Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sell-Out Or Buy-In?

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba probably expected the ‘sell-out’ slur well before he delivered his constitutional amendment assurance at the joint news conference with his host, Narendra Modi, in New Delhi the other day. If not the constitution, our premier’s critics would have found something else to quibble with.
Even before departing Kathmandu, Deuba must have taken some reassurance in Modi’s own discomfort. With Doklam having defined Nepalis aspirations and exasperations vis-à-vis Deuba’s visit, Modi couldn’t have afforded to take a hard line. Any significant softening on Nepal was also out of the question, given the pressure the Indian prime minister faced from his nation’s foreign-policy hyperrealists. So Modi was left with playing with the optics.
And the Indian prime minister did conjure up new visualizations. Modi’s unscheduled warm-up meeting with Deuba – after having dispatched External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to the airport to welcome the guest – gave Nepalis good reason to begin scratching their heads. Swaraj’s impromptu water-glass gig further elevated style over substance, which the Indians no doubt found handy in drawing the attention of the Chinese.
Subsequent news coverage suggested that Nepal-China relations figured prominently during bilateral talks in Delhi. If so, it’s unlikely that the Indians expressed satisfaction over Nepal’s success in diversifying good-neighborliness. They would have commended us publicly if that was how they felt.
It’s more like that they admonished us in private. Don’t try to punch above your weight over the Doklam opening, fellas, or some such variation. Nepal is in no better shape than Bhutan when it comes to withering under two wrestling behemoths.
Notwithstanding the external bonhomie, visiting Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang’s private message earlier in the month couldn’t have been much different, except for an additional admonition on the folly of falling into a maze of Trumpian unpredictability.
Did Nepal need such reprimands? Even if we did take sides on Doklam, it’s not likely that we would have reinforced our sentiment with military or other such powerful underpinnings. Sure, we could maintain a pious diplomatic posture malleable enough for everyone. But, then, how much room do we really have to stretch ourselves? So it’s all about self-preservation. Call it equidistance, equiproximity or what else you will, we’re in the little league.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have options. Was it a coincidence that Nepal used Deuba’s visit to India to let it be known that it was planning to ask China to extend its Shigatse railway line upto Kathmandu via Kerung. Lest you dismiss this as another instance of the beggar trying be the chooser, Nepal intends to back up its request on the ground that the proposed railway falls under the concept of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Translation: Nepal took a great risk in joining the BRI and needs to show something for it.
Sell-out? Nah. Sounds more like a buy-in.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Struggle Between Knowledge And Wisdom

Having rued the self-induced rockiness that marred his first term as prime minister in 2008-2009, Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ sought to build a persona of peacemaker during his recently concluded second term.
Indeed, what stood out, more than his success in setting in motion a staggered local election few thought could be held, was his easy handover of the premiership to coalition partner Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress in accordance with their original power-sharing agreement.
If legacy is what Dahal is really eyeing these days, then he certainly has been mouthing the right things with an impeccable admixture of tone, tenor and thrust. Just the other day, he frankly conceded what we all knew all along: that the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Center alliance with the Nepali Congress was aimed at the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML).
Instead of dismissing the admission as indicative of a further coarsening of our politics, consider things this way. When someone of Dahal’s stature takes such pains to stress the obvious, you are forced to dig deeper for content and context.
Is the communist movement in Nepal still locked in an ideological struggle between the two ‘isms’ of the UML and the ‘thought’ of the Maoist Centre? Furthermore, has it become incumbent upon our harder line comrades to correct the UML’s misguided drift into narrow nationalism from the original internationalism guiding communists the world over?
Even if this battle is really only about crude politics, Dahal’s candor is still welcome. Maybe we can all begin to take politicians’ pronouncements with something less than a fistful of salt.
Dahal’s latest observation on Baburam Bhattarai was also revealing. The Maoist Center chief had every opportunity to openly berate and belittle Bhattarai, whose audacity and inventiveness in breaking away from his onetime boss is in free fall. But Dahal chose a more courteous albeit no less cutting course. Bhattarai possesses much knowledge but little wisdom, he said.
In doing so, Dahal paid due deference to Bhattarai’s doctorate but aimed straight at that other vaunted attribute: his ability to gauge and grapple with ground realities. For that acumen to shine during his period as chief ideologue of the ‘people’s war’, Bhattarai needed the organization that grew under Dahal. Without that symbiosis, Bhattarai, despite the best of intentions, has been left dithering.
Contrast Dahal’s candor with that coming from the other end of the ideological spectrum. Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) chairman Kamal Thapa, having suffered a damaging party split, has been trying to persuade us that the development is ultimately for the better. While Thapa has sounded enough self-deprecation and compunction to appear sincere, you can see how bad he is hurting.
After an extended meeting of the party leadership outside the capital, the RPP decided to vote against the constitutional amendment bill put forth by the government. That about-face would have been less jarring to the public if, say, Thapa had discovered holes in the text. Instead, he asserted that the vote against the bill would be in protest against the ruling coalition’s supposed hand in instigating the party split. Which only goes on to show that everything is fair in hate and peace.
Not that the breakaway faction led by Pashupati Shamsher Rana has demonstrated any more wisdom. True, that group got out with more people than it had gotten in with. Before you are carried away by the supposed strategic or tactical deftness of that move, think a bit more – outside the realm of the Supreme Court and Election Commission. If you have to distinguish your new party with a suffix that adjectivizes what is already a proper noun in your formal name, you’ve certainly got a problem.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Coalition Of Convenience For The Quarry?

Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre candidate Renu Dahal’s election as mayor of Bharatpur Metropolitan City has left the country pondering the potentials and pitfalls of what presents itself as an alliance between the Nepali Congress and Maoist party over the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML).
Dahal razor-thin 203-vote victory over UML candidate Devi Gyawali, who garnered some 42,924 votes, could be the result of any number of things, ranging from outright state favoritism to a genuine reflection of the popular mandate in tight contest.
Gyawali, who conceded that Dahal had won, was careful to insist he had not lost. His accusation that the government, Election Commission and the Supreme Court had all connived to ensure the triumph of the daughter of Maoist Centre chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ resonates well in the UML. So the election result, following a controversial repolling in Ward 19, might herald a hardening of the main opposition party’s stance vis-à-vis the two major ruling parties.
The question, though, is whether the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre have really thought out an enduring alliance against the UML ahead of the upcoming provincial and national elections. The Nepali Congress of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, for its part, appears uninhibited in letting us know every which way that it sees the UML as its prime competitor. That way, it would have to wash fewer of its own dirty linen in public.
The Maoist Centre, on the other hand, clearly resents having to cede leadership of Nepali communism to the UML. But that party is careful to camouflage its discontent. Subterfuge, after all, has fueled its rise.
Daddy Dahal has publicly praised UML chief Khadga Prasad Oli for having demonstrated much sagacity during the local elections staggered over the months. That statement could be emblematic of many things. A proud father’s impassioned pre-emptive strike? Intimation to the UML that every door slammed shut can open another vis-à-vis the Maoist Centre? An admonition to the Nepali Congress not to take its junior partner in power for granted?
Speculation over motives and intentions of the Maoist Centre chief has been fueled by the fact that Province No. 2 still has to vote. How does Daddy Dahal know that Comrade Oli does not have surprises up his sleeves?
Regardless of the endurance or viability of any Nepali Congress-Maoist Centre alliance, the UML sees momentum on its side. The party has seized the banner of ‘nationalism’ and will seek to tighten its grip, especially after the split in the Rastriya Prajatantra Party. We can all lament how that term has been abused to the point of emptiness, but the fact remains that nationalism is still a vote getter.
The UML not only stood up to an Indian ‘embargo’ but also succeeded in cementing the Chinese as a credible geo-strategic counterweight. Does it really matter what we really got and really lost in the entire episode?
In the perception battle, the UML sees it has the most to gain. Maybe Oli & Co. will begin hammering harder the message that the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre is ganging up on the UML so that it becomes a crisp winning slogan for the upcoming elections.