Doubtless, Dahal has descended from his furious revolutionary perch with an eerie rapidity. His rhetorical emasculation has been accompanied by sleazy deals aimed at facilitating his hold on power. Yet the Maoist chairman has been able to camouflage his flip-flop-flips in the garb of flexibility that Nepal’s convoluted politics so desperately needs to keep showing life.
Ordinarily, Bimalendra Nidhi, as the ranking member of the largest party in parliament, should have been designated the senior-most deputy premier. But, then, Nidhi, is not the leader of the Nepali Congress, whereas Kamal Thapa heads the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, although it is the fourth largest party. Nidhi the individual versus Thapa the institution? Cold calculation on Dahal’s part, yes. Put differently, pragmatism in power to depict a process.
On the other hand, Bhattarai, Dahal’s one-time chief propagandist, has lost much of his luster without seeming to have realized it. Things did not start to go bad after he left the Maoists. But they sure did get worse faster after he broke away. Bhattarai has stopped taking single-handed credit for turning Nepal into a republic – sort of. But he has not been able to turn into a leader who can persuade too many people to follow him right now.
The mess in front of the Election Commission earlier this month was emblematic of what plagues the doctor’s persona-infused politics. The police no doubt perpetrated excesses against the former prime minister. Still, Bhattarai should have let the country rage against it, not politicize things into a farce wherein the state eventually shrugged him off as being unworthy of detention on the public dime.
Indeed, such mortification is nothing new to Bhattarai. During the early 1990s, after the legalization of the party politics and before the Maoists went underground, Bhattarai was regularly roughed up at and hauled away from protests. Today the state should have considered the man’s age and profile. Yet Bhattarai, like the rest of us, saw the RPP’s Pashupati Shamsher Rana & Co. undergo similar treatment and must have known what he was getting into.
Then Bhattarai’s wife, Hisila Yami, stepped into it. Anyone could have misused the word ‘desh’ for ‘adesh’ in a frenzied and semi-conscious state. But Yami had to take that extra leap and tie the whole thing to supposed disadvantages linked to her janajati-ness. If her apology went on to exacerbate the damage of original statement, it was not for nothing.
All this has come amid the malaise surrounding Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti. Leading founding members have left in frustration and those who are still there continue to grumble and grouse. An election symbol is not the point when your party is struggling to symbolize anything.
Newness can retain a modicum of relevance as something that binds together disparate elements and events to complete the task at hand amid the creepiness of the alternatives. Let the newness we have already embarked on culminate in something tangible before we shift gears and try something newer.