Nepal’s Lengthening Political Shadows

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By: Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate

The current government syndicate of eight political parties is in deep political trouble. On the one hand this is due to their political legitimacy rapidly declining. Defining itself as an interim government with interim authority, its legitimacy was always correlated with its ability to pave the way for the establishment of a successor government by preparing and conducting free and fair Constitutional Assembly (CA) elections in a free and fair environment. As the prospects of this coming to pass are fading away, so does its legitimacy and credibility. On the other hand, the magnitude of dissension and wrangling among the eight party constituents of this interim government is gathering momentum, while internal and domestic problems are becoming more pronounced. In communist jargon, they are beset by external and internal contradictions.

The first of these contradictions lies in the fact that PM Girija Prasad Koirala is unfit to rule or even administer. It is questionable that government business and coalition politics are carried out from his official residence in Baluwatar. In any other country, he would have been eased out of power long ago, alone for health reasons; however, specifically his party insists on him being indispensable in the current state of affairs. In fact, no one trusts him – neither his political partners on paper, nor his political ‘advisers’ in New Delhi, nor the foreign diplomats stationed in Kathmandu.

The latest indication that not all is well in the rotten state is the ‘confidential’ junket to Delhi, dressed up as a medical check-up trip by Sushil Koirala (vice-president of the Nepali Congress/NC), Dr. Ram Baran Yadav (joint general secretary, NC) and Dr. Sushil Koirala (Girija’s nephew, political aide and chief trouble shooter).

PM Koiraala is under heavy pressure by both the Maoists and the mainstream communists, the CPN-UML to declare Nepal a republic, even before the conclusion of the Constituent Assembly elections. UML leader Jhala Nath Khanal was uncharacteristically sarcastic when he commented that “rather than going to India with a package of problems, they would have done well had they gone there with a package of solutions.” Presumably, his own boss the UML-general secretary, Madhav Kumar Nepal will be doing precisely that during his own forthcoming visit.

The second contradiction is seen in the rifts within the NC itself. A few weeks back, a majority of the district chiefs had demanded a general convention to endorse the call for a republican set-up. This could only be blocked by the high party leadership with great difficulty. Now this very agenda has been taken up by the student wing, the Nepal Students’ Union (NSU), as former general-secretary of the union, Gagan Thapa and the newly elected president, Pradip Paudel are both die-hard opponents of Koirala’s policies. This leadership and policy crisis was further compounded by the recent tug-of-war in the auxiliary Nepal Women’s Association (NWA). The Koirala clan barely managed to box through its own candidate (and close relative) Meena Pandey for the top post at the general convention at the cost of Ambika Basnet who was slated to win. Bitter cries of manipulation and nepotism have been loud. This does not bode well for the forthcoming negotiations on union with the other NC fraction of former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is himself known for his tendency to procrastinate.

Koirala himself must have felt despair, for suddenly and out of the blue, he declared last Friday that the Nepal Army (NA) is “the backbone of the country”, since the institution was “committed to safeguard the national integrity, sovereignty and the fundamental rights of the people.” This was most surprising, coming from a person representing a party and government which up to now has nurtured suspicion towards the army and has dealt humiliating blows to it in the past.

He and his close associates have also interfered unnecessarily in matters of officer promotion. Koirala has, therefore, much to make good before he can re-establish a proper working relationship. He has to take the lead in observing the rule of law; for instance, by immediately re-instating a senior major-general as he and his government were instructed to do by the highest court of the land. Words are not enough, concrete positive actions must follow. At a time when the southern parts of the country are in a state of violence, and Maoist brigands hold sway over large parts of the country, the PM and defence minister has not thought about realistic ways and means to re-establish law and order, up to and including an internal deployment of the army.

The third contradiction which could implode the 8-party coalition any day are the continued atrocities of the Maoists, indicating an acute internal leadership problem and also a rift within the leadership itself. The fiasco of the Melamchi Water Project clearly showed that the Maoists lack a clear-cut policy. That this project that could have resolved the drinking water shortage in the Kathmandu Valley has been stalled thanks to their ideological hard headedness is a huge loss of face for them internationally.

From the start, the pro-Indian group around Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and his wife Hisila Yami were bent on torpedoing the project and they succeeded. Maoist boss Prachanda tried his level best to save the project, but to no avail. A joke currently doing the rounds is a pun on Yami’s first name: ‘Hisila Yami, hisi maru’! ( Yami has no good face).

Before the agitation against the royal regime could be launched back in 2006, Indian communist parties and intelligence agencies managed to paper over the differences; but now these are re-emerging and can no longer be disguised. A nationalist faction is likely to emerge. In fact, in the history of the communist movement, in most countries, purges, violent internal conflicts and rifts are quite common. In Nepal, at the last count, there were about ten different communist parties (of which five are represented in the government).

The Maoists have also hugely discredited themselves by preventing an amicable resolution of the Bhutanese refugee problem. With no rhyme nor reason they are aggressively and callously blocking immigration to the United States and other willing third countries, where they have been promised decent living conditions, and an end to their miserable life in the refugee camps. It has become quite clear by now that the Royal Bhutanese Government will never repatriate them, and that the Indian government is actively abetting this policy. The present government has not been able to take a positive role in the matter.

Much more serious for the Maoists is the lack of discipline in the hierarchy and the cadres, especially the Young Communist League (YCL). The Maoists regard their ‘joining’ into mainstream politics as the continuation of their “People’s War” by other means, and are, therefore, not at all equipped or even interested in nurturing any kind of national reconciliation. They overshot the mark by throwing stones at the car carrying US ambassador, James F. Moriarty and a UN representative in Jhapa, south-eastern Nepal, only days after Prachanda had urged the YCL for restraint. This highlights their brazen conceit and illustrates the degree of control that Prachanda has over them, making him a ‘paper tiger’.

The reaction of the American embassy was mild, to say the least: “this is yet another demonstration of their violent, unacceptable tactic.” However, the incident will definitely have repercussions, above all for the stability of the government. The home minister’s assurance last week, that the government would adopt sterner and ‘tougher’ measures against law-breakers has proven to be absolutely hollow: ‘Sitaula proposes, YCL disposes’!

The writers can be reached at; [email protected]

Shashi P.B.B. Malla writes incisive political opinion about the politics and politicians of Nepal. He sometimes writes with fellow contributor, Chandra Bahadur Parbate.

Educated in Darjeeling, India, with a certificate from Cambridge University, he went to College and university in Calcutta: I. Sc./St. Xavier’s, B.A. (Hons.)/ Presidency, M.A. (International Relations)/Jadavpur, India. He was Assistant Editor: The Rising Nepal, Kathmandu.

He is or was the Country Representative, DAV Summit Club, Munich (Germany’s leading adventure tour operators in mountaineering and trekking)

He is a Senior Lecturer, Conflict, Peace and Development Studies, Tribhuwan University, Kathmandu