By Maila Baje
It started all over again with an innocuous dance.
Former king Gyanendra Shah took some time to sway in mirth and merriment at what he considered was a private party. The management of the restaurant where the family gathering took place chose to release a few pictures.
Nepal Communist Party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ wasn’t too thrilled by the ex-royal motions. Unable to shield himself from the splatters of derision and mockery provoked by a government his party predominates, Dahal saw a conspiracy of sorts.
Public response to Dahal’s reaction probably forced the ex-Maoist supremo to wonder why chose to speak at all. If a federal and secular republic of Nepal couldn’t withstand a few gyrations by its last monarch, perhaps it is the fault of new Nepal’s architects.
The Vivah Panchami celebrations in Janakpur attended by India’s most vocal advocate for the restoration of the monarchy and Hindu statehood in Nepal, the anti-republic slogans raised by supporters of the former king at Pokhara airport and the signature campaign in favor of Hindu statehood at the Nepali Congress mahasamiti meeting provided the background for claims of a vast right-wing conspiracy. Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli, under fire within his own party for hobnobbing with a controversial Christian organization, warned the ex-king to, so to speak, curb his enthusiasm.
If Oli was tepid in his admonition, it was probably because he is the only person party rival Madhav Kumar Nepal could credibly accuse of being pro-monarchist. (Remember that episode when Nepal cut short a foreign visit after learning that Oli had met the then monarch in what was seen as an effort to legitimize the first royal takeover. Nepal’s ‘offense’ was that he merely applied for the premiership as common candidate of the agitating parties.)
Never one to let go of an opportunity, Kamal Thapa of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal sought to burnish his monarchist credentials after having let the Hindu-statehood part of his dual agenda predominate. After meeting with the former king in Pokhara, Thapa declared that the agitation his party had already announced for February would now include the restoration of the monarchy.
Gesticulations in and around the crucial Nepali Congress meeting prompted Dahal to remind the party of its three illustrious premiers’ commitment to secularism. Bisweswar Prasad, Girija Prasad and Sushil Koirala all took religion out of the politics they preached and practiced. What were today’s Congressis smoking? Dahal’s gambit fell flat on Nepali Congress secularists, who seemed fonder of the Koiralas’ staunch anticommunism. The party’s spokesman retorted that the Nepali Congress didn’t need lectures on religion from communists.
The death of Tulsi Giri while the Nepali Congress was engrossed in its conference gave that party a respite from an uncomfortable situation. A former Nepali Congress stalwart, Giri served three monarchs during the height of their assertiveness. Ideologically and temperamentally, he was more monarchist than those monarchs. As head of government, Oli offered his condolences on the passing of a predecessor. But Giri had preemptively declined state honors, cementing defiance as part of his legacy.
As we move ahead, Oli’s outreach to the Americans amid this tumult remains a key imponderable. First, it’s unclear who reached out to whom. If the Americans want Nepal’s help on North Korea – and assuming we can do something – that’s Madhav Nepal’s province, counting the number of times he has visited Pyongyang. If Oli wants to empower Madhav Nepal, it would be merely to emaciate the Dahal-Bam Dev Gautam alliance. Our prime minister realizes that it is best to let the wider geopolitical ramifications to play out among the principal external protagonists.
The fact that India and China haven’t reacted significantly to the American outreach doesn’t mean they are apathetic. The United States may consider Nepal an important component of its Indo-Pacific strategy, but New Delhi and Beijing won’t be distracted from the Quad, ASEAN and the vast expanse of salt waters. This reality dawned on Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali who sought to parse the US State Department’s official tweet after his meeting with Secretary Mike Pompeo into the geographical and strategic dimensions of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’.
For our immediate neighbors, the immediate interest here has been and always will be Tibet. So, any Indian and Chinese response – individual or collective – to the latest American overtures will be tailored to exigencies in the context of the advancing age of the 14th Dalai Lama. Ironically, Washington’s erratic policies have encouraged Beijing and New Delhi to work toward stabilizing bilateral relations as far as Tibet goes.
What all this suggests is that nothing is settled here. We can continue searching but we won’t get it without knowing what it is that we want, regardless of our jives, jibes or jinks.