Saturday, September 16, 2017

Don’t Let Them Make You Feel Small, Comrade

Revolutionary Maoist chairman Mohan Baidya has firmly ruled out the possibility of his party’s merger with the once-formidable mother party, citing lack of ideological affinity with its supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Baidya seemed too indignant to stop there. “Let Dahal and his Maoist Centre merge with the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist Leninist, since he seems far more comfortable hobnobbing with them”,  he said.
The Revolutionary Maoist chief was responding to Dahal’s incessant pleas for the unification of all Maoist factions. These days, the onetime Fierce One seems miffed at having to almost grovel before his erstwhile comrades. His supplications have started to sound like threats.
“Baidya, Baburam and Biplav will be wiped if they do not return to mother party,” Dahal said a few weeks ago, referring to the breakaway factions led by Baburam Bhattarai and Netra Bikram Chand.
Having emerged as the strongest Maoist entity in the nearly dozen years since the end of the ‘people’s war’, Dahal is obviously ashamed at having become the third political force in the country.
Speaking in Rukum, part of the Maoist heartland, the other day, Dahal said his party, which was the largest in the first Constituent Assembly, faced a severe beating owing what he called its ‘arrogance’.  “We were together with the people during the ‘people’s war’, but failed to reach people after the peace process.”
Nothing bad in being penitent. Yet Dahal seemed to imply that repeated splits in the party were responsible for its woes. If everyone just got back together, everything would be the way they used to be.
Not so fast, says Baidya. Since Dahal had betrayed the people’s revolution, Baidya insists, Nepal needed another revolt to uphold the cause of national independence, people’s republic and development. Bhattarai and Chand, too, have rejected the notion of unity more or less on the same grounds.
Baidya has more credibility on the betrayal banner. After all, the ball of the Maoist-mainstream alliance got rolling while Baidya – like his party colleague Chandra Prakash Gajurel – was in the custody of Indian authorities. It was almost as if the release of Messrs. Baidya and Gajurel was predicated on their acquiescence in the Indian blueprint for Nepal.
Now, we can’t say for sure what difference the duo could have made had they been free. For the first few years after the 2006 12-Point Accord, they seemed alright with the course Dahal had embarked on.
Bhattarai, on the other hand, was the catalyst that drew Dahal away from the palace and towards New Delhi after the royal takeover of February 2005. Chand, a Dahal loyalist who went along with Dahal for a while, was later too disgusted by the chairman’s tilt. Matrika Yadav broke away once the dynamics of the Madhes movement became clearer. The other splinter groups were more personality driven, so much so that they hardly merit Dahal’s individual mention.
Like your average brainbox anywhere, Bhattarai wants the country to look at his intentions, not the results of his actions. If the Maoist experiment fizzled after they laid down their weapons, it was the party chairman’s fault. Such brazen abdication of responsibility was galling to most people. No wonder Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti hasn’t been able to get off the ground.
Dahal, for his part, should try to build on what he has. Trying to woo back those who left would only serve to alienate those who are still with him. “Those who accused me of lampasarbaad [capitulation] have come around to praising my statesmanship,” Dahal recently said of his second term as prime minister. It would have been nice if he weren’t the one making that point. Still, that fact alone should not undercut the underlying validity of the assertion.
Having taken turns allying with the UML and the Nepali Congress is not something he should be ashamed of. That’s what the hard reality of Nepali politics has dictated. The post-2006 experiment is a work in progress. Consider how we’re told that the rightists could restore the monarchy. Or that the mainstream parties could do away with federalism.
Despite its truncated status, Dahal’s party has secured its ground as the guardian of our gains. In the ultimate campaign of pursuing our nebulous newness, no one else can play that part, even if that entails running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Some Things Seem Like They Are Just Made To Last

The fellas scattered across the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) factions just can’t stop twirling to their own tunes.
Here we have the Chinese doubting the depth of our commitment to the Belt and Road Initiative and the Indians deliberating how far we have slipped out of their grasp. The country is surprised at how the devastating floods could have caught us by such surprise. The penultimate phase of institutionalizing the ‘newness’ ushered in almost a dozen years ago is just around the corner.
Yet the boys in the RPP are interminably rallying the Supreme Court, Election Commission and whatever state institution they can find to their respective causes.
RPP chairman Kamal Thapa blames the government for splitting his party last month. As if to lend credence to the allegation, the rival RPP-Democratic of Pashupati Shamsher Rana is salivating to join Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s administration.
The RPP-Nationalist of Prakash Chandra Lohani, who broke away days after the much-ballyhooed reunion of the ex-panchas earlier in the year, derides those in power as no less than looters.
So how could loot – or at least allegations of it – stay out of the latest brouhaha? When Thapa pressed Deuba to investigate the latest scandal gripping the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), he wasn’t training his guns on Gopal Bahadur Khadka, its already beleaguered chief. The prime minister is now is hesitant to induct Deepak Bohara, a leading member of the Rana-led RPP as a cabinet member, because of his earlier tenure as supplies minister, which the NOC comes under.
Bohara, like Thapa, is a first-generation pancha. Both were instrumental in the creation of the controversial student wing of that birdie called partylessness. The student organization could barely take flight, but Bohara and Thapa by then had cemented their respective political careers. That they continue to dominate our political discourse must testify to their impressive political skills. But they still act like parties are still banned in Nepal.
Rana, in deference to Deuba, has reportedly withdrawn Bohara’s name from consideration. With clockwork precision, an enraged Bohara is said to be threatening to split Rana’s party.
The Rana-led RPP committed a blunder in flaunting how all the three directly elected legislators in the united party had come over to its side. That might have been a clever move in the context of the party’s internal battle for legitimacy.
When you start making such distinctions in an assembly that is dominated by members elected through the proportional representation system, you’re on a slippery slope. After all, it’s not as if PR members are akin to palace-nominated Rastriya Panchayat members of yore.
Sure, Nepalis may not have given their votes to those members on the basis of their personality, but they did so based on party platforms. Institutionalizing a class system within the elected legislature throws a monkey wrench into an assemblage that resembles primates that don’t know what to do with they coconut they already have.
When will the RPP factions learn to become relevant to the times? Or maybe, judging from their success in continuing to grab our attention, there is a more pertinent question: Will Nepalis ever break free from the past?

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.