Saturday, November 29, 2014

Modi Act II: Advise And Dissent

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi advised our political class to draw up the new constitution by consensus – not brute numbers – the Maoist leadership immediately rose up exuding a profound sense of vindication.
Individual Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) leaders immediately began muttering and moaning against Modi’s gratuitous advice.
Rastriya Janamorcha Party President Chitra Bahadur KC, reflecting the schisms in the hard left, issued a statement deploring Modi’s stance, saying he had not only interfered in the internal matters of Nepal but had also crossed all diplomatic limits.
And KC didn’t stop there. “[Modi] is clearly against drafting constitution by the constituent assembly. He has stood against world acclaimed democratic process but has also dared to undermine Nepal’s constitution. His statement has pushed Nepal’s constitution drafting process to uncertainty.”
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, being the good host, reacted only after Modi’s departure. And that, too, after scribes quizzed him. Rejecting suggestions that Modi had applied any pressure for consensus, Koirala stated that how the constitution would be promulgated and what would be in it were entirely within the remit of Nepalis.
Before the original exultant Maoist leaders could hit back with their rebuttal, one functionary struck a cautionary note to the organization and the nation. Gopal Kiranti believed Modi’s remark was part of grand Indian conspiracy to defuse the protest programs planned by the opposition alliance to pressure the ruling parties to heed their demands. “Outwardly, it seems that [the Indians] favor unity between Nepalis but in reality they are there to strangle us,” Kiranti said in public comments.
When Modi insisted, at the inauguration of a trauma center in Kathmandu, that the constitution should be built through consensus and then could be amended through a two-thirds majority, it left many Nepali scratching their heads. How could you talk about a consensual document and a two-thirds-majority-based amendment in the same breadth? Perhaps someone somewhere on the Indian side bungled big time while were neck-deep in the Janakpur-Lumbini Modi itinerary fiasco.
But Modi seemed to double down in the evening. During individual meetings with leaders of the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML, the Maoists and the Madhesi parties, Modi said he hoped to get telephone calls from them on the morning of January 21 so that he could congratulate them on the successful completion of the process.
No, that was not something leaked from the meeting room. Indian Foreign Office spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said so briefing reporters, although he was careful to assert that India was not prescribing any bottom line to an independent and sovereign country.
Other sources, however, let it be known that Modi had fine-tuned his message for his audience. While impressing upon Nepali Congress and CPN-UML leaders the virtues of consensus, he expounded on the merits of compromise with the Maoist and Madhesi leaders.
With the Indian prime minister so ebullient in his bilaterals with Nepali leaders, could he have restrained himself during the SAARC retreat? No wonder Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the only leader in Kathmandu not to have held a one-on-one with Modi, is wearing that exception as a badge of honor.