Nepal Today

Friday, March 15, 2013

OPINION NOT QUITE THE VICTIM HERE Kathmandu, 15 March: For someone who stands out for hurling his own share of scurrilous accusations, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is sure stung to the quick. On the face of it, the trouble the prime minister took in issuing a 12-point rebuttal to allegations raised during his tenure fits with any reasonable man’s innate desire to defend his reputation, Maila Baje writes in Nepali Netbook. However, Dr. Bhattarai’s core contention – that the media erroneously played up his remarks, activities and events – undercuts his claims on the specifics. No Nepali prime minister has escaped the harsh judgment of his times. It has become almost axiomatic in Nepali politics that every government, at least in the popular perception, is worse than the one it succeeded. Admittedly, no head of government would like to be remembered in such a sordid way. But that’s the price of practicing politics in perpetually polarized times. If Dr. Bhattarai thought he could buck this trend, then that says quite something about him. When Dr. Bhattarai ascended to the premiership, he brought along a reputation for probity and efficiency as finance minister. What was also true was that he established such credentials at a time when Nepalis were focused primarily, if not exclusively, on the peace process and new constitution. There, Dr. Bhattarai’s boss, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was taking much of the heat. The reputation of an efficient tax collector was going to be of little use to Dr. Bhattarai in the top job. He took the reins when the twin tasks were grievously faltering. Yet he and his aides seemed complicit in fanning expectations from his ministerial record. Charges of corruption, nepotism and patronage take little time to set in and then speedily take a life of their own. When hopes – regardless of rationality – are belied, the costs become brutal. Even seemingly genuine symbols of change – i.e., the adoption of indigenous vehicles or espousal of direct and regular interaction with the people – tend to be revisited with popular cynicism. Over time, it became easy to juxtapose the circumstances surrounding the BIPPA agreement with India, the Tribhuvan International Airport development plan, the mismanagement of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit, and the split of the Maoist party with new revelations from Indian sources on the Maoists’ maneuverings with New Delhi officialdom all the way back to at least 2002. Maila Baje recognizes Dr. Bhattarai’s longstanding penchant for dismissing critics as Goebbelsian fiends. If the Nepali media have misquoted people, it is not a new phenomenon that has somehow injured only the incumbent prime minister. Moreover, the people are far from gullible; they have their own quibbles with reporters and editors. But how long have Nepali politicians blamed the media misquotations to wriggle out of difficult situations? And who has better manipulated the media for his own ends than Dr. Bhattarai? During the early years of the Maoist insurgency, when elements in the mainstream parties and the media accused the royal palace of directly running the rebels, Dr. Bhattarai did not see it fit to rebut the charges to preserve the purity of his ‘revolution’. In fact, he took the opportunity to malign the palace as well as scare the mainstream parties by playing up even minor contacts with Panchayat-era politicians. When it suited him, Dr. Bhattarai praised all Shah monarchs before Gyanendra Shah, boldly proclaiming that Nepalis would eventually evaluate them highly. Yet when times changed, he sought to club the Bhimsen Thapa and Rana eras – a cumulative 134 years when the palace existed only in name – into 230 years of monarchical malevolence the country could no longer afford. The upshot? A skilled practitioner of evasion, obfuscation and fabrication, Dr. Bhattarai could have helped his legacy by shunning this blatant victim card. Nnnn AWAITING ELECTIONS 2014 Kathmandu, 15 March: Fort all their big talk, the perfidious among the political parties that have taken the Nepali people for a ride with constant impunity, the pretence of their fervent desire to hold the next national elections does not stick at all. No one is serious about the citizen’s right to vote regularly, Trikal Vastavis writes in People’s review. Every group wants to first ensure its own interests and poll prospects before taking the great plunge. Neither the Maoists of any denomination nor the Nepali Congress or the CPN (UML) in its heart of hearts looks forward to facing voters in the near future. They all want to be in power during election time. This should suffice to indicate what sort of quality polls in the country are. If free and fair elections without misuse of power and resources by those in the government were the norm, such shamelessly desperate ploy to head the government and look after “important” ministries would not be exhibited daily and for months. While flipping through an international news magazine some time ago, this author spotted a particular sentence that has stirred many an intense thought. Wondering whether the problems with Iran would ever end, the English weekly said, “The Islamic Republic now seems to be more disliked than at any time since the revolution of 1979 that ended the monarchy, for which some people are showing nostalgia.” Back home in Nepal, too, millions of people literally yearn for the 1991 constitution, which at one time, the Nepali Congress and its half brother CPN (UML) hailed as the “world’s best.” Well the “best” is no longer in taste for these two parties who find themselves having laid to waste much of what had been aspired for seven years ago. They abandoned all they held as their basic principles in the exercise of democracy. Instead of consolidating the gains generated by the 1990 constitution, they surrendered to hold on to the coattails of the Maoists who they had previously declared terrorists. The travesty of their stands and movements was highlighted by lack of any focus and direction when the NC and the UML lapped up whatever the Maoists dished out as “the gains of Jana Andolan.” Mistakes are made. But those who commit mistakes too often and for too long are worthless to uphold in action what they promise in their preaching. The two parties that had left other parties far behind in electoral competitions under the now discarded “best” constitution are, of late, licking their wounds as significantly sidelined groups, with the Maoists taking a runaway lead over them both in organizational structure, initiatives for agenda-setting and getting the upper hand in virtually every issue. People, therefore, cannot be blamed for their nostalgia for the bad old years of the 1990 constitution which provided greater political stability, a steady economic course, less corruption, better governance and a credible presence in the comity of nations, which could not be taken for granted. There is little doubt where the “big parties” have taken the country to. The chaotic mess stinks and threatens the very fabric of society. In fact, leaders in various parties have come out with the “nation under threat” theme with a frequency that makes people hark for the previous constitution. No other time in the past since the ushering in of democracy in 1951 witnessed the existing lawless order that has been the mainstay of the recent governments in this once peaceful land. Baburam Bhattarai might like to believe deeply in his gimmick of visiting the home of a family with modest standard of living each month in a village but history judges it as an outdated practice prescribed in the Kautilya script in the context of two millennia ago. It shows how desperate the man and at times his loud-mouthed and overbearing spouse Hisila are for publicity. The Maoist second in command used to ridicule the regional visits that the late King Birendra used to undertake prior to 1990. Whereas the royal tours had a greater purpose and some direct benefits to the regions concerned, Bhattarai’s monthly visit came to be seen as a political stunt that failed to impress anyone but the Bhattarai duo. Not even Bhattarai’s party members were impressed enough to laud in public what their senior leader had undertaken. For a party whose staple has been the slogan against dynastic rule, the ruthless manner adopted for imposing family members and relatives on the party positions of significance makes mince meat of the stand its leaders preach. What they preach is meant for others. When it comes to practicing it at home and family circle, all pretensions are thrown to the winds. A different set of rules are applied, which favor their siblings, relatives and, above all, family members. Maoist boss Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his deputy Bhattarai have outscored all others in the cruel game against Nepalis’ hopes and aspirations. By their decisions and actions from the prime minister’s chair, both Dahal and Bhattarai have left plenty of footmarks and thumb prints evidencing nepotism and favoritism, among other ills. Both, having ensured that their portraits get hung in the gallery at Singh Durbar as former prime ministers, find their public image tumble down in the fastest fall. A Nepali academic, in an encounter with his counterpart at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, argued “What sort of an intellectual argued, on the basis what how Nepal’s prime minister had strayed from his earlier declarations, “What sort of an intellectual you have produced?” The JNU academic reportedly retorted, “He is a perverted intellectual.” The focus on Dahal and Bhattarai is because they are the centre of attention of political parties, the so-called civil society and the news media that at first praised the duo to the skies and are now polarized on political lines after the June dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. Dahal does not project himself as a great intellectual. His deputy is different; he pretends. With the Maoist leaders’ opponents only reacting to what the former armed rebel commanders say, elections have been consigned to the backburner. Fear of elections was the reason why the tenure of the CA, against the mandate and spirit of the Interim Constitution, was extended again and again until the Supreme Court intervened. Fresh elections should have been held in 2010. Now those holding the key to the government’s functioning, as implied by Bhattarai, are whispering that the next elections will be held in 2014 at the earliest! If we can do without local elections for 15 years with rampant corruption across the VDCs and municipalities, a couple of years more for a new legislature would not be anything worse if the same lot and faces are to return to call the tune. (The writer can be reached at: trikalvastavik[at] nnnn


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