Feb 9, 2011

Primed to Distrust

By: Yubaraj Ghimire

Finally, Nepal has found a prime minister in Jhalanath Khanal-a hardcore communist backed by the far more radical Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M)-which brings the long-awaited Left  nity to fruition. As an opposite, if not equal reaction, the Nepali Congress and other democratic forces are already grouping up, possibly as a force of resistance, fearing that the next step of the radical alliance which will monopolize state power will be to establish a “communist dictatorship” in which opposition will have no legitimate space.

The fear is not baseless. Khanal, who is also chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), had a series of closed-door meetings with his UCPN-M counterpart Prachanda, and the duo signed a seven-point secret deal. The two agreed that their inability to join hands would give India a decisive chance to influence Nepal’s political parties and sway the choice of a new prime minister. Although India’s foreign secretary Nirupama Rao had said during her visit to Kathmandu a month ago that India had no favorites in the prime ministerial race, “independent experts” from Delhi were constantly telling the media and NGO-sponsored seminars that Prachanda could not be accepted as PM as he was anti-India.

UCPN-M , the largest party in the constituent assembly, does not have absolute majority. It believes that India interferes too much in Nepal’s internal affairs, and that it is time to assert Nepali nationalism. It was this assessment, in fact, that persuaded Prachanda to give up his claim and support Khanal, giving him 368 votes in a house of 597, and leaving Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress and Bijay Gachedar of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) far behind. Nepalis are largely conservative and traditional and their approach democratic, in the sense that various faiths, ethnic groups, castes and political entities have co-existed with mutual respect and cordiality under different political dispensations.

But the political change that occurred four years ago introduced a relentless radical agenda. Any individual or group who was indifferent to or opposed that agenda was targeted as “regressive” by the political parties that drove the change - UCPN-M, CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress. Intolerance and violent retaliation are emerging as the norm in Nepal’s social and cultural life. This alliance between Khanal and Prachanda is just a logical step forward, and all it has done is to weed out those they consider “revisionists” and “reactionaries”, or puppets of an “expansionist India”. India, though, is not less guilty in this development, which manifests the failure of its Nepal policy. Delhi not only patronized the Maoists - when they were still underground - it also conveyed to parties like the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, which were pursuing parliamentary democracy and more moderate approaches that resonated with Nepali society, that they had no future if they did not join hands with the Maoists. That was the message Delhi delivered when it brought the two sides together under the 12-point agreement signed in November 2005, nine months after King Gyandendra had taken over. The Maoists did not keep silent with the overthrow of the monarchy, nor did they honour the commitment to pursue democracy and abandon weapons - two major promises they had made to India at the time of signing the agreement.

In May 2009, when Prachanda quit as prime minister - because the president and most other political parties opposed his sacking of General Katwal as army chief - he put the blame for his exit solely on India. And ever since, the UCPN-M has been claiming that India is interfering with the Maoists’ legitimate right to head the government. That is a perception shared by a large section in Nepal, not Maoists alone.

In 2005, India was clearly anti-monarchy and recognized the Maoists as the true representative of the people, a force that could not be ignored in Nepal’s path towards peace, stability and progress. Five years down the line, it is clearly anti-Maoists, and quiet on, if not indifferent towards the possibility of the monarchy returning to power in Nepal. The people are frustrated with the growing corruption, lawlessness, political instability and external interference that mark Nepal. And India may be perceived as a decisive force for Nepal’s politics, but Western countries and donors have been exerting much greater influence on the social, cultural and religious aspects of the nation, including the ethnicity-centric policies pursued by the Maoists. India is now left without any trustworthy and effective political allies in its north. Some still abide by the long historical, cultural and social connections between the two nations, but most have become critical after the India-promoted vision of radical change only made the situation far worse.

These shared social, historical, cultural and religious values are clearly on the wane, under the influence of radical politics. Khanal’s election as prime minister may have been an exercise of the “sovereign parliament”, but almost everyone here believes that the Prachanda-Khanal duo stonewalled the influence that the south might have had. India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, assured Khanal that India would continue as normal and extend all the cooperation required, but dispelling this Himalayan impression would take time and initiative from Nepal’s south. That, unfortunately, does not guarantee Nepal’s stability and the cessation of external “dictate”, in one form or the other.

(Courtesy: Indian Express)

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