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.