Sunday, October 25, 2015

Enigmas of Arrival At Arm’s Length

Back in the days when republicanism was a cause even its most ardent advocates considered a practical impossibility to achieve in their lifetimes, Maila Baje often pondered a scenario: What would happen if a post-monarchy government led by the Nepali Congress found itself embroiled in political and diplomatic tensions with India.
Might a party that was born on Indian soil and depended so much on that country’s sustenance be able to assert itself on matters of core Nepali national interests? If so, how would the Indians respond, since they no longer would have the “autocratic” palace to kick around?
It took the promulgation of a republican Constitution this year – the culmination of a process driven by India nine years ago – to observe that engagement. What prompted then Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s Nepali Congress-led government to rebuff India’s repeated admonitions to go slow on the promulgation remains intriguing.
Equally so is India’s apparent unwillingness to take into consideration the democratic nature of the government apparently flouting its wishes. Across the spectrum, some of the politicians we considered friendliest to India emerged as the most vocal critics of India’s encroachment upon Nepalis’ sovereign choice.
More serious distortions produced by the conflict are apparent. Amendments aimed at appeasing dissenting voices were ready almost hours after the promulgation. The much-awaited post-Constitution government led by the relatively moderate Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist depends on the most zealous anti- and pro-monarchy forces. The country, in the midst of an Indian blockade not everyone in our country appears ready to call by its name, is flashing the much-maligned “China card”, something that should have receded into history with the monarchy.
For a prime minister who has been waiting for the job for so long, Khadga Prasad Oli’s assumption of office has proved a yawner. After the “gentlemen’s agreement” on power sharing among the major parties fizzled during the prime ministerial election, President Ram Baran Yadav has been emboldened to campaign for a second term – through the Indian media.
In normal circumstances, it would have been easy to laugh off how Baburam Bhattarai chickened out of the field by leaving the Maoist party. In today’s setting, his move carries the aura of principle.
True to tradition, at least when it comes to Nepal, the Chinese have been dangling promises throughout the crisis. The new government must feel the same pangs of disillusionment endured by the governments of Bahadur Shah, Bhimsen Thapa, Marich Man Singh Shrestha and Gyanendra Shah.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa of the royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party, who rushed to New Delhi for talks days after taking the oath of office, sounds a little miffed these days. His much-vaunted personal relationship with leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party failed to make a dent.
If the Indians are really infuriated this time, they may have good reason to be. The federalism rigmarole does not pose the same threat to Chinese. They have sufficiently appeased, coopted or overpowered political forces on the border to mitigate threats to Tibet. Along the porous southern border, the Indians, who see no finality in terms of their own provincial boundaries, consider tentativeness in our provincial model a far greater threat to their national security.
The Indian media is twisting and moaning over how New Delhi is pushing Kathmandu into Beijing’s arms. The Indian government, for its part, seems ready to bear that opprobrium as long as it recognizes that China’s arms aren’t that wide open.