, in the capital, Nepal reaffirmed his faith in multiparty democracy’s spirit that communists should win the people’s approval.
“We do not believe in totalitarianism and nor do we advocate [maintaining] the status quo,” he said. “We want the people’s approval in order to fulfill their expectations of change.”
Nepal, who is contesting the upcoming elections from Kathmandu Constituency No. 2, said the UML election manifesto would specifically pledge to draft the new constitution within six months of the constituent assembly’s formation.
There are quite some words of assurance, coming from the leader of a party whose democratic credentials, if truth be told, are not entirely above suspicion among many Nepalis. Not much time has passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall for communists anywhere to be heard talking about democracy with any degree of credibility.
Nepal’s assurance was even more surprising to those who read or heard about what he had supposedly said at a closed-door party meeting a few days earlier. At that venue, Nepal had said he was privy to information that the country would soon be facing a veritable catastrophe, not any sort of vote counting.
A flustered Bam Dev Gautam, the party vice-chairman, asked Nepal who he thought was behind this purported conspiracy. “I do not have full information on this but you
keep watching,” Nepal responded. “I am certain something is going to happen here very soon. And there will be no election.”
Now, if that threat had emanated from the usual suspects, Nepal would have jumped at the opportunity to answer Gautam. The former prime minister, after all, remains the most inveterate critic of former king Gyanendra. Moreover, he sounds the most confident among the current leaders ruling out the return of the monarchy in Nepal. Clearly, Nepal’s circumspection suggests that the threat comes from “those who must not be spoken of”.
Nepal is preparing to contest the elections from the same two districts he had lost from last time. In Rautahat, report suggests he has already made unsavory deals with other local contenders.
With Nepal having covered his bases, Maila Baje is tempted to ponder what the man really wants. No one knows how each big party would fare vis-à-vis the others. Their internal polls, we are told, have kept them all on edge, not to speak of the deep factionalism within.
Also unclear is the effect those boycotting the polls would have and what form the disruptions would take. And, ultimately, would the results carry the kind of legitimacy those taking part would want to be proud of?
Like many leaders of the major parties, Nepal probably does want the elections to take place as scheduled because the external stakeholders of the post-April 2006 process say they must “at all costs”. But what if he could find someone else to blame for subverting democracy?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

… And The Questions Keep Piling Up

Word that our two Maoist factions are planning to unite ahead of the elections is getting on nerves of the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninists.
The two mainstream parties, which jointly drove Nepal’s second democratic experience (1990-2002) to the ground but ended up blaming the monarchy, have been struggling for sustenance in the emerging scenario.
The Maoist crutch that helped them surmount the palace’s snub ended up debilitating the two mainstream parties. Instead of bragging how they brought the Maoists from the jungles to the mainstream – their default mode during much of the post-April 2006 delirium – Nepali Congress and UML leaders are today reminding us what kind of incorrigible barbarians the ex-rebels really are. From their incessant criticism, you kind of feel sorry for the Maoists. How much easier it must have been rebelling against the existing order with utopian promises.
What really led the Maoists to split remains unclear to this day. The ideological differences the Mohan Baidya camp cited were not compelling then. Since the split, the Baidya-led Maoists have been trying to define themselves as something different. And how times have changed. Baidya and his loyalists can’t hope to foment an uprising aimed at capturing the state when more and more Nepalis are feeling the absence of any state to speak of.
At the beginning, the Chinese seemed to be patronizing the Baidya group, but the party does not seem to have established its viability in terms of Beijing strategic purposes. In retrospect, the mandarins up north probably used the Baidya faction just get southern-tilting Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Co. to straighten up a bit.
Now that Baburam Bhattarai’s infatuation with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ‘dream’ has sections of the Indian press worked up, Baidya probably detects an opportunity. But weighing that against the potential blowback from the Chattisgarh massacre – perpetrated by Nepali Maoists’ ideological soulmates down south – will not be easy for a man who has regretted abjuring armed action.
Fearing marginalization, pressure is ostensibly building among some Baidya loyalists to return to the mother party. Others have engaged in so much name-calling that they figure they can’t go back with a straight face. On the other side, many have prospered in the post-split Dahal organization. They would be hard-pressed to crowd the deck without palpable potential electoral gains. All of which would, then, depend on how many Maoists actually feel elections are a near-term possibility.
The Nepali Congress and UML, no fans themselves of immediate elections, could find themselves baiting and badgering the two Maoist factions as long as they can. If Khil Raj Regmi were a traditional politician, our political class would already be demanding his head. All the Nepali Congress and UML can do now is ask Regmi to resign as chief justice.
Regmi was deemed a credible candidate for the premiership, Maila Baje recalls, precisely because he was the serving chief justice. Why, then, do the principal mainstream parties consider Regmi’s real constitutional post as an obstacle? This, to be sure, is a question no less vexing than why the Maoist factions split and now want to reunite.

Originally posted on May 26, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Annals Of An Unapologetic Pancha

Of the stalwarts of the Panchayat system who soldiered on until the very end, Navaraj Subedi largely faded into oblivion after the collapse of the partyless edifice in 1990. Admittedly, the name continued to command some political attention during the multiparty era, but it belonged to a radical communist.
Marich Man Singh Shrestha, the last prime minister of the partyless system, emerged four years later to contest the second parliamentary elections, which he lost. Niranjan Thapa, the state home minister in that much-reviled cabinet, returned several years later to serve as King Gyanendra’s law minister. However, Subedi, chairman of the Rastriya Panchayat and the Panchayat Policy and Evaluation Committee, receded into the background.
Maila Baje always thought Subedi, if he wanted to, could make one more important contribution – to history. The man was in the higher echelons of politics during those tumultuous final weeks of spring. As part of King Birendra’s entourage during the monarch’s inordinately extended regional tour, Subedi was ostensibly privy to the palace’s discussion of the available options vis-à-vis the burgeoning ‘people’s movement’.
Moreover, he had served under King Mahendra, having joined the Panchayat system straight out of university, unlike the former party workers who formed the bulk of the early panchas. And he had a flair for words.
So when Subedi’s memoirs, Itihaas Ko Kalkhand, (An Epoch of History) came out earlier this year, yours truly’s delight knew now bounds. The book, which found some unsympathetic early reviews, is a remarkable read on several levels. For one thing, it provides a rare contrast between the working styles of two monarchs, so different temperamentally yet united in their vision of Nepal’s independent and sovereign place in the world.
In the public realm, King Mahendra died an autocrat, while King Birendra got to reinvent himself as a democrat before suffering a tragic end. In Subedi’s portrayal, the efficiency of one-man rule and confusion of the consensus-seeking are sharply juxtaposed: take your pick.
Someone who became a pancha by ‘accident’ – in his accounting – Subedi concedes it took him a while to develop loyalty to the system. Working under King Mahendra, he explains how he saw the monarch listening to everyone but making his own decisions. In Subedi’s telling, Mahendra never saw partylessness as permanent.
Under King Birendra, who was more forbearing than his father, political parvenus gradually gained the upper hand. Subedi saw a system atrophying, ironically at a time when it had emerged strong through its referendum victory.
In blaming the ‘mandale’ hardliners for the demise of the system, Subedi joins a legion of panchas led by Surya Bahadur Thapa. There is a broader point that comes out. Under King Mahendra, panchas were more likely to be self-assured individuals who, reconciled with the existing political reality, believed they could do something for the country. And they found a monarch they felt respected their views.
King Birendra, too, had an abiding capacity for listening to others. But the multiplicity of opinions seemed to confound him, giving the queen’s camp a greater say in affairs. Even when the royals were persuaded of the wisdom of a particular course of action, there was no guarantee it would past muster with the king’s secretaries and ADCs intent on preserving their own fiefdoms.
Despite all this, Subedi has fulsome praise for the intentions of King Birendra. Many today revel in denouncing wholesale the system they prospered under and expect to retain credibility. Subedi does not denigrate the royals in a holier-than-thou tone. Critical of influential albeit unaccountable individuals who derailed what could have been a less turbulent transition, Subedi doesn’t set himself apart from the system. With unusual candor, he concedes he failed to save a system he had invested decades nurturing. Yet he remains as unapologetic a pancha as he can be.
The book is replete with interesting tidbits. Subedi recounts with almost comical flair how he was coerced to switch constituencies (and districts) during the first Rastriya Panchayat election. He speaks of how he raised money from controversial businessman Choth Mal Jatiya to fund the Panchayat camp’s electioneering, conceding the existence of a quid pro quo. But he also laments how, once victorious, his side ended up reneging on its promise to the man. Examples of personal vendettas and family tragedies are sprinkled with acts of kindness and consideration to give the book an eminently human touch.
There are times when Subedi reveals a hard-to-believe proximity with Kings Mahendra and Birendra. Some of the conversations he recounts do not seem to be of the kind that royals would engage in so easily outside the family. At other points, the writing appears breezy and disjointed. Subedi claims credit for quite a few positive decisions. Yet he does so not with brazen self-righteousness but with the pride of having been part of the system.
The record of the Panchayat decades – particularly the Mahendra years – has been distorted. The obsession with the undemocratic nature of the system has largely overlooked the global context and the domestic realities in which it arose. By definition, a system that outlawed political parties could not be considered democratic. Yet Panchayat-era Nepal never resembled Mao’s re-education camps or Stalin’s Gulag. The foundations of a modern and viable state were laid during those partyless decades, when Nepal could firmly establish its independent identity in the world.
Mercifully, time is slowly permitting a more dispassionate view of the Panchayat decades, enabling a separation of the wheat from the chaff. Subedi’s book is great addition to the literature both in terms of content and comportment.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What’s So Foreign About These Agents?

Ostensibly fed up with Nepali leaders’ typical propensity for blaming the ‘foreign hand’ for their basic inefficiencies and/or inadequacies, former prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa made a fascinating observation last week.
“Foreign agents easily seem to recognize their kind, whereas the average Nepali has no such power of discrimination,” the veteran politico told reporters at Biratnagar Airport, careful to include himself in the latter category.
It was not hard to guess that Thapa’s target was Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), who has been suggesting with some regularity that foreign agents are trying to foil the November elections.
To his credit, Thapa has been among that rare breed of Nepali politicians who have studiously desisted from blaming the ‘foreign hand’ for our ills. You could argue that the wily politician has done so because he does not want to invite needless attention to himself.
After all, Thapa has been considered a confidante of the Indian leadership since the period of Indira Gandhi. Moreover, he has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to become prime minister at crucial times vis-à-vis Nepal’s relations with its southern neighbor.
But this proximity, Maila Baje feels, is something others have conjectured. Thapa has never flaunted the strings he can supposedly pull in India, or can have pulled on his behalf from there. Nor has he been tempted to complain when countervailing external forces have purportedly intervened against him. If there was something that he ever railed against single-mindedly, it was the ‘underground cabal’ of the 1980s. And that was a purely domestic configuration.
Contrast that with Dahal, whose like or dislike for particular foreign powers seems to vary not only with the issue at hand but the political alignments of the moment. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, too, tends to forget the iniquities of the Sugauli Treaty when in power, i.e., precisely when he is in a position to do anything about them.
The Maoists are merely the most recent practitioners of this duplicity. Politicians across the spectrum have been selective about their expostulations on where foreign benevolence ends and interference begins.
If the Maoist chairman really hopes to thwart the elections and then blame the rival Mohan Baidya camp, Thapa’s latest comments would hardly be a deterrent. Thapa’s wing of the former panchas may be struggling to impress Nepalis that they have become real republicans. In fact, they may have established themselves more as Nepal’s premier ingrates. But Thapa himself has succeeded in cementing his relevance across political systems through his temperance, as far as our own responsibilities go.
Thapa, to be sure, knows that Nepal has been a traditional playground for foreign powers and that his own tenures in office have conformed to that rule. He is much too skilled a politician not to recognize that these powers have grown more assertive since the political changes of 2006. It’s not difficult to imagine that Thapa likes some of these developments and wishes others did not turn out the way they did.
The difference is that Thapa knows that our political class is far more complicit in this situation than it will ever be prepared to concede.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Maoists Divided, Maoists United…

Netra Bikram Chand
Seven years into our former Maoist rebels’ grand entry onto the political center stage, many Nepalis are still intrigued by what their real motives might be. So much so that, on the eve of elections deemed so crucial to saving our souls, we’re still debating whether this constellation of comrades – formally arrayed today as pro- and anti-election parties – had ever really split.
Netra Bikram Chand, secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist – the poll-boycotting, more hard-line adherents of the Great Helmsman – has reignited that question through a spate of sizzling public speeches.
Exhorting us to forego the notion that the foot soldiers of Nepal’s bloodiest political movement had split in two, Chand kind of stepped back a day later, stressing the possibility of reunification between the leadership. (Okay, the leaders parted ways, but the followers stayed put.)
Yet his formulation was provoking enough, at least to Maila Baje, to suggest that his party is not on the defensive. Any unity, Chand insisted, must rest on a clear acknowledgement by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chief of the establishment United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, of the leadership (supremacy?) of the group led by Mohan Baidya.
Dahal, who until the other day was gleefully proclaiming how the Baidya faction was ensuring its oblivion through its boycott call, conceded that talks were being held, but ruled out imminent unity. So something must be going on, right?
What makes this flicker of camaraderie particularly fascinating is that it comes amid feverish reports of another game plan the establishment Maoists have purportedly hatched against their rivals.
By depicting the Baidya-led Maoists as anti-democratic, by dint of their vow to actively boycott the November elections, Dahal and Co. are said to be contemplating state suppression as their ultimate option. That way, the establishment Maoists not only get to ‘prove’ that they have transformed into a peace-loving and democratic entity but also get to heap accountability for all the insurgency-era atrocities on their rivals all the way to The Hague.
Chand’s remarks came upon his return from a recent ‘mysterious’ trip to China, fueling speculation that the mandarins up north, even in the midst of their own factional bloodletting, might have something up their sleeves.
The fact that India has sent a new ambassador to Nepal, Ranjit Rae – someone who was said to have been actively involved in the signing of the 12-point agreement between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists – may or may not have energized the Chinese at this particular moment.
Since Beijing can be more far more inscrutable than any of our Maoists could ever hope to be, it makes sense to pursue this line of inquiry all the way. But before you think you have finally figured out what may be going on in dark corridors, don’t forget that Chand is one of our few Maoists who reportedly enjoy strong links in both Beijing and New Delhi.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Not So Murky LTTE-Maoist Links

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, almost out of the blue last week, volunteered that his Maoist party had established links with Sri Lanka’s once-dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgents during the height of the ‘people’s war’ in Nepal.
Capable of shooting from all sides of his mouth, earning all-round scorn and derision, Dahal has also demonstrated a capacity for reaping some subsequent reward from the same supposed silliness. Thus, it is unwise to dismiss out of hand the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman’s latest disclosure.
Now, Dahal didn’t elaborate on what kind of relationship his party had maintained with the LTTE. Was it training, logistics, weapons, cash, all or either of the above? Stressing that the LTTE was fighting for ethnic liberation and the Maoists had waged a ‘movement for national liberation’, Dahal indicated that the LTTE had also sought help from the Maoist side.
Although Dahal conceded that this was the first time he was revealing the existence of a relationship, reports of a nexus often made the rounds during our decade-long insurgency, especially after the fighting got particularly vicious. Still, they were more likely to be dismissed as desperate attempts by two tottering states to discredit the ‘heroic struggles’ of these respective peoples seeking total liberation.
There were tell-tale signs, nevertheless. At times, after heavy battlefield operations, Nepali soldiers would recover non-Nepali-looking dark and headless bodies purportedly belonging to the non-Aryan stock native to the southern South Asian land mass. The Maoists and the LTTE both used peace and war as part of a strategy to confound the state vis-à-vis their strengths and motives, while amassing a considerable war chest through coercion, extortion and a plethora of multiple dealings.
With the suppression of the LTTE and the mainstreaming of the Maoists, you would have expected Dahal to studiously avoid resurrecting any memory. Dahal’s comment become all the more intriguing considering his organization’s links with India’s Research and Analysis Wing spooks and the Norwegians, the main two external groups also involved in the evolution and growth of the LTTE.
This connection led some Nepali analysts to immediately wonder whether Dahal was attempting, ahead of our elections, simultaneously to woo RAW and assure the Norwegians that he still remains firmly behind ethnic federalism, something so palpably dear to the Oslo mediators’ hearts.
What Maila Baje found particularly revealing was the seeming contradiction inherent in Dahal’s praise of the LTTE as an ‘organization of the brave’ and his reminder that Chinese support eventually helped Colombo snuff out the insurgents.
Dahal, at this point, is probably not troubled by the apparent provocation of a fellow member state of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation through his gratuitous glorification of the rebels. His remembrance – almost lament – that Chinese support ultimately helped to crush the LTTE probably wouldn’t anger Beijing. In fact, the Chinese communists might even be tempted to take pride in their sparkling credentials as master insurgents as well as counterinsurgents.
But maybe Dahal had another purpose in resurrecting the past. Did our Maoists’ use their proximity to the LTTE to funnel intelligence to the Chinese that aided Beijing in assisting Colombo to ultimately suppress the rebellion?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Perils of Trust Sans Verification

BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad
In seeking to defend his country against allegations of malevolent interference in Nepal, did a top visiting Indian dignitary end up confirming that the ostensibly pro-monarchy Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government actually conspired with the Nepali Maoists to turn the world’s only Hindu kingdom into a secular republic?
Dr. Prakash Chandra Lohani of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Chandra Prakash Mainali of Nepal Communist Party-Marxist Leninist – representatives of opposite poles in Nepali politics – raised the clandestine Maoist-New Delhi relationship during an interaction with Ravi Shankar Prasad, a leader of the BJP, in Kathmandu the other day.
A visibly exasperated Prasad countered: “What is the harm if peace prevails in Nepal and the terrorists accept the democratic setup?” Nothing indeed, if the Indian government had been upfront about it all along.
In reality, the myth that the BJP was solidly behind the monarchy was demolished long before the Maoist-New Delhi concord. (The Maoists, under the terms of the understanding, pledged to keep their anti-Indian rhetoric limited to that, while New Delhi continued to offer safe haven and covert political and diplomatic support to the rebels.)
True, the BJP-led government had invited King Birendra as the chief guest to India’s Republic Day celebrations in 1999. This gesture, it was felt by some Nepalis at the time, underscored India’s final acceptance of Nepal as a full and sovereign nation. Yet those making that claim conveniently forgot that Bhutan’s monarch had already been an invitee.
It was under BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that India’s intelligence agents leaked a report that Nepal had become a virtual Pakistani proxy in the latter’s undeclared war on India. Then came allegations that Queen Aishwarya somehow had a role in the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
After the 1999 Christmas eve hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi led to an embarrassing denouement in Kabul, where the Indian foreign minister personally escorted the captives the hijackers demanded New Delhi free, India stepped up all manner of pressure on Nepal.
And there was the biggie: the Narayanhity massacre of 2001. The initial Indian media reports, Maila Baje recalls, suggested that were that there were no surviving claimants to the throne (Prince Gyanendra, too, having been killed in the gathering). CNN and the western media, however, insisted that Prince Gyanendra was very much alive to provide continuity to the monarchy.
Reports circulating then had it that the American and British ambassadors, along with Prince Gyanendra, had proceeded to Pokhara from their scheduled trip to Chitwan after bidding goodbye to their fellow sojourner, the Indian ambassador, who returned to Kathmandu, oblivious of the Pokhara excursion.
The Maoists, who the Indian media had suggested had been poised to take over Narayanhity, then disappeared among the mourners. If India was angered by the western plot, it was likely to see the Maoists as its newfound ally. (Much would emerge from any future memoir by RAW operative Ravindra Singh, who later defected to the United States, but that seems a long shot.)
Nepal’s entire subsequent saga thus could be understood as the trials of a monarch who was not exactly power-hungry but confounded by the wider machinations under way down south. The precise extent of King Gyanendra’s awareness of these maneuverings, while not entirely known, can be appraised by his interviews with Indian journalists before and during his first state visit to India in June 2002 – the same period the Maoist-New Delhi understanding is said to have been reached.
That the BJP should be accused of such villainy by a perennially irate neighbor is probably a badge of honor for a party hoping to spring back to power next year. For us, the chronicle reinforces the perils of trust without verification.