Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nepal update

From SATP:

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda decided to pull out of the Prime Ministerial (PM) elections on September 17, in a bid to explore new ways to end the prolonged political deadlock, reports Kantipuronline. The Maoist Chairman agreed to withdraw his candidacy for the PM’s post in a three-point agreement signed with Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) Chairman Jhalanath Khanal. During the meeting held at Gairidhara in Kathmandu, the parties have reached an agreement to initiate the PM selection process on national consensus basis.

According to Himalayan Times, Prachanda said it would be fatal to isolate and exclude his party from the political process. Addressing the Nepali Congress (NC) 12th National General Convention underway in Kathmandu, Prachanda countered statements by leaders of other parties that late Girija Prasad Koirala had brought UCPN-M into the political mainstream. “Koirala did not bring me, but together we got into the peace process,” Prachanda said drawing brief jeers from NC workers and sympathisers assembled at Khula Manch in Kathmandu. “Girija Prasad Koirala did not bring me in the mainstream politics. The peace process started with his and my joint effort,” he claimed. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly Subas Chandra Nembang said there is absolutely no alternative to consensus among political parties to diffuse the existing imbroglio the country has been stewing in.

From IDSA: Linky

A month after the visit to Nepal by Shyam Saran as special envoy of the Indian Prime Minister, a delegation of 21 senior Chinese leaders led by He Yong, vice-premier and secretary at the secretariat of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, arrived in Kathmandu on September 11, 2010 on a six-day visit. This is the highest-level Chinese delegation to visit Nepal since the beginning of the peace process. The visit also coincided with news about a controversial audio tape purportedly containing a conversation between Krishna Bahadur Mahara, International Bureau Chief of the Unified CPN-Maoist, and an unknown Chinese, in which Mahara is heard asking for 500 million rupees to buy off 50 lawmakers required to form the government under Prachanda’s leadership.
China has always been worried about chronic political instability in Nepal and the possibility of external powers using Nepal against its strategic interests. China viewed the monarchy as the most stable, credible and dependable partner and the mainstream political parties as pro-India. The King always played the ‘China card’ effectively to counter Indian influence. Chinese security interests, which have been China’s prime concern in Nepal, were also served by the King in the past. The King wielded tremendous power as the Commander-in-Chief of the army. After Nepal became a republic, China lost its most reliable partner (Monarchy). It realized that it has to choose between two major political forces in Nepal, i.e., the democratic parties, which were mostly pro-India, and the Maoists, a large party with anti-India and anti-US sentiments.
In this context, China was deeply concerned when six Nepalese Parliamentarians visited Dalai Lama in Dharamsala in February 2009. Only after this did China start establishing good relations with other political parties like the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum apart from the CPN-Maoist.

It is well-known that even though Maoist leaders are posing themselves as anti-Indian, most are aware that at the end of the day they will have to deal with India, and that they cannot wish away the geographical, historical, cultural and socio-economic linkages between the two countries. It is almost certain that they will temper their policies towards India once they come to power. However, for the moment, the Indian policy of preventing Maoists from coming to power and the Maoist counter-tactic of mobilising popular opinion on the basis of growing anti-India sentiments in Nepal, seem to be pushing the Himalayan country deeper into uncertainty, which will not serve the interests of either country.

Interestingly, China and India have been competing for influence along the Nepal-China border. Soon after India provided development assistance of Rs. 100 million for the remote hill region of Mustang, China responded with financial assistance worth Rs. 10 million for construction of a library, science laboratory and school building with computers in Chhoser village (adjoining Jhongwasen district of Tibet) in the same region to counter Indian influence. The ambassadors of both countries have visited the area. China is also opening China Study Centres in Nepal along the Indo-Nepal border. Out of a total of eleven China Study Centres that China has built in Nepal so far, seven are along the Indo-Nepal border. In response to the Chinese attempt to extend the railway link from Tibet till the Nepalese border, India is also planning to extend its rail links to Nepal along the border. India has announced assistance worth Rs. 10.88 billion for the expansion of railway service in five places along the India-Nepal border. The first phase of expansion is scheduled to start from Birjung of Nepal which is about 350 kilometres south of Tatopani, the place to be connected by China through railways. The power-game between China and India is thus slowly unfolding in Nepal.

In this context, the controversial audio tape incident has had its effect. It has benefited the anti-Maoist forces the most. The leak seems to have stopped the Madhesi parties from supporting Prachanda’s candidature as PM in the seventh round of voting. At a time when the Nepalese media was in overdrive to nail the Indian Embassy for its alleged intervention in Nepalese politics, the tape controversy has successfully diverted popular attention towards China.

Meanwhile NC elections has this showdown: Linky

On Saturday, a day after the 12th general convention of the Nepali Congress kicked off in the capital with much fanfare, enthusiasm and great expectations, three senior leaders filed nominations for Koirala's mantle. They are Koirala's cousin and current acting chief of the party, Sushil Koirala, Koirala's former protégé Sher Bahadur Deuba who later fell out with his mentor and split the party, and a veteran leader, Bhim Bahadur Tamang.

All three have running mates who are vying for the post of general secretary. Sushil Koirala's partner is Prakash Man Singh, a former minister who had left the party in the past with Deuba. Man Singh is also the son of late Ganesh Man Singh, one of Nepal's most respected politicians who spearheaded the pro-democracy movement of 1990 that clipped the wings of King Birendra and reduced him to a constitutional monarch. Deuba, a three-time former prime minister, made history for being sacked by King Gyanendra for his failure to hold elections in the face of the Maoist insurgency, was reinstated and then finally sacked again and jailed. Deuba's running mate is former minister Bimalendra Nidhi, whose father Mahendra Narayan Nidhi was also a senior leader of the Nepali Congress. Tamang is fighting the election with Narahari Acharya, maverick Nepali Congress MP who had challenged Koirala's authority in the past.

The election is important because the new leadership will determine which way the Nepali Congress will move in future. If Sushil Koirala is defeated, the leadership of the Nepali Congress will move out of the Koirala clan, regarded as the Gandhis and Kennedys of Nepal. Also, traditionally, the Nepali Cngress has been a staunch ally of India and especially the Indian Congress. While Sushil Koirala is perceived as following Girija Prasad Koirala's line, Deuba is regarded as being close to the Americans while Tamang's views are not known yet. Given the persistent trend in Nepal elections of not being able to throw up a winner at the first go, the Nepali Congress has made provisions to hold a second round of election Wednesday if none of the three is able to muster 50 per cent of the votes. Only after the election is over will the Nepali Congress announce its decision about the prime ministerial polls.

Ok, things seem to be unfolding rather quickly in nepal in the long break I have been on.
1) The tape leak has had its intended effect with the Madhes front firmly divided into two columns, one spearheaded by Bijay Kumar Gachhedar and the other, by Upendra Yadav.
2) Without a consensus on the Madhes front, the maoists are clear that no finite number of elections will bring them to power.
3) This has either been realized by Prachanda out of his own volition or out of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya Kiran's reinforcements. Either way it does not matter except to understand the context of Prachanda's future stakes in the next government, whenever it is formed.
4) Thus a deal with Jhalnath Khanal to let the CPN-ML forge a "unity" government.
5) This dispensation would exactly be analogous to the Caretaker government under Madhav Kumar Nepal, except that the other dominant faction of CPN-ML will run riot for a short while.

What this would mean for India, if it turns out to be the killer move for a deal:
1) Jhalnath Khanal, being a pro-maoist politician with a bit of a hidden anti-Indian agenda will confirm the passport deal with France.
2) While a Prachanda government might have been the proverbial middle finger to Indian mission to stall a pro-maoist dispensation at the top, the Jhalnath Khanal is an acceptable status quo between the maoists and GoI.
3) The weight of CPN-ML discordance will bring down this government at some point in time in the future. I believe this is going to be within a <1- 1 1/2 year frame, but all bets are off as to whether a Constitution can be framed within the duration of the course of this new dispensation.
4) There is no way else India-china bickering is going to head but towards the depths of the Mariana Trench. There is no real deep reason to fear the chini shenanigans beyond a point as Nepal is essentially wedded to India in terms of economy, society and lifestyle, independent of rhetoric. As GoI showed, if push comes to shove, any and all yakkitak between chini government representatives and Nepali politicians can be and will be recorded, and selectively leaked as necessary. To be fair, there will be pinpricks like the MRP scandal, Kantipur scandal, Hrithik Roshan scandal, YCL issue, etc. and more.
5) It behooves Indians to stop biting the bait of a pissing contest in terms of geographical anomalies/non-entities and learning the fine art of keeping neighbors in check via the sama-dhana-bheda-danda routine. Unfortunately, this is an education in process, even for the fine salesmen and women of the South Block.

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