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Impending polls & an unnatural alliance: Plutocracy tightens its grip over Nepalese polity

CK Lal | Updated on: 4 October 2017, 17:49 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

When the Chairperson of the CPN (UML), Supremo of the CPN (Maoist Centre), and the founder of Naya Shakti Party announced in the afternoon of 3 October 2017 that they had joined hands to contest provincial and Parliamentary polls, the announcement was greeted with disbelief. Both polls are together scheduled to be held in two phases in late November and early December later this year.

The rhetoric of so-called ‘left unity’ notwithstanding, it was one of the most unnatural pre-poll alliances imaginable.

The Maoist Centre is the main partner of the ruling coalition being led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepali Congress. Even though the Maoist Supremo and former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ holds no position in the government, his nominees man key portfolios such as Home, Finance, and Health.

It is widely believed that Prachanda holds the reins of government in his hands because without his support, the fragile coalition will not survive. He jumped ship to join the oppositional armada so suddenly that his coalition partners in the government were left gaping.


A shaky history

Even though a former Naxalite of the 1970s, Chairman Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli became a critic of Maoists when Prachanda took over his unfinished agenda of ‘annihilating class enemies’ in the mid-1990s.

When Prachanda last served under the Oli government in late-2015 and early-2016, he was repeatedly humiliated and made to realise that Maoists were in a minority and were dispensable partners. That made Prachanda jump ship and join hands with what Leftists call a bourgeois party – the Nepali Congress. In the just concluded local elections, UML and Maoist cadres went after each other with sickle and hammer, each to undermine the other.

Ever since he left the Maoists and set up his own political platform in the name of Naya Shakti (New Force), former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has taken pains to explain that his outfit had nothing to do with Communism.

He has been equally critical of Oli’s ethnocentric nationalism and Prachanda’s rank opportunism of swinging like a pendulum between the ruling party and the Opposition.

In the immediate aftermath of the formation of such an unnatural alliance, the question on everyone’s mind seems to be – Who brought such desperate elements together in a stealthy manner?


This whodunit

Among the two land and one sky neighbours of Nepal – India, China and the USA – the closest one always gets the blame whenever something goes wrong.

In Kathmandu's public sphere even communists refrain from critiquing the USA severely. The Chinese, however, unfailingly gain the adulation of the Leftists, Centrists and Rightists alike for keeping their hands off Nepal's internal affairs. In this instance, rumours are rife that they were the prime movers of the six-point consensus that has put the Stalinists of UML, the Maoists, and the Dengists of Baburam Bhattarai together.

It’s said that in societies that have little control over their destiny, people look towards conspiracy theories to explain public events while astrology is used to guide private lives.

Going beyond proactive policies, a certain amount of aggression is integral to the idea of ‘peripheral diplomacy’ that President Xi Jinping embraced in 2013, but it seems unlikely that the Chinese would invite retaliatory measures of Indians and Western powers by taking sides in what’s essentially an electoral battle for the control of the state.

Beijing’s enduring strategy of adopting the winner once the game was over has worked so well for so long, since 1950s, that a change of tactic at this stage appears a little unlikely.

The ‘blame-India’ game is a perennial favourite of the chattering classes in Kathmandu. The communist chieftain of Bhaktapur and Chairperson of Peasants and Workers Party Narayan Man Bijukchhe aka Comrade Rohit voiced their apprehensions by alleging that New Delhi was the architect of such an unlikely alliance to institutionalise its geopolitical aims through constitutional amendments.

The accusation is so maliciously jejune that it can be dismissed out of hand without a second thought.

Indians refused to believe when they were informed about the 16-Point Conspiracy in June 2015 and reacted only when the deal was sealed with disastrous consequences.

It’s extremely unlikely that they were even aware of the six-point commitment negotiated during the week-long Dashain (Dussera) break when most Nepalese spend their afternoon playing cards and gossiping over generous servings of red meat and exquisite blends of alcohol.

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi outsourced his Nepal policy to Hindutva adherents among Babas, busybodies and business tycoons, New Delhi’s role has been reduced to being reactive.

It will take a while to gauge Chinese, Indian or American involvement in the game whether direct or by proxy, but what appears certain for now is that the main aim of the ‘nationalist communist’ alliance – similarity of the proclaimed ideology with the Nazi’s National Socialism makes one shudder – is to appropriate the honey pot of the extractive state.

The promised one billion dollar credit line from India awaits utilisation. Another $500 million is soon to begin flowing from the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The carrot of One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR) to win over Kathmandu is likely to be backed by Chinese credits.

In addition to all that, there are several multi-billion dollar megaprojects of hydroelectricity and transportation in the pipeline. All such deals will have to have the governmental seal. It’s perhaps natural then that mighty plutocrats came together to create a coalition amenable to their wishes. It just so happens that Chinese parastatals are major players in most such fields.


Unintended consequences

Premier Sher Bahadur Deuba has long been known to be politically incompetent, but his ignorance of the impending polarisation is likely to prove extremely costly for Nepali Congress. Maoists have promised not to pull the rug out from under the feet of Deuba government at least until 21 October when the term of the Legislative Assembly comes to an end.

But Prachanda is not too well known for keeping his word. If he survives, Deuba can easily retaliate by ousting the Maoists from the government and deciding to postpone elections and thereby precipitating fresh political crises.

Nepal’s political trajectory has long drawn its inspiration from experiences of Pakistan. Acceptance of ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ as the ultimate arbiter of political contestations implies that the security forces and the law courts will acquire decisive authority.

Whether the proposed ‘leftist alliance’ emerges as the King’s Party after the elections or not is besides the point, the Permanent Establishment of Nepal (PEON) has managed to have its dominance recognised once again.

The desertion of leaders like Hridayesh Tripathi from the ranks of Madhesh-based Rashtriya Janata Dal was a sideshow with little political significance. The risk is that the PEON will conspire to fragment Upendra Yadav’s outfit too if it fails to win him over to the ‘nationalist communist’ line.

The ‘unknown unknowns’, to use a semantic innovation of Bushism, are too many. Nature too seems to have recognised future uncertainties: After a long time, an aftershock of Gorkha Earthquakes once again hit Kathmandu grounds early in the morning on 4 October to remind its residents that their travails were far from over.

Meanwhile, the Madheshis and Janjatis have suffered yet another setback with the consolidation of status quo forces.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen


First published: 4 October 2017, 17:49 IST
CK Lal @CatchNews

The writer is a noted journalist and political columnist from Nepal.