Travelers’ Tales and Koirala’s Last Tango

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Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s latest foreign jaunt has been productive though he had to lop off his 35-member entourage to 10 following criticism. Quite apart from the pre-departure controversy about the legitimacy of his credentials, Koirala’s last tango in Colombo has produced many interesting nuggets.

Although scheduled to arrive in Colombo late on the night of July 31, he did so only at the ungodly hour of 3 AM the next day. Instead of traveling by the more established Kathmandu-Bangkok-Colombo route, he did so via Sri Lanka Airlines which was delayed by four hours at New Delhi.

What was worse was that his luggage was misplaced. In New Delhi, staff of Jet Airways reminded the PM’s aides that his oxygen cylinder could not be placed inside the cabin, citing a recent incident in which a blast in such a cylinder felt a hole in a Qantas jet’s fuselage.

If he had missed the Sri Lanka Airlines flight, he might have had to hitch a ride on August 1, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh!

Even more bizarre is that as per the Kathmandu Post in welcome arches, SAARC summit organizers selected “a rare picture of a weary-looking PM Koirala with oxygen-pipe fitted to his nose.” As explained, Koirala had provided a bunch of photo journalists with the said photograph last year to counter rumours about the severity of his health condition.

Was this embarrassing photograph passed on to the authorities in the island nation as a form of protest, as Prachanda was prevented from representing Nepal at the regional tamasha? And what in blazes was our Ambassador to Sri Lanka, a career officer, doing all the while?

If it is possible that the unbecoming photograph was indeed a form of protest in which elements of the Sri Lankan government sympathized, how does one explain that the ambassador was thus caught with his diplomatic pants down?

Did he never consult with his counterparts in the Sri Lankan foreign ministry who were handing all arrangements, including protocol matters, relating to the VX SAARC summit? Surely, an urgent explanation is called for.

Another notable but more pleasant feature of Koirala’s last tango in Colombo (and New Delhi) is that his daughter Sujata, still wearing the tag of Minister despite her being trounced in the CA polls, did not apparently attempt to hustle her way into important official meetings held during the 2-day regional summit.

Or, could it be that she once again did so but an obliging Nepali media did not report her shenanigans?

It might be recalled that last year, during the XIV SAARC summit in New Delhi, Sujata, not yet made a minister by Girija Babu, had barged into official meetings with the Indian foreign and prime ministers, as also another, with Sonia Gandhi. On the two latter occasions, even the-then foreign minister Sahana Pradhan was kept out.

However, to continue recounting Koirala’s latest odyssey to Ravana’s Lanka, mention must be made of the fact that, as revealed by the Himalayan Times’, Koirala “took half an hour off during the summit to take a breather in his private chamber.”

Editor Ajaya Bhadra Khanal, no relative of this columnist, was being very diplomatic. What he really meant is that Koirala was absent from the plenary proceedings in order to suck a quantum of oxygen without which, presumably, he could not have made his plenary statement.

Also reported was that the hard-driven PM “slipped and almost fell” while entering the Conference venue for the concluding session of the Summit.

Noteworthy, too, is that the caretaker prime minister, who has already tendered his resignation but been asked to carry on until a new one steps into his shoes, chose to make an extempore address – the only one to do so.

Apart from being a most curious practice for a formal international summit, his address was very brief, no doubt because it would have been difficult for him to have read out his prepared address in full.

It says a lot about the state of journalism in this country when both the state-owned Rising as well as the Kathmandu Post not only did not reveal that Koirala’s speech was an extempore one but, through their reporting, actually mislead readers into believing that Koirala had indeed read out his prepared speech.

Incidentally, even after carefully scrutiny I could see no mention of the word Maoist or indeed Republic or Federal: three key words in today’s political lexicon!

The Rising Nepal, in fact, printed the full text of Koirala’s prepared speech while the Kathmandu Post reported it, paraphrasing it extensively, without letting on that Koirala’s actual address was a very brief extemporaneous one.

An unexpected surprise, as disclosed by the Himalayan Times, was that he congratulated the former King for his “peaceful abdication” – an important political gesture that both the Rising Nepal and the Kathmandu Post did not report for reasons best known to them.

Equally revealing is Koirala’s meetings with VVIPs. As expected, he met with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee (the Himalayan Times, whether by mistake or design, called it an “audience” – an incongruous term in a vibrant loktantra).

Koirala told Mukherjee that he was “trying to work for a new consensual alliance.” His reported meeting with Indian PM Singh Manmohan also seems to have been focused on Nepal’s politics, not to mention a meeting in New Delhi with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and others.

Most interesting is that Koirala met Richard A Boucher, US Assistant Secretary for South Asia and Central Asia, at which time Boucher said that the US did not want to alienate the Maoists (Himalayan Times). According to the Kathmandu Post, Boucher acquired information about the ongoing political and peace process emphasising that the democratic process should move ahead successfully by ending violence forever.

With multiple meetings with Indian leaders, and one with Boucher, Koirala apparently found no time to meet the observer-representative of China: an accurate reflection of his priorities.

– The Weekly Mirror