By Maila Baje
With Nepal on the cusp of the traditionally portentous month of Jestha, political battle lines of sorts have been drawn at the individual, institutional and international levels.
Fresh from an enthusiastic reception up north rejuvenation, President Bidya Devi Bhandari landed in a storm over her purported imperious ownership of the government while unveiling its annual program and policies. Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, unable to comprehend what the hullaballoo was all about, left us scratching our heads.
He departed on a visit to Vietnam and Cambodia, countries that have little political, commercial or cultural relations with Nepal. To many of us, the trip makes sense only as part of Nepali leaders’ traditional political pilgrimages to our southern and northern power centers on the territories of their respective Southeast Asian confederates.
Oli’s Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has been able to put a lid on dissent. The latest step in the organization’s inexorable unity drive has only served to widen internal fissures. Party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ speaks or maintains silence based on personal calculations.
The main opposition Nepali Congress, for its part, is able to show signs of life only because of the listlessness of the ruling party. Its ‘awareness campaign’ may turn out to be an opportunity for the people to give the leaders an earful. The smaller parties are united by little else than their antipathy for the Oli government.
Institutionally, too, the fluidity is becoming intense. The sour taste federalism has left in Nepali mouths has been aggravated by the tightening pinch in their pockets. Official state secularism has proved to be the best sponsor of Hindu revivalism. Cursorily, republicanism remains the strongest pivot of the tripod of Nepali newness. That, too, is wobbling under popular fascination with the comings and goings of the ex-monarch and the animation in broader royalist right. If the government feels compelled to think out loud about criminalizing demands for monarchism and Hindu statehood as anti-constitutional, it should give us a fair idea of the stakes involved.
The broader international lineup is ominous, too. While much of the ‘democratic’ West is rooting for Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s defeat in the elections, traditional foe China joins long-time Indian ally Russia in longing for the reelection of the incumbent government.
There has been feverish speculation over the impact of Modi II on Nepal, ranging from restoration to Hindu statehood to a full-fledged return of constitutional monarchy. On the eve of the Nepali new year, soothsayers became so sonorous about the future of sanatana dharma that Prime Minister Oli felt compelled to denounce their participation in a vast right-wing conspiracy.
Nepal’s predicament is, however, deepened by growing evidence that the Indian National Congress, too, is troubled by the way things have turned out here. In retrospect, the party astutely hedged its bets through the Karan Singh-Shyam Saran shtick in 2006 so as to revisit things with enough credibility over a dozen years later should Indian electoral realities and national interests warrant.
Our die-hard domestic votaries of the 12-Point Agreement aren’t giving up. It is significant that Baburam Bhattarai’s group’s unification with Upendra Yadav’s outfit and their revival of the 11-province-cum-presidential-system demand follows the visit of Shyam Saran. Admittedly, on the Nepali Congress side, Krishna Prasad Sitaula looks like a has-been. Yet you have to recognize the similarity of his voice to those of other leaders like Ram Chandra Poudel and Bimalendra Nidhi to grasp the revolutionary camp in that party fully. As they fight tooth and nail in defense of their baby, the Bhattarai-Sitaula duo can be expected to draw more extensive support.
How will things pan out when Nepal’s politically discredited albeit established history collides with the precariousness of its geography underscored by C.K. Raut? The fact that many Nepalis are praying rather than prognosticating provides a telling portrait of our plight.