Nepal: Disappointments and Tragi-Comedy of SPAM Governance

If ever proof were required to demonstrate how sloppily the brave new world of SPAM governance is operating merely recall the tragi-comedy of the developments of the past week. I refer to the mayhem triggered by the SPA government’s belated announcement on 18 December of names of fourteen ambassadorial nominees plus the chief and two members of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

After Mukherjee Visit

Coming on the immediate heels of the whirlwind visit of Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on 17 December, those decisions – in the works since the culmination of the mass movement of April – quite naturally caused analysts to wonder if such might not, in fact, have been more than merely coincidental. So, too, that Mukherjee did not meet any Maoist honchos while here.

That apart, speculation in that direction was fuelled by the nomination of PM Koirala’s niece and one time Deputy Prime Minister Sailaja Acharya as ambassador-designate to India. Acharya, known for her close ties with Indian political figures might have been considered an ideal choice from an Indian perspective.

Yet, the fact that NC’s one-time stormy petrel had been a staunch critic of Koirala’s decision to wipe out over fifty years of party history and forge an alliance not merely with mainstream Communist parties but, indeed, with the Maoists as well was neither lost on the Maoists or on others who participated in the April Uprising that catapulted the Maoists within a cat’s whisker’s of total political power.

Even more glaring was that the announcement, hanging fire for so long, was made on the verge of the Maoists joining the interim government, a fact of political life that has been formalised and proclaimed to the high heavens in umpteen SPAM agreements. For the Maoists it would certainly and naturally have appeared to be an attempt to undercut their political clout and therefore unacceptable.

It must, however, be acknowledged that if the Maoists had any misgivings about possible Indian influence on the timing and nature of the government’s decision on the high visibility appointments then they have kept strangely mum about it.

Likewise, the nomination of former Chief Justice and chair of the 1990 Constitution drafting committee, Biswonath Upadhayay, as chairman, NHRC, was also unacceptable to some.

Known for his proximity to the NC and his controversial ruling dismissing as unconstitutional UML Prime Minister Manmohan Adhikari’s call for snap elections, which Koirala had been permitted to do earlier, Upadhayay is not very popular in UML circles, among others.

Besides, it is difficult to see how the Maoists, virtually calling the political shots whether they are in government or not, could be comfortable with a chief of the NHRC who chaired the committee that drafted the 1990 Constitution which is now discredited.

Maoist Mayhem

This commentator has no wish to write a critique of the appropriateness, or otherwise, of the other luminaries’ nominations now under public scrutiny. Far more pertinent is the manner and speed in which the Maoists gave familiar expression to their wrath on the streets of Kathmandu on 19 December, or just hours after the announcements were made public.

Even more ominous was their prompt and menacing threat to call a two-day All Nepal Bandh on 31 December and 1 January if the government did not withdraw the nominations before then. As matters now stand, they have withdrawn their threat of such a bandh – but only after the Prime Minister reportedly assured them that he would not proceed any further without consulting them.

However, there is considerable fogginess about what exactly the understanding between the Prime Minister and Prachanda exactly is. While some press accounts have it that the appointments would be “adjusted” others say that they have just been put “on hold.” Then, there are those that indicate that the appointments have been “suspended”.

Yet others disclose that “the process would move ahead and come to fruition only after the Maoists join the interim government sometime in the first week of January.”

Lying just below the surface is the vital question of who – Prime Minister Koirala or Prachanda – is telling the truth. Reading multiple media accounts is no help: while Koirala says he had already consulted Prachanda about them in advance, the latter says that is simply not the case. So, who’s telling the truth and who is bending it?

That is revealing of the state of health of the SPAM alliance strained severely even before their political wedding is solemnised.

For the aam janata, or the hoi polloi, the crucial unanswered question is this: if such be the clout of the Maoists even before they join the government, what will it be after they do? And how will that changed political equation impact on the election to a constituent assembly – whenever it is held?

(Meanwhile, it is surely interesting that Deputy Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli in public remarks has begun to raise the possibility that such a democratic exercise might not be held at the stipulated time.)


To return to the issue of ambassadorial appointments and disappointments, there is the interesting revelation of a Himalayan Times reporter who predicts that the Maoists may ultimately “bag” four ambassadorial positions. His choice of word is very evocative in as much as it suggests that what the political huffing and puffing of the past few months has really been all about is the familiar issue of ‘the loaves and fishes of office’.

Phrased otherwise, what the on-going political tug-of-war between the “democratic forces” – or is it between ‘loktantric’ champions? – has little to do with ideology, or creating a ‘new Nepal’, or even the great abiding values and norms of democracy that members of the international donor community have been so eager to promote in this land of ours.

Readers will note, if they have not already so done, that none of them has uttered a sound on how far those splendid universal values are being promoted on the streets and smoke filled rooms where consequential political decisions are being taken, more often than not by unelected cabals at the dead of night.

Still on the ambassadorial appointments business, this observer found it hilarious that of the four positions that the Maoists would eventually ‘bag’ were ambassadorships for France, South Korea, Australia and Denmark. Of the four mentioned, there is a functioning Nepalese diplomatic mission only in Paris.

It will probably be years before the same can be said of Seoul, Canberra and Copenhagen since only a decision in principle has been reached to open embassies at the last three named cities. How the Maoists would be placated by such a transparent stratagem is hence baffling, to say the least. The Maoists may be many things. Certainly they are not fools to fall for such a line, assuming that is that there is any grain of truth in that journalistic scoop.


What was also belly-aching amusing was a news report quoting the PM as disclosing that Prachanda had sought an ambassadorship for his group in, of all places, Washington. One doesn’t know if that was stated in jest or not. It hardly requires great prescience to predict that such a nomination wouldn’t fly.

Yet, one is tempted to suggest that if Maoists have to ‘bag’ some ambassadorial positions why not in New Delhi, Brussels, London right away and, at a later date when we do have an embassy there, in Copenhagen, too? After all, those capitals seem to be quite comfortable with the Maoists.

All of which triggers this heretical thought: what if the concerned capitals do not agree to the nomination of Maoists as ambassadors (apart from Washington)? All they have to do is simply to sit on the request for the requisite agremo from Shital Niwas. As I remember, that has happened twice in the past: pre-1990, with regard to Riyadh and post-1990, with regard to Beijing.

Less amusing but comic in its own way is that the UML in a formal decision not only backed the Maoist demand that the controversial announcement of the aforementioned appointments be withdrawn but that such a situation could come to pass when the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the incumbent government is none other than the redoubtable K.P. Sharma Oli of their own party! Could this have been anything other than a whopping vote of no-confidence against Oli?

If that inevitably recalls the UML’s dual role – acting like the opposition while being in government – in the last coalition government headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba, it suggests that Oli had little, if at all any, role in the selection of ‘new’ Nepal’s gaggle of would-be ambassadors.

But, then, if the above tragi-comedy hardly mirrors the shining success of ‘loktantric’ SPAM governance, one might jolly well ask: why should such a big fuss be kicked up since the Prime Minister, as per the interim statue supposedly coming on stream shortly, has been granted dictatorial powers by the constituent elements of SPAM?

Compared to those powers, that of the controversial appointments of 18 December are small potatoes.

M. R. Josse is a writer on Nepal and the author of Nepal: Politics of Statemate, Confusion and Uncertainty and Nepali Politics 2002-03: Gotterdammerung, The Twilight of the Gods.