Sunday, October 30, 2016

Flashback: What Else Is New?

Surely, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The coordinator of our nascent New Force is struggling hard to defend his patriotic credentials.
A riled Dr. Baburam Bhattarai told an audience the other day that his genetic code was so pulsating with pure-bred nationalism that it needed no external certification of any kind.
Critics therefore need not comb through his comments and actions to detect deficits of patriotism, the former prime minister counseled.
That admonition, however, did not stop the one-time chief Maoist ideologue from denigrating the ‘false nationalism’ of those who derided the Nepali Congress and the communists as ‘anti-nationals’.
Therein is the root of our whole novelty riddle. You can’t keep trying to become new simply by castigating the old. Of course, the Panchayat/royalist days were rotten. Isn’t that why they are history? Get over it.
Yet our exemplars of originality continue to parrot old lines. They want to make Nepal a bridge between the Asian behemoths. The last king tried but was never given a chance. (For the record, the Lichchavis had already done that.)
The votaries of newfangledness want to make Nepal economically self-reliant. Even after all the mockery the partyless ‘Asian standard’ credo engendered? Since when have jokes provided the blueprint for serious action? And the anti-corruption platform? Can anyone really say when it stops becoming that and assumes the form of a political witch hunt, perceived or real?
Or do our political parvenu think the royalists and right-wing autocrats simply were the wrong people to do the right job? After all, Dr. Bhattarai and his fellow travellers long stuck with the notion that they could set right what the likes of Marx, Lenin and Mao correctly set out to do but botched.
To be fair, Dr. Bhattarai himself has presented a clear case for newness. While parties like the Nepali Congress, Praja Parishad, the CPN-UML and the UCPN-Maoist have served the country well, they have been unable to move with the times, he has repeatedly emphasized. At least he had the integrity to ensure that the Constitution was promulgated before setting out to criticize it.
Espousing an inclusive approach, Dr. Bhattarai insists, the new entity is striving to formulate ideas and principles suitable to Nepal. This cluster of political has-beens, ex-bureaucrats and security officials and fading actors may or may not have the capacity to capitalize on the torpor in the mainstream. But there is a risk that it might be caught in one of its own. Although it has existed in a semi-institutional incarnation for a while, the new formation’s ideology bears little beyond traces of a center-left orientation.
And what’s with this insipid New Force appellation? Go get a better name first, preferably one that says something nicer. Even genes have been patented and copyrighted. The no-labels approach, if anything, is a non-starter in politics.

Originally posted on Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Trilateral Omission

Photo courtesy: Prakash Dahal
Darn it, they couldn’t let our exhilaration last a little longer.
When news broke of the surprise trilateral meeting between the leaders of Nepal, China and India on the sidelines of the Goa BRICS summit, it really felt, well, good, to say the least.
Finally, our two closest friends seemed to have gotten together to help us get our act together – and in full public display. Instead of continuing their perennial turf war over a sliver of mostly stony real estate, China and India seemed to have decided to join hands to keep the ‘distant barbarians’ out of the arena.
The initial details, too, were credible enough. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Chinese President Xi Jinping were engrossed in bilateral talks when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly dropped in. (Of course, you could impute any motive here, but let’s be charitable for the purpose of this post.)
The trio continued talking as the fourth person there, our premier’s wife Sita Dahal, looked on. (Although she still had her arms folded, Madam Dahal seemed a bit more engaged with the goings-on than she was at Rastrapati Bhavan in New Delhi a month ago. Moreover, her multi-hued handbag on the coffee table sat well with the adjacent flowers and provided a quaint harmony to both Xi’s and Modi’s jackets and the sofa pillows.)
Then the next batch of details trickled in. Xi and Modi responded positively to a proposal Dahal had made earlier on enhancing trilateral cooperation among the three countries. Emphasizing the need of tri-party strategic understanding, Dahal said Nepal’s unique geography positioned it as a ‘dynamic bridge’ between the Asian giants.
Modi and Xi agreed, but Dahal hadn’t finished. He seemed to suggest that Nepal could help to maintain cordial relations between India and China. Xi, for his part, praised Nepal’s role in maintaining equidistant relations between China and India, while Modi acknowledged the geographical, emotional and cultural relations among the three countries.
What happened? Weren’t we told that the Chinese president had cancelled his visit to Nepal (scheduled around this time) because he considered our government too India-friendly, or something like that? And hadn’t the Indian prime minister conspired with Dahal to oust the K.P. Oli government because it was too China-friendly?
Okay, Pakistani-backed incursions into Kashmir precipitate Indian military action inside Pakistani territory. The Russians seem to tilt towards Islamabad as Donald Trump assiduously courts the Hindu vote in the United States. And what? Xi and Modi suddenly decide to sit in a joint meeting with Dahal?
Man, this was nail-biting stuff but also sounding too good to be true. Alas, it was. A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that the meeting was ‘informal’, entirely coincidental, and just a ‘little chat’.
Describing the sequence of events, the spokesman said that after their bilateral meeting, Dahal and Xi were waiting in the lounge to go to the informal dinner. (Gosh, what’s with this obsession with informality?) Modi also happened to be there. So, the Indian spokesman said, there was no reason to call it a trilateral meeting.
All that high-minded sentimentalizing, nodding and elevating of eyebrows amounted to nothing? Nah, somebody somewhere just cast an evil eye. And, yes, that’s being charitable.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Wages Of Crying Wolf

So it eventually had to come to this.
A decade after triumphing in their ‘people’s war’, Baburam Bhattarai is accusing Pushpa Kamal Dahal of betraying the nation in order to maintain his grip on power by signing a despicable agreement with India during his recent trip down south.
Bhattarai said the 25-point communiqué was so bad that he could not sleep the whole night after Prime Minister Dahal made it public. “This anti-nationalist agreement … is tormenting me,” the former chief ideologue of the Maoists said at a public gathering the other day.
Bhattarai’s party, Naya Shakti Nepal, went further, calling the communique ‘an act of treason’ that threatened to push the country towards regression. Point 11 in particular would lead to the ‘Bhutanization’ of Nepal, the party concluded.
Now, Bhattarai has a penchant for throwing around terms like ‘Sikkimization’ and ‘Bhutanization’ with abandon, almost to the point of deflection.
After describing the 2001 palace massacre as a conspiracy to turn Nepal into an Indian dependency a la its two other Himalayan cousins, Bhattarai soon began wooing the Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi with unspecified promises and pledges.
By mid-2005, after King Gyanendra seized full executive powers amid a change of government in New Delhi, Bhattarai almost singlehandedly thwarted a Nepal-based solution that might have worked better. So much so that sections of the Indian establishment were irked by the way Bhattarai was hobnobbing with Indian commies to precipitate a radical reorientation of India’s Nepal policy.
After Bhattarai prevailed in pushing Nepal into nebulous newness, it was natural for us to expect him to begin work on expanding Nepal’s space for independent and sovereign action. But, then, what could he do with that puny finance portfolio, right?
As prime minister, Bhattarai wasn’t too keen on reversing the Sugauli Agreement-era stranglehold of India he had so railed against. He left for an official visit to New Delhi promising not to sign BIPPA, but came back having done just that.
During the Teheran Non-Aligned summit, he snuck out to meet with his Indian counterpart without giving his deputy, and fellow Maoist, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, and inkling. And who can forget the wholesale mismanagement that gripped the brief visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao?
None of this, of course, means that Bhattarai isn’t entitled to revise his position. Maybe he should come out with a full-blown self-criticism of his approach to and expectations from India beginning from his Jawaharlal University days. Identifying people, places and perspectives would be extremely helpful.
Nepalis know that India doesn’t need to ‘Sikkimize’ or ‘Bhutanize’ our nation. New Delhi has mounted a fairly successful ‘Nepalization’ operation with no small assistance from politicos like Bhattarai and ploys like the 12 Point Agreement.
Prime Minister Dahal doesn’t seem particularly stung by Bhattarai’s accusations, does he?