Saturday, July 27, 2013

Partial Truths And Selective Outrage

The back-and-forth between Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai and Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) president Kamal Thapa is becoming a delight for those of us who love to take a long look backwards.
Dr. Bhattarai’s outbursts against former king Gyanendra for his alleged attempts to revive the monarchy through his current regional tour are understandable. As someone who still claims with a straight face almost exclusive credit for having turned Nepal into a republic, Dr. Bhattarai is by far the most aggrieved Nepali on this count.
Where Maila Baje finds Dr. Bhattarai rather duplicitous is in his assertion that he would have arrested (even hanged or exiled) the ex-king if he were prime minister today. Come on, this is not the first time the former king has embarked on high-profile regional tours. Moreover, the former monarch has been more outspoken politically during previous outings, including when Dr. Bhattarai headed the government. As an acclaimed propagandist, Dr. Bhattarai should have come up with something better.
This blast from the past has acquired added urgency precisely because of Dr. Bhattarai’s antecedents. In his famed Kantipur essay in June 2001 urging Nepalis not to legitimize what he called a “new Kot Parba”, Dr. Bhattarai accused the new king of virtually pulling the trigger on King Birendra and his entire family to seize power. As prime minister, Dr. Bhattarai hardly resembled the author of that polemic, even after the ex-monarch’s open challenge to his accusers.
Of course, Dr. Bhattarai had also indicted then-prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala for complicity in the Narayanhity Conspiracy. So when the Maoists joined hands with part of the ‘Gyanendra-Girija clique’ to overthrow the monarchy, Nepalis thought the rebels were merely being pragmatic. Given that a one-party Maoist state was an impossibility in our day and age, the comrades needed a veneer of legitimacy that the Nepali Congress leader could provide.
Now it looks like Dr. Bhattarai had wanted to do a deal with King Gyanendra first. In Thapa’s recollection of a key phase in the peace talks, Dr. Bhattarai offered the king to become Nepal’s first president. (In retrospect, that was not quite a downgrade for the king considering the Kims in North Korea and the sheikhs in the United Arab Emirates.)
But the palace rebuffed that offer. The Girija alliance was an afterthought nurtured by a bruised ego, inflamed by foreigners outraged by the palace’s effort to find an indigenous solution to the conflict. (Just go back and read the Indian press commentary during this period.)
Kamal Thapa will perhaps come out with further tid-bits to fill the gaps Dr. Bhattarai has left out vis-à-vis the monarchy. Since the RPP-N leader has been dissected minutely enough since his student years, we can afford to set him aside here. But there are enduring mysterious aspects of the Maoist leader that need to come out from the man himself. His penchant for selective outrage must not be allowed to obscure some key questions:
How many times did Dr. Bhattarai and other senior Maoist leaders escape death when Nepali soldiers were asked to call off their offensives at the last minute?
Who in India bailed him and the missus out of Prachanda’s labor camp in 2005 and forced a patch-up in time for the 12-Point Agreement with the Seven Party Alliance? What specific undertakings had the Maoists (and Dr. Bhattarai as the prime interlocutor) made to the Indian government between November 2005 and April 2006?
How come the consistently tempered, coherent and elegant prose Dr. Bhattarai produced during his underground years turned out to be so inconsistent with the spoken language he has been employing since 2006?
Based on the preceding, what will Dr. Bhattarai do in the event the monarchy is restored?