Saturday, June 28, 2014

Generalspeak: Platitude Or Portent?

An already ailing prime minister diagnosed with another serious malady has reignited a leadership struggle in the principal ruling party, pitting its dynastic claimants against the plebeians.
The other major coalition partner is mired in a party convention wherein the two prime contestants for leadership are slinging mud over who brings more royalist baggage to the ring.
The once-feared rebels, splintered, exhausted and relegated to third place, insist the two ruling parties are bent on restoring the monarchy and unitary state by reinstating the previous constitution.
And when the only avowedly royalist party in the elected assembly insists it would not accept any constitution that did not formally accommodate the monarchy and Hinduism, even the most committed republicans do not pretend to rise up to offer a rebuttal.
So when Gen. Gaurav Shamsher Rana, chief of staff of the Nepal Army, reminded us other day that the armed forces were the last line of defense, he created a flutter.
In the best of times, such platitudes would have been easily shrugged off. Even in the worst – like today’s – a been-there-done-that attitude should have sufficed. Yet the attempt to read between the top general’s words persists. It’s an age-old syndrome: When you don’t know what you really want, you try to seek meaning in everything.
A little history lesson may be in order. The last time our top general gave the same message, stirrings of change were in the air. Except it wasn’t the kind we expected. When the entire family of the supreme commander of the then Royal Nepal Army perished inside the heavily fortified palace perimeter, the same army chief wanted us to be believe that his organization was not responsible for the royals’ security.
Clearly, army bosses pushed then king Gyanendra to seize full control of state powers in February 2005, confident in their ability to control the situation. Superficially, the monarch confronted a two-front battle. In reality, though, the mainstream parties were still discredited and the monarch initially had the people’s palpable – if wary – support. Why then could the army, unencumbered by the political imperatives inherent under party rule, make no dent against the insurgents? If the shortage of arms and ammunition resulting from the post-takeover embargo was the reason, what did that say about the generals’ political acumen?
Admittedly, you could accuse the monarch – as so many continue to – of squandering the brief window of opportunity by packing his cabinet with discredited politicians from the partyless and multiparty past. What else could he have done amid the sustained boycott mounted by the mainstream parties? Name key generals to top cabinet positions?
In the end, you could say the generals persuaded the monarch of the impossibility of his enterprise and encouraged him to step back. To assert that claim, the generals would have to inject some honesty to the discourse.
The army ultimately absolved itself by undergoing a name change and distancing itself from the palace. Any new such adventure would be far more perilous to the armed forces and, by extension, to the nation.
Now, if Gen. Rana’s intention was to assure us that the armed forces, which unified Nepal, sustained Bhimsen Thapa’s thirty-year autocracy before underpinning a century of the Ranas’, and went on to bolster the democrats, the panchas, multiparty practitioners, royalists and republicans of a still independent nation, then he should not have taken the trouble. If anything, we’ve wizened up to our history these past few years.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Consensus On Sharing Censure

Those of us scratching our heads so hard the past few days as to why our fragmented and fuming Maoists have suddenly chosen to forge a working alliance now have something to work on.
The major objective of the emerging alliance is to pull Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist out of Constituent Assembly, Chandra Prakash Gajurel, vice-chairman of the CPN (Maoist) said at a public interaction program the other day.
Published reports suggest Matrika Yadav’s CPN (Maoist), Mani Thapa’s Revolutionary Communist Centre and Pari Thapa’s CPN (United) also desire a common voice on key contentious issues before the new constitution is drafted.
Come to think of it, our Maoists are in a real fix. The parties inside the constituent assembly have emerged as the biggest impediments to the promulgation of a new constitution.
No single entity is prepared to assume full responsibility for this impending failure. Collectively, though, they are willing to share the blame. (Provided, of course, each party/faction/coterie reserved the right to point fingers at its rivals.)
This shared stance within the assembly has deprived the parties outside of a credible and coherent agenda. Since they cannot play spoilers, they have projected themselves as saviors.
“Yeah, we thought the constituent assembly, as the ultimate embodiment of popular sovereignty, would salve the Nepali soul,” your average Maoist comrade might assert. “But little did we know that a butcher selling goat meat behind a display of goat heads still had several tricks up his sleeve.”
“On top of that,” another might add, “it takes guts to accept where you went wrong.” If the street is where sovereignty of the people resides, then let’s try to ensure its triumph from there. That’s the philosophical part, more or less. What about the operational side? That’s what Gajurel is talking about.
Dahal recognizes that his war and peace were dictated largely by factors extraneous to the so-called objective conditions inside Nepal. The set of these external circumstances across the southern border circa 2005-2006 that culminated in the advent of republicanism here have largely dissipated and the drivers no longer possess the power to push the agenda forward.
On the other hand, the new handlers, while cognizant of their own national-security imperatives and core interests, are not necessarily wedded so sentimentally to republicanism and secularism in Nepal. Truth be told, who really knows how many people there, or elsewhere in the near abroad and beyond, continue to see those two attributes in Nepal as conducive to their national interests?
Despite Baburam Bhattarai persisting as the perennial thorn on his side, Dahal must continue pretending that he is still the ‘fierce one’ of lore. So he threatens to pull out of the assembly, decrying the ‘regressive tendencies’ of the ruling Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML).
However, if Dahal were to withdraw from the assembly unilaterally, Nepalis would feel vindicated in seeing him and his party as escapists. If parties outside the assembly could pull him in their direction, Dahal and Co. would be exposed to an acceptable, if not equal, distribution of denunciation. The core of political consensus, if you will.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Stray Thoughts On A Stirring Celebrity

She seemed to fit in the ambience so perfectly. Specifically, whatever she wore – her clothes or ours – she looked like one of us.
As the international media zeroed in on Selena Gomez’s personal travails while covering her recent visit to Nepal, we were happy to find the country on the entertainment pages for a change.
As a UNICEF ambassador, Selena arrived for an in-depth observation of the organization’s work in Nepal focused on education, nutrition, health and protection. “This visit to Nepal was extraordinarily powerful – at times, devastating and heartbreaking, but also incredibly inspiring,” she said in a press release.
For Maila Baje, the visit offered an opportunity to gaze beyond the daily grind. Selena Gomez has grown up into what an earlier Selena might have become, had she not been murdered on a March morning in 1995 by someone who was supposed to have taken care of her.
Some years hence, Selena Gomez popped up in the PBS kids show Barney & Friends. Parents and grandparents who turned to the purple dinosaur for early life lessons for their young ones began bonding with her. It was pleasing to learn later that Selena’s mom had named her daughter after the Tejano singer.
With Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place, we could now identify with Alex Russo’s magical antics as she and her two siblings competed for the slot of Family Wizard of their generation. The carefree, anything-is-possible attitude of children of men and women who wake up every morning and make America work gripped audiences episode after episode.
Much as they delighted adults, kids like Selena, her one-time Barney colleague and fellow Disney star Demi Lovato, and Miley “Hannah Montana” Cyrus also disturbed parents, especially those with daughters. How would they – and our children – turn out as young adults? And what would that say about us?
Demi began struggling with drug problems, walking in and out of rehab a few times, before speaking publicly about herself with courage. Miley grew into a raunchy entertainer pushing the boundaries of public decency harder than Madonna or Lady Gaga ever dared to.
Selena seemed to have transitioned with much – for lack of a better term – stability. Her side of the relationship with Justin Bieber contained nothing of bawdiness the Canadian heartthrob began showing with the first flush of success. Sure, there were stories of personal distress here and there, but Selena and the family handled them with much dignity and grace. She stands out as one of the few celebrities who are comfortable talking in public about her family values and faith with candor.
Selena’s visit to Nepal brought up troubling aspects of her love and life. Just looking at her pictures while she was here (such as the one above), you wouldn’t know what was – or was not – going on with her. What you did see was how she uplifted the spirits of kids here – even if briefly.
“At first when you witness children living in extreme poverty you wonder how it is possible that they can be deprived of their basic human needs and rights,” Selena said in her press release. “Then you talk to these children and you see hope, promise and a bright future.”
It would have been nice to see more international stories on how Selena Gomez inspired children in Nepal. But, again, that’s not what the entertainment pages are for. To writers and editors on that beat, well, everything comes naturally.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Our Indispensable Comrade?

The question is quite overdue. What makes K.P. Oli so indispensable to the success of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML)?
The party, afflicted by an identity crisis since birth, is struggling to maintain its relevance between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists. The eggheads in the party are deploying their entire erudition to craft a coherent party platform conforming to the times. Oli spends half his time in the hospital or in convalescence somewhere here or abroad. Worse, we don’t know what it is that really ails him. Yet, his party – at least a substantial chunk of it – sees in Oli its savior.
Yeah, yeah, he was among the earliest head-hunters in Jhapa, long before the Maoist perfected violence as a means to acquire power. We are also familiar with the legend of how Oli got to live when the Panchayat-era police ran out of bullets right when it was his turn to ‘flee to freedom’.
In the post-Madan Bhandari era, Oli is credited with providing organizational sturdiness to a party suddenly and tragically robbed of a charismatic leader. His tenure as home minister in the first UML government in 1994-95 is remembered as reasonably efficient.
Amid the party split three years later, Oli worked hard to contain the hemorrhage. (We don’t know how true reports were of his more personal involvement in restraining more would-be ship-jumpers.) Despite the war of words between the factions, Oli was instrumental in bringing back a chastened Bam Dev Gautam to the party with some respect.
During the years of royal assertiveness, Oli seemed to have a soft spot for the palace. At one point, party leader Madhav Kumar Nepal had to cut short a visit abroad to restrain Oli from joining the royal cabinet (even as its head).
Once the Maoists entered the mainstream, Oli was one of the few luminaries of the Seven Party Alliance who consistently questioned the former rebels’ commitment to peace and democracy. As deputy prime minister and foreign minister, he pushed that misguided attempt to get Nepal elected to the United Nations Security Council, almost equating it with a vote for peace and democracy.
Once the impossibility of that endeavor dawned upon him, he was palpably humbled. But Oli remained relentless against the Maoists. When Prime Minister Jhal Nath Khanal awarded the home portfolio to Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara while Oli was out of the country, Oli returned home to describe the move as a conspiracy against the party. But, then, others had indulged in far worse demagoguery.
Make no mistake. Oli’s background and experience make him a credible candidate for the party leadership. That he has so energized the rank and file is a tribute to his leadership qualities. But what about the rest of us? Don’t we need to know more on, say, where is he likely to lead from, especially since the premiership couldn’t be far off his sights? At least Girija Prasad Koirala was in his eighties when he wore that oxygen mask.