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Tangling anew with tilts and tugs

By Maila Baje

The geo-strategic narrative that was gradually building in the run-up to our elections has begun to boom across the neighborhood and beyond.

image0011If the Chinese are as thrilled about the leftist sweep in our federal and provincial polls as we are being told they are, they certainly won’t be showing it. They are more likely to continue their admonitions to the Indians against reading too much into the electoral psychology of Nepalis.

In the coming days and weeks, the results will be dissected in all their glory and gore. For our purposes here, let’s begin by accepting the prevailing Indian premise that Nepalis have voted en mass against India. Is a northward Nepali tilt a foregone conclusion? Instead of ‘Bhutanized’, have we all suddenly become ‘Maldivized’?

Will Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government learn from not having let Nepalis be Nepalis and back off a bit? In style, perhaps. But hardly so in substance. The Indians aren’t about to give up on their most advantageous flank in their stepped-up rivalry with China. If anything, New Delhi may decide to become more creative in its dealings.

The canvas may be quite conducive. A Nepali Congress licking its wounds will have a mind working in different directions. Throw in those party luminaries who will always have a hard time believing the scale of their rout.

Gagan Thapa and his ilk may well blame Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel for the fiasco all they like. They will find Deuba and Poudel’s fingers already pointing to the late Girija Prasad Koirala and Krishna Prasad Sitaula. (Isn’t the irony irresistible here? The man who did the most to hitch the hitherto monarchist Nepali Congress onto the republican Maoists was defeated by a royalist supported by the Maoists and the Marxist-Leninists).

Will the Kamal Thapa and Pashupati Shamsher Rana factions and all the royalists in between suddenly realize how badly they squandered their last chance and mend their ways? Fat chance. Counterintuitive as it may sound, the people happiest at the royalist/Hindu statehood rout are the royalists (the real ones, one might add).

If the monarchy/Hindu statehood-restoration agenda moves forward at all, it will now do so on a wider berth inclusive of a Nepali Congress looking wistfully at its roots. Even before the first votes were cast, Deuba and other Congress leaders were warmly espousing Hinduism in public. There’s a fair chance that the Two Necks In A Noose Theory will enjoy some kind of revival.

The regional groups may find themselves busy pursuing their agenda within the regional structures, if they are not distracted by a more immediate imperative to regroup amid the new political realities.

In retrospect, Deuba may have grossly overplayed the communist threat. That doesn’t mean the left will be looking over its shoulders with any less apprehension. They own the place – including whatever they bake and break. Alluring as the prospect of monopolizing credit for success is, they know they won’t have anyone to kick around when the going gets rough. But let’s not prejudge our comrades.

However, there is enough that permits us to delve deeper into the China tilt storyline. Khadga Prasad Oli, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and most of the folks on their end of the political spectrum may have their personal preferences in terms of our two neighbors. Yet they have the political savvy not to forget their debts to the south. And they must be thinking of their future. If, God forbid, something happens and they need to take a hike, the trek southward will prove far easier.

It’s not only geography. Our comrades are conditioned by history. The northern experiences of Bahadur Shah, Bhimsen Thapa, Jang Bahadur, Chandra Shamsher, kings Mahendra, Birendra and Gyanendra convey a definite dismal pattern. Dahal and, to a lesser extent, Oli are familiar with the unsentimental pragmatism the mandarins up north have mastered as a tool of foreign policy.

On the other hand, our comrades have seen the hospitality the Indians have accorded Mohan Shamsher Rana and ex-king Gyanendra individually, even after having exhausted them institutionally. Politics is the art of the possible. Without self-preservation, can there be many possibilities?

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