Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tale Of Twists, Turns And Tangles

Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been boldly proclaiming the inevitability of his ascension to the premiership after Parliament passes the budget.
Ordinarily, Nepalis ought to be biting their nails in anticipation of the composition of the new coalition and cabinet. However, we seem to have become too chastened by other events going on around us.
Suddenly, the air has become thick with talk of the imperative of writing a new constitution. If the recent wave of Kathmandu-centric protests launched by Madhesi and ethnic parties does not bring that about, there is another clock ticking.
Should the country fail to hold provincial and local elections within the stipulated time-frame, we would be back to a situation a la October 2002. No wonder, then, that former king Gyanendra has begun assuring ordinary Nepalis beseeching his intervention that all is about to turn well.
Still, there are too many nagging questions here. Why was it so important for Prime Minister K.P. Oli to be able to present the budget? So much so that Dahal could barely last 24 hours in his avowal to form the next government? What difference would it have made had Dahal replaced Oli last month? Was it a no-no because he was riding on the back of Sher Bahadur Deuba and the Nepali Congress, which has turned quite conservative following the last party election? Never one to forgo an opening, did Dahal seek rehabilitation via a New Delhi-backed regime change, even at the cost of pledging himself to remain a titular head?
If so, China’s much-ballyhooed intervention does makes sense, to the extent that it bought time to facilitate the unification of the various Maoist factions. If Dahal now has a wider berth, surely the Maoists have become decidedly pro-north in their geopolitical orientation.
Publicly, some Nepali Congress luminaries are still trying to blame the fiasco on the misplaced ardor of their newly-elected party president. Yet even they look like victims of wounded pride. Not so much because Dahal buckled but because Oli got a breather. The consolidation of the Maoist forces raises the chances of the Nepali Congress turning further right, precipitating a broader realignment on that flank.
Granted, Dahal was detailing his political plans with the greatest candor while speaking to pro-Maoist media representatives. But he was also the most categorical about things at that venue, stressing that his succession as the new prime minister was inevitable following a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ implicit in the nine-point agreement with Oli. Indeed, Dahal went a step further and pledged to provide impetus to the implementation of the constitution, post-earthquake reconstruction and national unity.
Still, you cannot forget Oli’s record as the longest serving prime minister-in-waiting. Who can really say he is ready to give up so easily. With the local elections having become so central to the survival of the constitution, Oli might strike his own understanding with the Nepali Congress to run the government until then. After all, the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist and the Nepali Congress are both interested in ensuring that the Maoists – no matter how rejuvenated internally – still stay in third place in national politics. In that scenario, much would depend on the ‘arrangements’ made during Minister for Law and Justice Agni Kharel’s visit to New Delhi.
And that is where Mohan Baidya’s and Netra Bikram Chand’s strenuous decisions to desist from the Maoist backslapping would make the most sense.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Your Guess Is As Good (Or Bad) As Mine

Against the subdued backdrop of the 50th anniversary of the eruption of the Cultural Revolution up north, efforts at unifying our half a dozen groups still professing fealty to the Great Helmsman gained traction over the weekend. Paradoxically, however, the provisional steps toward unity came after the formal split of the increasingly fractious Communist Party of Nepal-Revolutionary Maoists.
The stark differences in ideology and unsheathed ambitions of leaders that have stymied unity efforts over the past year nevertheless persist. Despite the latest split, the dominant Mohan Baidya faction remains opposed to unity with the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Baidya and his loyalists want a new ‘democratic revolution’ to complete the ‘unfinished tasks’ of the ‘people’s war’.
Still, the latest development represents a symbolic boost for Dahal’s efforts to maintain the relevance of a once-formidable movement within Nepal traditionally splintered left. After months of rumblings of discontent, a majority of the members of the Communist Party of Nepal-Revolutionary Maoists’ central committee decided to elect general secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa as chairman after ousting Baidya. Moreover, Thapa and Dahal have agreed on 13 bases to accelerate formal unification.
In response, issuing a six-page appeal, Baidya accused the Thapa faction of being opportunist and neo-reformist, claiming that the supposed unification process was an effort to destroy the revolutionary ideology of Nepal’s Communist movement.
The compulsions for Maoist unification are evident. Following the triumph of its decade-long rebellion against the old Nepali state, Dahal’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), became the largest party in the Constituent Assembly in 2008. From that apogee, crowned by Dahal’s nine-month tenure as prime minister in 2008-2009, the party has systematically gone downhill.
Amid numerous splits, there are currently at least seven separate Maoist formations. The largest of these, the UCPN (Maoist) – still led by Dahal following the Baidya faction’s walkout in 2012 after the dissolution of the constituent assembly – ceded ground to the traditional mainstream parties in the 2013 election. Meanwhile, the CPN-RM itself split in 2014 when Netra Bikram Chand broke away from Baidya and created the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist.
Over the past year, as Dahal has been in negotiations with Baidya, major divisions grew within the latter group over reunification. Thapa, a leading architect and early commander of the ‘people’s war’, wanted the party to give up revolution as its plan of action and instead focus on unification with other Maoist parties. He finally threw the gauntlet with the support of key figures like Dev Gurung, Pampha Bhusal, Hitman Shakya and Lekhnath Neupane.
Substantively, however, questions do remain. For one thing, several senior leaders like Chandra Prakash Gajurel and Hari Bhakta Kandel still back Baidya, who is considered Dahal’s ideological mentor. Also, the Chand-led Maoists clarified that they were not involved in the unification process of what was essentially an alliance of pro-parliamentarian forces. Complicating that picture, however, a group led by Basanta Gharti from Chand’s party is unifying with Dahal.
For its part, Dahal’s party is still licking its wounds after former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai quit over differences with the chairman’s handling of the party last September. It’s hard enough to conclude whether Dr. Bhattarai – the erstwhile chief ideologue of the ‘people’s war’ – is still a Maoist, now that he is the principal votary of a new force. How far the other fringe factions led by Matrika Yadav, Mani Thapa, Pari Thapa and Hemanta Oli would bolster unity remains anybody’s guess.
That may not necessarily be a bad thing for Dahal, who has thrived on keeping everybody else guessing about his next moves and motives.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

A Red Herring In A Recalcitrant Republic?

Heavens, the Chinese must have promised the sky this time.
If the angle broached about in the barest of terms vis-à-vis the latest political circus is anything to go by, Beijing thwarted New Delhi’s attempt the dislodge the government led by Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli.
Truth be told, the mandarins up north have said a lot of things to a lot of Nepali leaders over the centuries. If the accumulated wisdom is worth anything, it counsels against putting too much stock in those promises.
Prime Minister Oli, however, seems to be breaking new ground here. This begs the logical question: what did the Chinese say that made our once Fierce One step down several notches in the docility index?
That something was cooking somewhere was all too clear to the national olfactory senses. Former king Gyanendra dashed to Delhi and back so suddenly that pictures of a simple ex-royal family rafting excursion merited much more than the society pages.
That was after newly elected Nepali Congress President and parliamentary party leader Sher Bahadur Deuba returned from an extended medical trip to the Indian capital that camouflaged political consultations. United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, for his part, reportedly refused to fly out in that direction for fear of precipitating a political backlash.
Yet Dahal barely lasted 24 hours in his public avowal to lead a new government with the help of the Nepali Congress. Murmurs of a Chinese hand started appearing, but never took a more sonorous form. Instead, Oli advised President Bidya Devi Bhandari not to proceed with a planned visit to India. (That, too, after the head of state breached protocol by detailing part of the substance of her putative agenda.)
Deputy Prime and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa – representing the ostensibly royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal – ended up becoming the most forceful and seemingly only defender of the Oli government during its hours of gravest peril.
In an address to parliament, Oli became rather outspoken in the second half of his speech against external machinations. When the government announced that it had recalled Ambassador Deep Kumar Upadhyaya from New Delhi for actions incompatible with his status, the weirdness got weirder. Such phraseology, customary when the host government expels a foreign ambassador, was a first in the annals of Nepali diplomatic history.
Granted, the Chinese have reason to be miffed by apparent Indian threats to the Oli government following the ‘groundbreaking’ agreements signed during the prime minister’s recent visit up north. Yet, amid the latest political crisis, nowhere have the Chinese equivalent of institutions like the Research and Analysis Wing or individuals like Sukh Deo Muni been identified as complicit in the machinations.
What specific threats, if any, did the Chinese make to precipitate Dahal’s U-turn? Did they remind Nepal of its responsibilities as the last tributary to the Middle Kingdom? Did they reiterate Sun Yat-sen’s lament over how China had lost Nepal to imperialism? Did they invoke the Great Helmsman’s dictum that Nepal constituted one of the five fingers of the Chinese hand? Or did they implore Dahal to remember Zhou Enlai’s paeans to ‘blood ties’ between the Chinese and Nepali peoples – and all that that implied?
India’s perceived dilution of its vaunted strategic autonomy to join the China containment/encirclement bandwagon gives credence to an escalation of the dragon-elephant rivalry in Nepal. But have the stakes risen so high for the Chinese to mount such an overt move to checkmate the Indians?
Or could all this be just a red herring? Specifically, what are the chances that the entire episode was a by-product of the turf wars within India over its Nepal policy? Those advocating the logical culmination of the 12-Point Agreement process (whatever that might be) have long been contending with the rival school demanding a review and rectification of that approach. After all, passions are as high on each side as are the perceived righteousness of those respective causes to their proponents.
And there is precedent here. The Indians benefited for a while claiming that the Maoist ‘People’s War’ in Nepal was being run by China, while providing support and sanctuary to our Maoist leaders on Indian soil. Of course, Beijing was too smart not have sought to mobilize our Maoists to their advantage. But the irony was the China almost ended up reaping the entire benefit of India’s propaganda campaign after our Maoists rose to power.
Galling as that irony still must be across the southern border, there must be recognition of a greater short-term benefit in pointing the finger to the Chinese as the Indians struggle to come up with a coherent and credible policy on Nepal.