Unstable Situation Gets Murkier Increasingly Scary
Untenable, Unstable Situation Gets Murkier And Increasingly Scary
By M.R. Josse
The national political scenario, untenable and unstable as it has been for months on end, has become even murkier, more fluid and almost entirely unpredictable. In the week just over, for instance, it has become far more dangerous or incendiary than it has hitherto been. Consequently, the outlook for peace and tranquility or an orderly transition to free and fair CA polls where important matters of state and governance can be sorted out by the people themselves, calmly and thoughtfully, is as black as pitch.
Although it will doubtlessly be disputed by the major actors on the Nepali political stage, it is quite apparent to those sans party blinkers that none, including the government, exercises total control of the diverse, divisive forces at play today. It is as true of the interim parliament which acts merely as a SPAM rubber stamp, though the de rigueur rhetoric of 'supremacy' and 'loktantra' continues to ring.
That also includes myriad extraneous actors, both from far and near, the big and the puny, who seem to imagine that they have a God-given right to interfere in matters entirely of domestic concern. As has been asserted in these columns in the past, they have generously assisted in prizing open a Pandora's Box of problems for this poor country but now seem to lack the wherewithal or interest in putting the genie back into the bottle.
In a sense, therefore, it can be asserted that Nepal is today in a free fall just awaiting the crash that will splinter into it into umpteen pieces, a la a ripe, heavy fruit pulled down by the force of gravity. To be sure, a goodly portion of the simmering witches' brew of unresolved issues and contradictions is composed of the continuing spring of discontent manifest in the Terai, now due to take a new form, as also amongst the ethnic hill groups.
If that wasn't enough to worry and burden the general suffering populace, they now have to cope with a dhobi's list of new and nagging anxieties – apart from the usual ones related to non-availability of kerosene, gas, petrol, to extended periods of load-shedding, to heaps of stinking garbage lining the roads, to a surge in urban crime, wild-cat strikes and bandhs not to mention the problems and increased costs encountered in traveling from one part of the country to another.
High on the list of nail-chewing worries are the sombre implications of Prachanda's admission in Baglung on 12 March that thousands of his party's combatants and weapons are still outside the cantonments as they "couldn't meet United Nations standards" for registration. (Kathmandu Post, 13 March, 2007). While that startling mea culpa is in direct contrast to his earlier "explanation" for low registration of weapons – claiming that a significant chunk of Maoist weaponry was lost in village fires or swept away by rivers – it only confirms what non-Maoist circles have long been publicly or privately maintaining. Incidentally, it also flies in the face of UNMIN chief Ian Martin's transparent and determined past efforts to dismiss such doubts as not being worthy of consideration. Perhaps even more chilling is Prachanda's threat that the Maoists still have "technical human resources" outside cantonments that possess the ability to launch "massive attacks" simultaneously at several places on a single night. This, incidentally, only recalls what his senior colleague C.P. Gajurel had recently claimed at the JNU in New Delhi in a burst of bravado.
As noted in this very space two weeks ago, Gajurel had made this claim: "It is a big achievement to increase the strength of the PLA from 10,000 to 37,000 after the peace process."
What has also been deeply worrying for most citizens is Prachanda's claim ventilated at a public function in Pokhara on 8 March that he had evidence that the Palace was engaged in a conspiracy to have some American officials murdered and then heap the blame on the Maoists. That triggered a prompt and angry response from the American Embassy on 9 March which made the commonsensical point that if the Maoists had such evidence they should have shared it with the police and forwarded a copy of the same to them.As its press statement emphasized, "if he (Prachanda) has no such information then his remarks are both irresponsible and dangerous."Prachanda's counter-response on 10 March was that he would present such evidence "this evening or tomorrow by the latest" (Himalayan Times, 11 March). As of this writing (13 March), however, no such "evidence" has been produced. All of which reminds this commentator of the imitable "sentence first, verdict afterwards" sampling of justice, as made memorable in Alice in Wonderland. Yet, it is also of a piece with the accusation once leveled against the Palace, this time by Maoist spokesman and MP Krishna Bahadur Mahara in parliament on 12 March.
He charged: In the presence of Crown Prince Paras, the palace recently formed a group at a hotel in Kathmandu and distributed Rs 600 million to assassinate select political leaders and to disrupt the constituent assembly elections. (Kathmandu Post, 13 March).Here, too, no evidence has been produced although Mahara handed over "a CD containing all the news stories and reports against the Maoists that appeared in the Nepali media" to Speaker Subash Nembang. This CD was purportedly received from an Army officer (unnamed) and was allegedly distributed by Crown Prince Paras "to all the barracks of the Nepali Army to provoke the latter against us." (Ibid.)
Finally, there have also been Maoist accusations that the Palace was behind the recent planting of unexploded, pressure-cooker bombs at the residence of two civil society figures known for their republican leanings – although a political group the Nepal Janatantrik Party has claimed responsibility for the same, even providing its rationale for their action.Here, too, the Palace has been charged with malfeasance, without any evidence. All of which cumulatively causes one to wonder what exactly is behind this concentrated onslaught, against the Palace at this time? Since the first meeting of the CA is to take up the issue of the status of the Monarchy what is the point in such a campaign of calumny, at this point? Is it perhaps that the Maoists now wish to withdraw from the CA track and, instead, seek to force the pace and direction of events through the medium of threats and public demonstration of mass strength on the streets?
While time will tell whether such a prognosis is firmly grounded or not, it is hugely significant that Prime Minister Koirala speaking in Biratnagar on 12 March refused to be drawn into responding point blank to a query whether his party shared the Maoists' new zeal to declare Nepal a republic immediately. Instead, perhaps shocked and awed by the relentless barrage of Maoist charges against the Palace and dire threats against all and sundry, Koirala deflected or parried the newsman's question and, instead, observed that "in a sense, there is a republic" (vide quote headline in Kantipur, 13 March).That, of course, is seemingly at odds with his categorical recent statement declining Prachanda's proposal to proclaim the country a republic. (Kathmandu Post, 3 March). It does not conform, either, to the news report (Ibid) that quoted Koirala as telling Prachanda "that the government should take into account the possible national and international outcry before taking such a decision."
The unvarnished politico-legal reality is that either Nepal is a republic or she is not. As with pregnancy, there is no such thing as "in a sense pregnant": a woman is either pregnant or she is not! Likewise, a state is either a republic or it is not.
An ailing and ageing Koirala's pendulum mood swings apart, considerable and quite unnecessary turbulence was injected into the already roiling political waters by former prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa's out-of-the-blue, lunchtime thesis – propounded before 'select' journalists – declaring unexceptionably that there is "no chance of a royal takeover" (Himalayan Times, 12 March) or that the "King's can't usurp power" (Kathmandu Post, 13 March). Since what Thapa had to say was neither blindingly incandescent nor particularly penetrating it left many political pundits scratching their collective heads what exactly the purpose of his intriguing demarche, at these disturbed, opaque times was. If it was perhaps inevitable that not a few gurus suspected a behind-the-scenes Indian hand to the whole shebang, others even went to the ludicrous extent of predicting that Thapa might replace Koirala soon!Whatever be the exact motivation behind Thapa's most irregular baring of his heart to hacks, it represented another disturbing piece of the political jig-saw puzzle that is today's Nepal, a Nepal whose future is uncertain as it teeters over the edge of the precipice. In sum, it would take a congenital optimist to discover anything to cheer about the current disturbed and highly unpredictable political scenario.