Hu­mil­ity: Mak­ing sense of Da­hal’s makeover


For some­one who stepped down from the premier­ship so ran­corously seven years ago re­fus­ing to ‘pros­trate' be­fore ‘for­eign gods', Pushpa Ka­mal Da­hal is try­ing hard these days to il­lu­mi­nate his halo of hu­mil­ity. To be sure, Nepal's top Maoist no longer projects the fe­roc­ity of yore. Open pol­i­tics has pro­vided him none of the safe­guards of the sub­ter­ranean schemes that char­ac­ter­ized the ‘peo­ple's war'. Es­pe­cially not when you no longer have your own army and when the sword of the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court hov­ers above you in­ces­santly. So Nepalis may be for­given for look­ing past the fact that Da­hal is the only com­mu­nist leader for­tu­nate enough to have re­turned to the premier­ship. Our new prime min­is­ter's early pro­nounce­ments have been akin to ex­cuses for im­pend­ing fail­ure. Gone is the blus­ter about in­sti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing dis­con­ti­nu­ities in the af­fairs of state. The cab­i­net's de­ci­sion to with­draw the nom­i­na­tions of 14 ‘po­lit­i­cal' am­bas­sadors, while su­per­fi­cially bold, seems to have been a sop to the Nepali Congress. How far such demon­stra­ble over­tures of a break with K.P. Oli gov­ern­ment would go to­wards pla­cat­ing the coali­tion part­ner re­mains un­clear. Mind­ful of the dis­ar­ray within the Nepali Congress, Da­hal has re­jected any no­tion that he is un­der any deal to stay for a mere nine months. The seven in­ter­ven­ing years have been in­struc­tive to us all. Dur­ing 2008-2009, Da­hal stuck out his neck so north­ward that it al­most snapped. In­stead of pro­vid­ing him cover, the Chinese bol­stered the more hard-line Mo­han Baidya fac­tion, em­bold­en­ing it even­tu­ally to break away. True, the Amer­i­cans met Da­hal more than half­way, but, in ret­ro­spect, only to un­der­mine his revo­lu­tion­ary cre­den­tials. In the end, navigating the fac­tional dy­nam­ics in In­dia turned out to be most im­por­tant – and in­tractable. Hav­ing failed to sack a sup­pos­edly in­sub­or­di­nate army chief, Da­hal chose to re­sign and wage a bat­tle to pre­serve the prin­ci­ple of demo­cratic supremacy. His do­mes­tic op­po­nents laughed him off. Sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers? Com­ing out of the mouth of a Maoist? The army was dis­banded, the party split and the next elec­tion was lost. Much of the party has come back to­gether, but the coun­try is in tat­ters. Isn't it in­ter­est­ing how Da­hal un­der­took a pub­lic trans­for­ma­tion co­in­cid­ing with the change in gov­ern­ment in In­dia? We did hear of how Nepal's Maoists opened their first serious con­tacts with of­fi­cial New Delhi dur­ing the Hindu na­tion­al­ist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)led Atal Be­hari Va­j­payee gov­ern­ment around 2002. Al­most as if in re­sponse to Da­hal's as­cen­sion, a se­nior BJP leader just the other day ruled out the re­turn of the monar­chy in Nepal. (His point: “How can the peo­ple want to bring back a king who slunk away from them dur­ing their hour of great­est need?”) Friends and foes alike may ru­mi­nate all they want about the ex­tent of Da­hal's trans­for­ma­tion. What mat­ters is the ex­tent of the bases he has cov­ered where it mat­ters. So keep your eyes on how the trans­ac­tional di­men­sions of Nepal-In­dia po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions evolve in the weeks and months ahead. This is not to say that our prime min­is­ter is in an un­ten­able po­si­tion. If Da­hal was able to show an In­dian hand be­hind his de­par­ture last time, who's to say he can't ben­e­fit from per­cep­tions of New Delhi's role in his res­ur­rec­tion? Heck, for­mer prime min­is­ter Oli can still keep re­gal­ing us with his apho­risms.

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