Dahal’s partial allies in the Federal Socialist Alliance (FSA) want the prime minister to go the other way around. The alliance is pressing him to first respect the identity and space of Madhesis in the setting of provincial boundaries.
Now, Dahal knows that he gave that very assurance in exchange for the alliance’s support in building the new government. Yet every time he seeks to placate the FSA by talking up the putative constitutional amendment, the UML turns tart.
The opposition party warns that any change of boundaries on the basis of ethnicity would be detrimental to social amity and national sovereignty. And when the UML does that, Dahal returns to telling us that elections will be held at all costs. The prime minister’s persistence vis-à-vis polls makes you want to forget that he heads what is still officially a Maoist party.
The Election Commissioners have long been pushing the government to announce the dates before anything else. If the premier did that without redrawing the provincial boundaries first, the FSA warns it would begin its oft-threatened protests.
Dahal is lucky that the Nepali Congress, the junior partner in the government, is torn between the amendment- and election-first proponents. As a result, relations between Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba – the presumptive next prime minister – and Dahal are said to have soured.
Seeking his pound of flesh nevertheless, Deuba prodded Dahal the other day to convene an early-morning cabinet meeting to appoint Jay Bahadur Chand as Inspector-General of Police. Before Deuba could properly take his victory lap, the Supreme Court put Chand’s appointment on hold. Deuba, for his part, issued a formal statement disclaiming any role in the Chand affair.
Dahal felt he could comfortably resume playing off the FSA and UML against each other. But that gambit, too, appears to have run its course. Lately, the prime minister has turned to another predecessor, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, for help in untying the political knot.
Bhattarai, a one-time Dahal lieutenant who ditched the party after the Constituent Assembly promulgated the new constitution to form his own outfit, seemed concerned enough. He has taken to blaming former prime minister and UML chairman K.P. Oli for loosening his lips so lax as to embolden separatists like C.K. Raut. (Of the other two former premiers in the UML, Madhav Kumar Nepal wants Dahal to step down immediately for incompetence, while Jhal Nath Khanal accuses our head of government of being India’s puppet.)
Now we’re supposed to believe that Dahal and Bhattarai would join hands to save the nation when they couldn’t even feign unity a little bit longer to save their party. Oh these gaudy premier games!