Sunday, July 24, 2016

It Hasn’t All Been Said Yet

The euphoria gripping the Indian media following the resignation of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli evidently stems from New Delhi’s apparent triumph in having returned to the driver’s seat of Nepali politics after a hiatus of nine months.
Granted, reporters and commentators across the southern border have made some effort to portray the difficulties that lay on the path ahead. But that endeavor has been grudging, at best. The operating principle for the moment seems to be: what happens next can be taken care of later; Oli’s ouster merits its own full-blown carnival moment.
The reasons for this rejoicing are as predictable as they are routine. Oli was losing popularity as his government exhibited a greater preference for China over India, one argument goes. His government’s hardline stance against Madhesis had led India to step in to prevent a spillover of tensions, insists another.
Oli the man was an out-and-out ingrate, it was pointed out somewhere, especially after New Delhi, among other things, funded years of his medical treatment at the best Indian hospitals, financed development projects in his constituency, and offered him political support against rivals within the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist-Leninist.
For now, the irony inherent in the fact that the leading contender for the premiership is the man who India was instrumental in dislodging seven years earlier amid equal rancor must be ignored. How Nepal Communist Party (Maoist Centre) supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s ascension could be described as a victory for Indian diplomacy remains unclear. All the more so after considering how blatantly Dahal flouted the political, diplomatic and even material support New Delhi provided the Maoists for over a decade to cozy up to China during his premiership in 2008-2009.
However you slice it, the prevailing narrative about an Indian diplomatic triumph says more about the level of New Delhi’s thinking that about the geopolitical predilections of the man. An Indian kiss to the Maoist Centre and the Nepali Congress amid the tumultuous battle of perceptions can only be one of death, regardless of how emphatically those two parties insist they would honor all the agreements Oli’s government signed with China.
The notion that Beijing somehow advised Nepal’s political establishment to patch up with India after Chinese officials and diplomats failed to stop the hemorrhage in Oli’s coalition must be seen against Dahal’s recent public assertion that Beijing would be happy to see him return to the premiership.
Now, the Maoist Centre leader could have been indulging in a woozy head fake characteristic in Nepali politics, fortifying his flank, or clueing us in on the next moves on the regional chessboard. Regardless, it would not take long for New Delhi to discover the true cost of its ‘triumph’.
Dahal described Oli as a ‘genuine statesman’ as the prime minister stepped down from the podium after announcing his resignation. In the weeks and months ahead, that description could take on far greater import in ways that Dahal – or anyone else – could care to contemplate today.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Bright Spot In The Yard

Maila Baje has always been intrigued by the ease with which Khadga Prasad Oli could shed his ostensible ‘pro-Indian’ tag and win plaudits as a ‘nationalist’ prime minister.
Within the post-Madan Bhandary Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist quartet, Bam Dev Gautam sought and temporarily retained the nationalist mantle. But his personal ambition drove him to the background. For whatever reason, Jhal Nath Khanal did not draw the geopolitical spotlight in such a way. It looked like Madhav Kumar Nepal and Oli – when they were allies or adversaries alike – were almost flaunting their competition for the good graces of the southern establishment.
It becomes irrelevant to discuss whether Oli’s transformation is entirely unaffected or whether it is personal, political or event-driven. The perception that India has been out to dislodge a prime minister who refuses to toe the southern line has persisted among enough Nepalis.
That reality seems to be reflected in New Delhi’s response to Oli’s very public accusation of Indian complicity in Nepal’s latest political affairs. The seriousness of Oli’s charge was underscored by the venue where he made it so openly. Addressing a national security conference, Oli not only said India was behind the withdrawal of support by the Maoists to his government but also that New Delhi was in a palpably celebratory mood over the turn of events.
Ordinarily, the Indians could have shrugged off Oli as just another in a line of politicians who have sought the proverbial last refuge of scoundrels. New Delhi’s early reaction, at least, suggests that it has been stung by our prime minister’s outbursts.
India did nothing to destabilize the Oli government, a ‘high-level’ source was quoted as saying in New Delhi. Not only that. “[Oli] could not deliver and the coalition government fell down. The fact that he still wants to stick to power despite not having the numbers in Parliament is totally undemocratic,” the source was quoted as saying in a leading Indian daily.
Significantly, the anonymous source went on to add that Chinese officials in Kathmandu were busy trying to win over members in each political party to save the Oli government. It would not be irrelevant to juxtapose here Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal claim of having received credible information that Beijing would be pleased to see him as Oli’s successor.
This very public display of Indian-Chinese rivalry in Nepal’s internal politics mirrors the unrestrained contention between the Asian giants in the aftermath of New Delhi’s botched bid to secure membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The subsequent eagerness of some sections in India to extrapolate the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the South China Sea to China’s historical claims on other disputed territories is portentous for us.
The Chinese have no doubt raised the stakes. Although they have not asserted so publicly vis-à-vis Nepal, the mandarins up north are votaries of a tradition-driven foreign and security policy that considers us the last tributaries to the Qing dynasty. If the Chinese signal a readiness to maintain their skin in the game by, say, trying to bail out the Oli government in the legislature, the Indians, for their part do not seem likely to back down. Amalgamation of the Tibet-Taiwan planks into a coherent diplomatic narrative challenging the ability of a rising China to become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ would have local ramifications.
The propensity of our political leadership to trivialize such grave concerns in their public pronouncements no doubt continues to infuriate many Nepalis. Yet there might be some promise here, especially if our leaders succeed in precipitating a decisive outcome from this long-running turf war between the Asian behemoths.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Deciphering Dahal’s Indecision

What has become of Comrade Pushpa Kamal Dahal these days?
For the second time in as many months, he has sullenly walked back from public avowals to dislodge Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s government. You can understand the whole two-steps-forward-one-step-back claptrap he profited from in the deadly old days. But this kind of indecision?
Is Dahal still not confident that would ever become prime minister again?
After the last time Dahal made a 180, he could at least boast of having consolidated the Maoists by bringing most of the splinters back into the new Maoist Centre tent. Regrouping and reorganizing fit the mold of strategic pauses that characterized the “people’s war”.
Moreover, Dahal forced Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba to take a disproportionate part of the responsibility for that anti-Oli debacle.
This time, it looks like Dahal has simply punted. After his lieutenants, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Barsha Man Pun and Janardan Sharma did much of the heavy-lifting, all Dahal could do was remind Oli of the imperative of implementing the nine-point agreement that epitomized the Maoist leader’s last about-turn.
To be fair, Dahal has enough justification to want to see Oli go. The current government’s failure to address Madhesi demands, at least in the eyes of its critics, underscores its inability to implement the new Constitution, its prime task.
Moreover, one can easily imagine the kinds of pressures the Maoist leader is under from within his party, from the wider political establishment, and, most importantly, the foreign fraternity to part ways with Oli. Such pressures could only have multiplied in view of the upcoming elections.
Finally, the coalition between the two largest communist parties must be inherently unstable. They are, after all, two distinct and independent entities for good reason.
But, then, another set of questions bedevils Dahal. Who after Oli? There’s no guarantee it’s going to be him. The Nepali Congress, stung by the last episode, wants Dahal to officially pull out of the coalition before it can even think about joining hands with the Maoists to the form the next government. Dahal fears Deuba might just be using the Maoists to return to Singha Durbar. Even if Deuba failed in that endeavor, he still might succeed in tarnishing Dahal’s image this time.
The wider political context is also in a flux. You have two deputy premiers who reject key tenets of the new Constitution. The prime minister’s loyalists explain the anomaly away by calling it the purest manifestation of freedom of expression. One deputy premier, with his party’s ministers in tow, went to greet the former king on his birthday exuding all but an official air. With republicanism, secularism and federalism on the line, could Dahal in good conscience contemplate crafting a new round of instability?
From that perspective, continuing bargaining with Oli from inside the tent might not be such a bad idea. The prime minister has dangled the prospect of an expansion of the government. Maybe Dahal can neutralize some of his internal pressures by nominating more Maoist ministers. Periodic polite nudges to Oli on the need to remember the nine-point agreement would do the rest of the trick.
Preserving the status quo in such a barefaced way has its own downside, especially for someone who still likes to think of himself as a revolutionary. But, remember, we’re talking about someone who has also tried everything else.