Sunday, March 10, 2013

Not Quite The Victim Here

For someone who stands out for hurling his own share of scurrilous accusations, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is sure stung to the quick.
On the face of it, the trouble the prime minister took in issuing a 12-point rebuttal to allegations raised during his tenure fits with any reasonable man’s innate desire to defend his reputation. However, Dr. Bhattarai’s core contention – that the media erroneously played up his remarks, activities and events – undercuts his claims on the specifics.
No Nepali prime minister has escaped the harsh judgment of his times. It has become almost axiomatic in Nepali politics that every government, at least in the popular perception, is worse than the one it succeeded.
Admittedly, no head of government would like to be remembered in such a sordid way. But that’s the price of practicing politics in perpetually polarized times. If Dr. Bhattarai thought he could buck this trend, then that says quite something about him.
When Dr. Bhattarai ascended to the premiership, he brought along a reputation for probity and efficiency as finance minister. What was also true was that he established such credentials at a time when Nepalis were focused primarily, if not exclusively, on the peace process and new constitution. There, Dr. Bhattarai’s boss, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was taking much of the heat.
The reputation of an efficient tax collector was going to be of little use to Dr. Bhattarai in the top job. He took the reins when the twin tasks were grievously faltering. Yet he and his aides seemed complicit in fanning expectations from his ministerial record.
Charges of corruption, nepotism and patronage take little time to set in and then speedily take a life of their own. When hopes – regardless of rationality – are belied, the costs become brutal.
Even seemingly genuine symbols of change – i.e., the adoption of indigenous vehicles or espousal of direct and regular interaction with the people – tend to be revisited with popular cynicism.
Over time, it became easy to juxtapose the circumstances surrounding the BIPPA agreement with India, the Tribhuvan International Airport development plan, the mismanagement of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit, and the split of the Maoist party with new revelations from Indian sources on the Maoists’ maneuverings with New Delhi officialdom all the way back to at least 2002.
Maila Baje recognizes Dr. Bhattarai’s longstanding penchant for dismissing critics as Goebbelsian fiends. If the Nepali media have misquoted people, it is not a new phenomenon that has somehow injured only the incumbent prime minister. Moreover, the people are far from gullible; they have their own quibbles with reporters and editors. But how long have Nepali politicians blamed the media misquotations to wriggle out of difficult situations?
And who has better manipulated the media for his own ends than Dr. Bhattarai? During the early years of the Maoist insurgency, when elements in the mainstream parties and the media accused the royal palace of directly running the rebels, Dr. Bhattarai did not see it fit to rebut the charges to preserve the purity of his ‘revolution’. In fact, he took the opportunity to malign the palace as well as scare the mainstream parties by playing up even minor contacts with Panchayat-era politicians.
When it suited him, Dr. Bhattarai praised all Shah monarchs before Gyanendra Shah, boldly proclaiming that Nepalis would eventually evaluate them highly. Yet when times changed, he sought to club the Bhimsen Thapa and Rana eras – a cumulative 134 years when the palace existed only in name – into 230 years of monarchical malevolence the country could no longer afford.
The upshot? A skilled practitioner of evasion, obfuscation and fabrication, Dr. Bhattarai could have helped his legacy by shunning this blatant victim card.