Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 08/26/2009
When Pushpa Kamal Dahal – known as “Prachanda”(meaning the “fierce one”) – was suddenly taken to hospital suffering from food poisoning, during a recent Communist Party of Nepal’s Maoist Central Committee meeting, rumours were rife in Kathmandu. Had the elusive Maoist leader been poisoned? In the Byzantine politics of this Nepalese kingdom, which once witnessed the entire royal family mysteriously massacred by its gun-wielding prince, the probability of anything happening is high. When newspapers finally reported that an unhygienic meal was to blame, people on the street knew that Prachanda would soon be staging a comeback.
On May 4, Prachanda had shocked Nepal by abruptly resigning as prime minister, a move that seemed incongruous with the bitter, 10-year struggle he had led to reach that position. In December 2007, Nepal’s Maoist party had finally forced the king to abdicate. The following August, Prachanda became prime minister of a Maoist-led coalition government. Mysteriously, nine months later, he suddenly resigned – seemingly over a political fight to try to force the royalist-based army’s commander into quitting three months ahead of retirement.
This did not make sense to most observers. The Maoists suddenly withdrew staged protests, and started planning either a return to government or, worse, a return to the jungle to renew their armed struggle.
This is the last thing Nepal needs. After a prolonged civil war,the Maoist-formed coalition government oversaw the end of a corrupt monarchy and even a sudden property boom in Kathmandu. As the party that controls the street, it needs to be the one that can responsibly lead parliament. Fortunately, the Maoists did not retreat, but instead convened a Central Committee meeting in Kathmandu to plan their return to power.
Prachanda is now calling for a “consensus government” rather than a coalition government. Despite Nepal’s many coalitions over the past decade, a refusal by parties to work together once a government has been formed has repeatedly deadlocked the political process. The people in the street, the Maoists’ constituency, have suffered.
One view is that Indian pressure is still an obstacle to the Maoists holding power. India has traditionally supported the mainstream proroyalist Nepali Congress party.
One popular claim points to US influence behind India, calling the shots. Washington still has a tainted view of developments in Nepal, blinkered by old fears of communism’s rise in South Asia. At some point, a re-branding of the Maoist party will be needed to give Prachanda greater global credibility, something the current party label hinders.
In turn, Prachanda and his comrades have recently lashed out at India, claiming interference in Nepal’s domestic politics. Actually, beating the drum of external imperial motives hits a common nerve of traditional Nepalese fear of Washington-India overreach. Certainly, the India interference card plays to the crowd. But, this approach is probably not in Prachanda’s longterm strategic interest, as real Indian influence could be a help – or hindrance – in running a coalition government.
Maybe it is time for an understanding with New Delhi that, if properly brokered, could lead to India’s tacit support of a Maoistled coalition government of consensus between the parties, rather than repeated bickering. Probably only New Delhi could orchestrate this. So, the Maoists’ toning down of anti-Indian vitriol might be a reasonable trade-off in exchange for moves that would allow them to re-enter and lead the government.
Regardless, word on the street is that the Maoist party is the only one that can command the common folk and, in turn, pull the country away from its economic abyss. Amid the complexity of Nepalese politics, there is one thing that New Delhi and Washington can be clear about: Prachanda will make a comeback. It is just a question of time; try six months.
Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.
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