That pointed question by Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi at a cabinet meeting last week encapsulated the collective mind-set of today’s rule class. Stress, anger, trauma, anxiety, fear and much more psychosomatic were strung therein.
From the text and timing, there was little doubt that Mr. Shah’s blistering statement the previous day was going to unleash a firestorm. By singling out the Chinese, Nidhi was probably conceding the deep cultural and religious ties the ex-king shares down south. More likely, our deputy premier and home minister was anxious not to get on the wrong side of New Delhi.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s cabinet did discuss Mr. Shah’s statement, wherein the ex-monarch had stated that social harmony among Nepalis was waning and efforts were being made to break the bonds of unity between the plains, the Hills and the mountains.
The people, the “supreme and permanent source of power,” were being undermined by political parties under the “unfair influence of outside forces,” the former king went on. “Words like revolutionary, pro-change and progressive” were being misused to defame nationalism and national pride. Ouch.
Our revolutionary-in-chief, Prime Minister Dahal, and his ideologically multi-hued colleagues struggled for a response. Eventually, they settled on Nidhi’s informal threat to reinvestigate the royal palace massacre of June 1, 2001. (So much for a supposedly forward-looking bunch!)
Truth be told, the cabinet was eight years late. Mr. Shah had exited the royal palace in 2008 daring the political class to prove his complicity in that tragedy. They chose to shut up. Particularly those “radicals” and “revolutionaries” who had profited politically by hurling those unfounded and scurrilous accusations during the so-called “people’s war”.)
Still, the ruling class was not going to let a crisis go to waste. If the Dahal government intended to use Mr. Shah’s statement to draw the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) away from the streets and into a broader “anti-regression” platform, it definitely missed the mark. Former prime minister and CPN-UML chairman K.P. Oli is doubling down on his demand that there be no more than five federal provinces, two fewer than already agreed upon.
In an extensive online interview, CPN-UML leader Subash Nemwang made repeated efforts to avoid criticizing the contents of the ex-king’s statement. Maoist leader Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, for his part, appeared to break from the collective outrage gripping Dahal’s party.
Deep down, the political class understands the corner it has painted itself into. The lionized protagonists of change remain stuck in the spring of 2006. In the years since, they have demonstrated an utter inability to either govern or oppose. Whether this is so out of sheer incompetence or blatant conceit is beside the point, especially when the implications for the wider country, neighborhood and world are so dreary.
So Deputy Prime Minister Nidhi, the Chinese (and yes, the Indians) are capable of speaking for themselves. But it is pretty clear why they choose to meet with Mr. Shah and in what capacity. He is the former head of state (and government, briefly) whose successors – adroit in whining and moaning – have proved utterly incapable of cogent and credible conversation on anything of substance, here or there.