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The curious evolution of a Premier’s persona

By Maila Baje
image0013Something eerie seems to be going on with Comrade Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Of course, he’s trying hard this time to be humble, contrite and all that. Nothing wrong there.
The bluster and superciliousness of his last tenure as premier did not serve him well. Let the man learn his lesson and move on.
Still, something is discordant, particularly with regard to his position vis-à-vis the Indians. And it’s not just because his televised undertaking in 2009 not to prostrate before foreign deities to stay in power echoes on.
Dahal’s predecessor, Khadga Prasad Oli, is the leading the charge in depicting the current government as remote-controlled from New Delhi. Riding on the series of agreements Oli signed during his visit to China, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) is milking every drop from those nationalist credentials.
The jury is still out on whether Oli’s northern sojourn really represents a geostrategic shift, so you just have to put up with Oli.
But egging on Dahal to take on the Indians on Lipulekh and Kalapani et al during his upcoming visit to India? Isn’t that going a bit too far?
Apparently not. Dahal, for one, seems to have made an early decision not to fight the ‘pro-Indian’ tag. He keeps assuring us that he won’t sign any anti-national deals during his visit so often that you begin to see that wink-wink routine there.
In an interview with a leading Indian daily, he came out as a confidence-builder too much for his own good.
Such ‘evolution’ is fine. And it’s not unprecedented either. Somehow, those disenchanted with the Chinese for one reason or the other seem to be afflicted the most by the urgency to publicize their transformation. (If you have doubts, just refer to the speeches of former prime minister Kunwar Inderjeet Singh after he returned from his exile in China).
The pendulum can easily swing the other way. The CPN-UML continues to bemoan the tragic death of its charismatic leader Madan Bhandary as part of an Indian conspiracy against his nationalist stance. However, a few years earlier, when an extensive full-spread interview in an Indian daily launched Bhandary’s national political debut amid the anti-Panchayat movement, many of us were left scratching our heads wondering, Madan who? And Oli himself wasn’t known for firebrand nationalism before his premiership, was he?
The problem is with letting personal evolutions become emblematic of a nation’s diplomatic transformation. The most recent fallout? The ostensible postponement of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s impending visit to Nepal about which our Foreign Ministry officially knows nothing. That didn’t prevent Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara – Beijing’s ‘closest friend’ here – from springing into action. Yes, the same Mahara who several years ago was on our official most-wanted list but was comfortably talking to CNN’s Satinder Bindra on Indian soil.
The news report detailing the postponement of Xi’s visit was quite explicit – and damning to Nepal – about the reasons. Was the story a plant? If so, by whom? The Chinese or the Indians? Be sure not to ask Prime Minister Dahal. He looks like he already knows what you want to hear.

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