By Maila Baje
In retrospect, that Dasain picture spoke a thousand and one words.
Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Center Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ observed tika festivities after a hiatus of 22 years but left it to son, Prakash, to publicize the affair via social media. Our estimation, before the pictures emerged, was that Dahal, as usual, would have goat slaughtered at home and pretty much stay indoors.
Our collective astonishment focused squarely on this phase of the ‘normalization’ of Dahal, and he played along very shrewdly. That must be why we’re having a hard time making sense of the dramatic realignment that has gripped the left.
Dahal’s one-time deputy, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, who broke away to form his Naya Shakti, was defiant against ever joining hands again with the Maoist Center chairman, at least in this life. Yet there Bhattarai was, jubilant amid Dahal and another fellow ex-premier he routinely berated, Khadga Prasad Oli, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist. Wonder of wonders, the erstwhile people’s warriors consented to playing second fiddle to the half of the parliamentary duo they rose up against.
The master hair-splitter he is, Bhattarai may be technically correct in claiming that he has not joined Dahal or become a full-fledged communist again (he is merely contesting the upcoming election on the UML symbol). The other groupings that have gravitated toward the UML-led alliance recognize which side their bread is buttered. More entities and individuals are bound to do the same in the days and weeks ahead.
The Nepali Congress, for its part, is torn between indifference and apprehension. Some leaders see the development as a natural outcome of our choppy politics as it seeks equilibrium. Other Congress leaders fear for the future of Nepali democracy. The divergence of opinion therein merely means that the Nepali Congress still hasn’t been able overcome its decade-long identity crisis. It is being pushed toward forming one faster than party leaders wish to acknowledge.
Lest we worry about the fallout from the latest development, Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav has urged us to remain confident that the elections would be held according to schedule. We have to believe him, at least, for now.
With two successive legislatures hung in the midst of over a dozen political formations, Nepalis might be forgiven for any temptation to put faith in a two-alliance system. Since the putative Nepali Congress-led grouping remains in the realm of possibility, it would be germane to focus on what impelled the realignment on the left.
We have it on the good authority of UML leader Bishnu Poudel that this was the culmination of a decade-long process. If so, the secret confabs the UML’s then general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal held with Maoist leaders on Indian soil and the two royal takeovers they supposedly precipitated start to make greater sense.
True, the imperative of taming the Maoists gained urgency after 11 p.m. on June 1, 2001 after it became clear who didn’t survive the Narayanhity Carnage and who did. Taming, by definition, entailed relegation to second or third place. But the Maoists ended up gaining strength under royal rule, eventually ousting the monarchy, enflaming the southern plains, and emerging the top vote getters in elections certified as free and fair. The job of Messrs. Poudel and Co. just became harder. But they had to persist.
On the geopolitical front, things were in flux. Since Tibet and the Olympics were of paramount concern to the Chinese, their alacrity in abandoning the old and allying with the new was understandable. As our transition got murkier, second, third and fourth thoughts began to emerge up north.
The Indians didn’t want the Chinese veering too deep inside Nepal, but they were more interested in keeping third countries out, a desire shared by Beijing. The UN special political mission came in handy as a temporary fix but was soon coopted by the very third parties and overstayed its welcome. The Chinese, for their part, began sending representatives to conferences of Tarai-based parties.
While the Dragon and the Elephant succeeded in evicting the United Nations, they had a harder time figuring each other out. Someone had to take that one bold step, but neither side wanted to be the one. The Chinese had more lucre, level-headedness, and luck while the Indians had more laments. Still, neither side would take the plunge. Then came Doklam, which really hasn’t gone away.
As geopolitical dynamics cut across our two political formations, we can brace for a proxy rivalries that would dirty only our hands. The search for a new equilibrium will have begun in earnest, everyone will have ducked blame, and our hopes will have sputtered into life for another stretch. But, then, all this would depend on how real our new reality is.
But how real is our new reality?
By Maila Baje