By M. R. Josse
TAMPA, FL: In my column from New York two weeks ago, I had concluded by offering some thoughts on Nepal’s recent elections wondering whether their outcome would prove to be a panacea for her manifold and chronic political problems or merely open another Pandora’s Box whose long-term results could not be predicted.
As I pen this from my new base in Florida, the results of the elections are still coming in; yet, it is plain from browsing the internet that the Nepali Congress has been whipped; the UML is on a triumphant trajectory; while the Maoist Centre is speedily heading from the third position, on the national political scale, to the second.
On the face of it, the greatest or most obvious loser is the Nepali Congress with its leader, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, now clearly destined for the political dog-house with his party thrown into a debilitating, if not existential, crisis.
Much more significantly, if indirectly, the most obvious loser is none other than India to which Deuba recklessly and opportunistically hitched his political stars, foolishly convinced that if he pushed India’s well-known but widely disliked buttons in Nepal he would be home and dry, all problems taken care of by his political mentors in New Delhi.
Apparently, Deuba’s clouded vision failed to visualise that India’s constant meddling in Nepal’s domestic politics; her crude attempts to shape Nepal’s destiny through a cabal of surrogates particularly in the Madesh; and even to instruct her plenipotentiary and ambassador extraordinary in Kathmandu to brazenly ‘participate’ in the elections in favour of the Nepali Congress, would backfire – big time.
That Deuba and his Big Daddy down south have taken a thumping body-blow at the polls has two seminal links to the recent past: one, that the NC boss man believed that the Nepali people had forgotten India’s cruel five-month blockade; two, accusations tending to belittle former Prime Minister K.P. Oli of the UML’s timely moves to improve Nepal’s connectivity to China, thereby ensuring that Nepal’s crippling dependence on energy and other supplies from the south would be ended, or, at least, substantially minimised.
India not only worked to pull down the Oli-led coalition but continued to portray him as a stooge of China. That absurd charge has been resoundingly rejected by the electorate, which is no longer unaware of new evolving political realities in the region, including that China is not only overwhelmingly more powerful than India but also that Beijing, unlike New Delhi, does not attempt to micro-manage Nepali politics.
STABILITY NOT GUARANTEED
Given that the electoral contest became – in the end and in the public mind – a virtual zero-sum competition between India and China for Nepal’s soul, as it were, India’s ‘defeat’ is naturally China’s ‘gain’!
With Oli seemingly destined to become Nepal’s next prime minister, and the Prachanda-led Maoists in a supportive role – it will be fascinating to monitor how post-election politics in Nepal plays out. Political stability could thus prove to be no more than a chimera.
Evidently, the Nepali Congress’ debacle is, at root, related to the party’s suicidal attempt – post-2006 ‘regime change’ period – to be more revolutionary than the Maoists! To recall, that party was initially created and nurtured by India as a weapon against a nationalistic monarchy which, among other political sins, strengthened relations with her puissant northern neighbour and refused to play the ‘free-Tibet’ card.
I have always maintained that, during the previous election, the NC acquiring numero uno status was largely by default or a function of Maoists’ rejection by the electorate, rather than a positive vote of confidence in the NC.
In any case, it is striking that, according to Nepali political pundits, available election results indicate that the idea of federalism, so central to the new people-written constitution, has apparently not taken root, as suggested by the fact that provincial issues hardly figured, even in the provincial elections!
It is, hence, quite possible that creation of provincial capitals and naming the seven provinces might trigger political strife in the months ahead, thereby collapsing the dream that, with the first long-hyped, post-constitution elections over, political stability, communal harmony and tranquility, so necessary for all-round national development, will descend upon the land.
The conundrum thus remains: will the recent polls prove to be a panacea or merely another Pandora’s Box?
Incidentally, this column did not appear last week as I and my spouse were traveling in the state of Arizona, beginning in Phoenix which was reached after a six-hour jet-flight from New York.
Among other things, during the journey one was reminded of the vastness of the United States of America. Phrased differently, it helped not merely to recall that the United States is not just a nation-state but an expansive continent. It brought home, too, the geopolitical reality of America’s strength, including how her western frontier and expansion to the Pacific vastly contributed to her global pre-eminence, in large measure a gift of her geography.
Specifically, our trip to the Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona, encompassing 277 miles of the Colorado River, with its spectacular vistas of geological erosion was mind-blowing.
The township of Flagstaff, en route to the Grand Canyon, was naturally cold in December but was quaint and charming, and, among other things, hosted the lovely campus of the University of Northern Arizona.
Our visit to Sedona city and the Oak Creek Canyon, highlighted by breathtaking scenery and unique, awe-inspiring rock formations, was noteworthy, including a stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross at the very base of those mountains.
Ubiquitous evidence of Indian American culture and heritage was educative, while it was fun to take a trip to the Goldfield Ghost and Mining Town where a gun-duel was staged for the benefit of visitors like us.
Though largely desert, Northern Arizona and the Phoenix area have unique attractions that are truly worth visiting.