Tuesday, April 13, 2010

India's diminishing options

In his signature speech last week at Khulla Manch, Pushpa Kamal Dahal said what lower rung Maoists leaders have been tirelessly regurgitating since then: There could be no peace or constitution as long as Madhav Kumar Nepal’s (MKN) government is in place. But more important to ponder upon is what he shied away from saying. There can be no peace or constitution as long as MKN’s government is there does not mean that Dahal will allow his own party to join the government as a coalition member or support someone else to head the government. What Dahal meant is that for peace to be restored and constitution to be drafted by the stipulated date, he should be allowed to form the government.

Given India’s reluctance to let Dahal get back to the corridors of power and Dahal’s own stance of non-cooperation in constitution making unless he is allowed back, it is almost certain that the constitution will not be promulgated within the stipulated timeframe. It is unfortunate that millions of tax payers’ money has been already spent for the two-year deadline which will most likely be missed.

Besides India, several Nepali political parties, whose political base has been cut short do not want the Maoists to come to power. While Pushpa Kamal Dahal wants deliverance of peace and constitution on his terms, and only if and when he is allowed to head the government, other players too have not given up their claims to rule the nation altogether. Strangely, their authority to rule the nation comes not from their ability to establish good governance, maintain law and order, or bring peace, but from the political polarization resulting from rapidly degrading relationship between the Maoist party and India. The Maoists’ gross miscalculation of the consequences of vilifying India proved to be costlier than they expected. It is not to say that India is in a better position when it comes to realizing its security interests in Nepal. It, too, is in a tight spot.

India knows that MKN’s government is incompetent but there are no viable alternatives for it to tap into. The minute it dislodges the current government and puts together another one under the leadership of a non-leftist leader, it is almost certain to trigger migration of the likes of Bamdev Gautam to the Maoist party. This will make the number game politics being played out to keep the Maoists at bay very unpredictable. The last thing India would want to do is go after politicians who has stooped to the level of forging travel documents for reimbursement to keep the government of its liking intact.

The existing political stagnation cannot last for ever. How politics will unfold in the coming days and months will largely depend on how far the Maoists and India are willing to go to seek an upper hand. While Maoists have the indoctrinated foot soldiers, battle hardened guerillas, and sympathy of the poor and ethnic minorities, India has the money. Top leaders of the major political parties, whose popular base has been cut short, and hence, have to rely on India’s benevolence to have any significance. But most importantly, India has Nepali Army in its grip, which after the Maoists’ attempt to sack its previous chief and reluctance in extending the tenure of eight brigadiers has found a savior in the Indian establishment. Given India’s reluctance to put together a democratic alliance to fight out the Maoists surge in Nepal makes it clear that India has realized the transaction costs of putting together such an alliance and maintaining it will cost higher than letting the controlled instability reign. India might have come to a conclusion that getting the Nepali Army out of the barrack, if and when the Maoists go berserk is more cost-effective with guaranteed outcome than investing in Nepali politicians, whose allegiance are often questionable.

There is no doubt that the Maoists should reform before they are allowed to head or join the government. They need to heed to the promises made in the past. Return the seized properties and dissolve the para-military structure of its youth wing the Young Communist League (YCL). Expecting their moderation after they join the government would be purely daydreaming. The moderation of radicals while in power has never happened in the world history. Had this historical fact been acknowledged and dealt upon accordingly in the past, the Maoist party today would have been a more disciplined and sober political force.

Taming the Maoists at this juncture is extremely difficult because Pushpa Kamal Dahal needs indoctrinated foot soldiers, dogmatists, and battle hardened YCL more than ever, as he has lost the support of India, a major player and the “decider” of who remains in power and who does not in Nepal. Given Dahal’s dubious character, India wants him to first fulfill the promises he made in the past and tame dogmatists within his party, whom he has been subtly portraying as lunatics lurking in the background, ready to go blow their top any moment. To Dahal’s dismay, the very things that India wants him to do before allowing him to get back to power are things that will make him unpopular and may be irrelevant in front of the mass that made him what he is today. Dahal had the real opportunity to defang the dogmatists while in power but the train has already left the platform. Dahal will continue to play a “rebel rouser” for his political survival if nothing else.

As far as India is concerned, it too does not have many options at hand. Citizens do not have an indefinite appetite for incompetence. Sometime down the road, people will eventually get fed up with the current government, whose ministers are forging documents to claim reimbursement. There is a limit to nonsense. It cannot go on for ever. And, when that day arrives, the ground will have swollen in favor of the Maoists. Dahal may then very well use that golden opportunity to make his men do what the opposition recently did in Kyrgyzstan. If and when that fateful day comes, there is very little that the politicians now in power or the Army that India is banking on to safeguard its interest will be able to do. In the process of taming Pushpa Kamal Dahal, we should not be challenging narcissism.

The safest way to avert impending crisis is by keeping Dahal and other power hungry Maoists engaged. Re-run of what the Maoists did with GPK will do the trick. It is advisable to lure Dahal with power and somehow make him fulfill the promises he made in the past. Once that happens, other political parties will be in a better position to challenge the Maoists both on the ground and on ballot boxes. It is important to create that situation if peace and stability is what India really wants in Nepal.

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