Sunday, November 22, 2015

Forcing Newness On A Nostalgic Nation

Brushing off critics from across the ideological spectrum, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai is pressing ahead with his campaign to establish a “new force” that could save the nation.
Such an entity would be free of the ‘isms’ gripping the Nepali polity for far too long, he asserted the other day. ‘Yeah right’ wasn’t the dominant response, though. Bhattarai’s declaration seemed to attract such disparate people as Pradip Giri, Upendra Yadav and Padma Ratna Tuladhar.
When the one-time chief ideologue of the Maoists surprised everyone to leave that party with his stated intention, he prompted a palpable been-there-done-that sentiment. Weeks later, he drew a chunk of followers from the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), rousing the wrath of those who stayed behind with party president Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
What’s with the man? The notion of a ‘New Nepal’ Bhattarai so persuasively peddled to so many during the insurgency and after has liquefied into the growing nostalgia for the ancien regime. Or at least parts of it. After all, former prime minister Jhal Nath Khanal has come around to counseling a new look to converting the five development regions into provinces and putting the federalism imbroglio behind us. And that, by the way, is a sentiment enjoying cross-party, if muted, for now, support.
Is Bhattarai so addicted to the idea of perpetual revolution that novelty – regardless of its ambiguity – gives him a high? Or is there redeeming value in abandoning the field for another game when the last one is stilled being played?
Yet Bhattarai makes much sense, too. His criticism of the hastiness with which the Constitution was pushed through carries greater resonance amid the Madhes agitation and the Indian ‘blockade’. Bhattarai’s refusal to blame New Delhi exclusively for the current state of affairs was never bound to be popular. It has offered an opportunity for introspection for those with the courage and conviction to do so.
His revelation that China’s then prime minister Wen Jiabao had advised Nepal to maintain cordial relations with India because the northern neighbor could never supplant the southern may have sounded like a below-the-belt thud. In reality, it merely reaffirmed what a Wen predecessor, Li Peng, had said publicly during an official visit to Nepal during the height of the 1989-90 Indian trade and transit embargo.
For now, the upshot? Love him or hate him, but we can’t contemplate contemporary political life without Bhattarai.