Saturday, March 15, 2014

Madhav Nepal’s Futile Fear Of Irrelevance

Electoral triumph has been kind of unforgiving on Madhav Kumar Nepal. Having won from both constituencies he contested in the last November’s elections, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) leader should have been exuding a palpable sense of pleasure, if not an outright aura of vindication.
Regularly derided for having snuck into the last assembly through the backdoor before maneuvering his way to the premiership, Nepal, in a sense, became emblematic of the general ailment gripping the post-2008 polity. Yet, as head of government, he ended up projecting much confidence here and abroad, even if at times it seem quite surface-deep.
Of late, though, our comrade seems uncharacteristically forlorn. Sure, he continues to banter along, but it comes laced with an unmistakable strain of bitterness. Those close to him – admittedly a rapidly dwindling community – attribute this to his sense of being sidelined in the party.
After K.P. Sharma Oli defeated party chairman Jhal Nath Khanal to become the UML’s parliamentary party leader – in effect, the party’s candidate for prime minister – Nepal started aching and agonizing more than even Khanal did.
As Nepal began voicing dissatisfaction with the way things were going in the party – even boycotting some organizational meetings – critics stepped up attacks on the former premier. Members within his own party castigated him for trying to scuttle the Nepali Congress-UML governing alliance. So much so that Comrade Nepal had to come out publicly and deny that he was playing any kind of ‘double game’.
We really don’t know what Nepal did or did not say to Nepali Congress leaders upon his return from that visit to New Delhi. If there was any quarter that benefited the most from the perception that Nepal had suggested to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala that handing the Home Ministry to Bam Dev Gautam would not be viewed kindly by the Indians, it had to be our friends across the southern border. This might sound counterintuitive until you acknowledge the deviousness of the attempt to delay the inevitable without the real perpetrators’ leaving fingerprints anywhere.
Maila Baje feels Nepal’s private disenchantment with the way he was ‘used’ by foreign ‘friends’ in this episode explains much of his public posture in the weeks since. He is not the first Nepali politician to harbor such frustrations and certainly won’t be the last.
Understandably reluctant to expose the real roots of his exasperation, Nepal has taken a more acceptable tack: the man wants us to know that he doesn’t want to be perceived as the person who, so to speak, spoiled the party.
Thus, in recent days, Comrade Nepal is pressing home a message of unity and hope as the UML prepares to hold its crucial ninth general convention. But that doesn’t seem to be flying with his party rivals. While speeding up the process of drafting the new constitution, Nepal also wants the government to hold local elections to fill the long vacuum restraining the lower rungs of our body politic. In a recent speech, Nepal asserted that the elections had to be held within next three months, if they were to be held at all. That contention prompted a rejoinder from Deputy Prime Minister Gautam, who has some experience with the power of incumbency and local elections. Gautam, who has emerged as the public face of the anti-Madhav Nepal coterie in the party, believes organizing elections on such a schedule would be impossible in view of the time constraints and the onset of the monsoon rains. Gautam’s latest stance goes against the positions taken by the government and the two major ruling parties. The DPM, however, must have been impelled to speak by the opposition the two Maoist factions mounted against such polls.
As far as his fear of being ‘sidelined’ goes, Maila Baje feels that is unnecessary. Comrade Nepal has proven himself adept in the art of maintaining relevance. That is a skill that will prove far more handy amid inter- and intra-party contradictions. So count on him to temper his discontents with the right dose of altruism and magnanimity, tinged, of course, with his caustic wit.