Sunday, June 05, 2016

Spinning Our Heads In The Shadows

Even for a populace inured to clandestineness as the central political contrivance of the soil, the prevailing confusion over the latest ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ is getting a bit out of hand.
Did Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli reach a secret three-point agreement with Pushpa Kamal Dahal pledging to hand over power to the Maoist chairman after the passage of the budget? It depends on who you ask. Oli acts as if he’s heard the term for the first time, while Dahal thinks he has something substantial signed in triplicate. Everybody else is either confident one way or the other or is scratching their heads.
Granted, it took nine years for the secret letters the Ranas and the Nehru regime exchanged alongside the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship to come to light. But at least they did. In today’s age of openness and transparency, we don’t know how Nepal really became a republic. You think that is a mere historical footnote? Try telling us how long you think we will continue to have a president.
This episode is far more serious. From all outward appearances, over a month ago, Oli looked like a man ready to step down. Dahal seemed poised to return to Singha Darbar, with Sher Bahadur Deuba, the freshly elected Nepali Congress president becoming kingmaker. Barely 24 hours later, Dahal made a 180 and pledged his party’s support to the Oli-led coalition government.
The two men sealed a nine-point deal on April 29 in which Oli pledged, among other things, that the government would withdraw all ‘politically motivated’ cases against Maoist leaders and cadres, what really riled the ex-rebels all along. Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhal Nath Khanal and Bam Dev Gautam Oli’s principal rivals in the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) also reportedly pushed Oli to commit to hand over power to Dahal after the budget’s passage.
As Dahal stepped back, it became clear that it was only to reunite with most of the Maoist groups that had broken away from him in the past. In retrospect, Dahal needed that reprieve more than Oli. Cognizant of the favor he extended to Dahal, Oli seemed secure enough to continue selling his dreams – on land, air and sea. (The discrediting of Deuba was no small byproduct.)
So Oli comfortably dismissed the notion of a separate shadowy three-point agreement. If there was one, the premier said, it had to be the draft that he rejected. Of course, Madhav Nepal and Khanal, in their own ways, continue to insist that a power-sharing deal exists. But you could see that as normal politicking.
Then, at a party meeting the other day, Oli suggested that India and the United States were out to get him, his government and his party. The next day, the CPN-UML came out with an official statement denying that Oli ever uttered words even remotely making such an allegation. In fact, the prime minister is still said to be seething at the timing of the ‘conspiracy’ against him, coming as it did on the eve of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States.
The report was carried by a prominent Nepali daily, which, predictably, spawned creative adaptations on online portals. Who ‘planted’ such a story – if that what this was? The Chinese? If so, they seem to have really made inroads in Nepal.
What about the Indians and Americans themselves – either individually or in concert? After all, Sikkim-ization and Bhutan-ization are so yesterday. Nepali-ization has its own characteristics and traits, which are taking shape here and losing it there. One discernible element seems to be the imperative of leaving our collective heads spinning in perpetuity.