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Triumph without victory

BY MAILA BAJE
Nepal’s most powerful leader ever returned from a triumphant visit to India to realize that he wouldn’t be able to take a victory lap.
Barely months in power, the Maoists – Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s capricious coalition partners – are peeved by his unilateralist approach to governance. It looks like the transfer of top bureaucrats is only one issue on a long list of Maoist grievances that could easily get longer should the need arise.
KP OliThe prime minister isn’t helping himself, either. If the murder attempt on Acharya Srinivas carries any portent, Oli’s response to a delegation of the guru’s followers only darkened it. Almost implying that the Acharya brought the attack upon himself by backing the monarchy, Oli added much more than insult to injury.
A law-and-order issue was already politicized when Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal – the top Maoist representative in the government – suggested the possibility of outbreaks of religious and ethnic clashes engineered by unnamed forces for equally unnamed ends. Oli served to raise the rhetorical temperature when he subsequently exhorted the security forces to remain alert against domestic threats posed by terrorism, ethnic militancy and extremism.
The expected immediate visit to China aimed at underlining his government’s policy of equiproximity/equidistance our giant neighbors receded with Oli’s arrival from the Indian capital. Foreign Minister Pradip Gyawali’s flew up north for preparations, leaving his boss busy inaugurating and inspecting Chinese-aided projects for now.
India’s top expert on Nepal, Professor Sukh Deo Muni, had publicly warned that the Maoists might complicate Oli’s desire to recalibrate ties with India. Almost on cue, Home Minister Badal took advantage of Oli’s absence and convened the Maoists ministers in a conclave whose import has barely begun to trickle out.
For now, the Maoists have got their preferred men to head the two police forces, Thus the former rebels may be emboldened to seek greater concessions before their unification with Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML). That script has taken a 180-degree turn following Oli’s return from Delhi.
While Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda remains largely conciliatory, representatives of lower rungs of the organization have grown increasingly vocal in asserting the principal of equality as the basis for unity. Reference to the ‘people’s war’ in the founding documents of the new party has returned as a non-negotiable precondition among more hardline quarters.
It’s not just the opposition Nepali Congress that’s making fun of Oli’s ‘reset’. Some members of Oli’s party have developed enough confidence to question whether the putative sea-lane from the south would stream in saffron soldiers.
Oli doesn’t need to hear from the Chinese how the geopolitical equations have shifted in the past few weeks. Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval met with senior Chinese officials ahead of separate visits by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman later this month.
An Indian Embassy statement described the discussions as having “covered a wide agenda spanning bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest”. Bland as that may sound, the message contains enough for everyone.
And if our prime minister can read the tea leaves, so can his adversaries.

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