Saturday, August 27, 2011

Nepal updates (August 27, 2011)

1) Prashant Jha writes this: Linky

A day after he presented his credentials, the new Indian ambassador to Nepal, Jayant Prasad, faces his first major challenge of formulating and implementing a unified Indian position with regard to the government formation process underway in Nepal. The decision will bring to the fore all of New Delhi’s dilemmas regarding domestic Nepali politics.

Efforts at forging a consensus government have failed. The Nepali Congress asked the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) to give in their weapons immediately and make ‘irreversible progress’ on the peace process, primarily the integration and rehabilitation of combatants, first before they could be supported to lead a government. The Maoists asked for government leadership first, and promised to move on the peace process subsequently. There will now be elections through a majority vote in parliament. The Maoists have now projected vice chairman Dr. Baburam Bhattarai as their candidate, while the Nepali Congress has put forward its parliamentary party leader Ram Chandra Poudel to be PM.

For the Maoists to win, they need the support of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), which consists of five Madhesi parties, or the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist). For Mr. Poudel to win, he will need the support of both the UDMF and the UML. Neither UML nor the Madhesi parties have made their positions clear yet, but the overwhelming mood among Madhesi MPs is to support the Maoists. Madhesi parties feel that the radical left is a natural ally in terms of issues of ‘state restructuring and federalism’, and calculate they can extract a better power sharing deal by supporting the Maoists. Senior leaders of the UML, such as former PM Madhav Kumar Nepal, K.P. Oli, and general secretary Ishwor Pokharel, are understood to be veering towards NC though the younger MPs in the party want to give time-bound support to the Maoists making it conditional on progress in the peace process.

Some comments are in order at this stage:
a) The Madhesi feeling of support for Dr. Bhattarai's candidacy is not a unilateral move that has not been blessed by the South Block.
b) The feeling of disenchantment in the UML cadre is understandable given the factionalism that has ridden the UML, its Khanal vs. Nepal vs. Oli. The fact that Oli and Nepal are on one side does not mean that they are friends and comrades, except in grandiose posturing. Both are out to get their pound of flesh vis-a-vis Khanal.

NC leaders have told India that the CA will get dissolved without a new statute, and in that scenario, it is in Delhi’s interest to have an NC PM leading the government. If the Maoists are allowed to return to power, ‘democracy would be in danger’. For their part, the Maoists have argued that progress in the peace and constitutional process is possible only under their leadership. ‘Isolating and encircling’ them, as was tried when Madhav Kumar Nepal led an anti Maoist coalition between 2009 and 10, was doomed to fail, both Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Dr. Bhattarai have assured Delhi that they will implement past commitments if voted to power.

The whole problem with the Maoists is that they do not understand a single thing about upholding the honor of committing to a task. So what exactly do they mean by "implementing past commitments?" Write that in red ink (if need be) on the running Sarda river. Whatever that is, Jha is a bit too optimistic to opine that:

If India still wants to see the framework succeed, it should not try to block the Maoists from forming a government by influencing the Madhesi parties against them. The Maoists have said they would move forward on the regrouping of combatants immediately and hand over the weapons as soon as their government is formed. They can be held accountable for these commitments, and the threat of allies withdrawing support would generate additional pressure on them.
The dishonesty and overwhelming ambition of the Maoists collides with the fear and insecurity of the status quoist older parties. The internal rifts within each party make inter-party compromises even more difficult.

How does the latter square with the former? Let me read this: Maoists are ambitious, their ambition is in capturing the State with power or without, as the need may be. The other parties are a bumbling mass of idiocy. The Maoists have not adhered to their past commitments. Yet, India should let it go and not be suspicious because Dr. Bhattarai is now the contender. Thank you, sir.
2) Meanwhile, Jayant Prasad meets Sushil Koirala and Ram Chandra Poudel and any number of meanings can be attached to these meetings. That said,

At present Prasad is secretary at the public diplomacy section of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, serving for the last 1 1/2 years. He is a career diplomat who started in career in 1976. Prior to his current role in the EAM, he has served as the Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan and Algeria. Moreover, he has also served in different sectors of the strategic departments of Geneva, Paris and Brussels. Prasad is the son of former Indian ambassador to Nepal Bimal Prasad (1991-1995) who was appointed by then prime minister Chandrashekhar. He replaces Rakesh Sood in the Ambassadorial role.


Departing Ambassador Rakesh Sood will now be posted in Paris as the Indian ambassador there. The delay by the French government in forwarding its agreemo, thanks to public holidays in France, contributed to his delayed departure and Prasad’s delayed arrival.

3) Elsewhere in Darjeeling: Linky

Social and religious issues so long overshadowed by the larger cause of statehood has starting resurfacing in the hills, now that a political settlement has been reached on Darjeeling with the signing of the agreement to set up the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. Hundreds of Buddhists today took to the streets in Darjeeling to revive some of their longstanding demands, one of them being a paid holiday on the birthday of Lord Buddha. The Lepchas, an indigenous community, also brought out a rally to demand a development council. The Buddhists made the demands under the banner of the All Buddhist Minority Welfare Association, which consists of various Gorkha communities like the Tamangs, Gurungs and non-Nepali tribes like the Sherpas, Bhutias and Yolmos.
Religious minorities, which includes Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Jains, make up about 40 per cent of the hill population. “The state government has come up with a policy to declare a particular district Minority Concentrated District (MCD) if the minorities form 25-30 per cent of the population. But the same status has not been extended to Darjeeling district despite its higher concentration of minorities,” said Bomzon. The association claimed that 12 districts in Bengal have been accorded this status. “The government has accorded this status where the concentration of Muslim population is high. They have conveniently forgotten us,” said Bomzon. “An MCD status would entail benefits for construction of houses and stipends for education to minority members, among others.” North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad and Cooch Behar are among the 12 MCDs in north Bengal.

4) On the Indo-Nepal border and a reviving circus: Linky

The SSB official said people from Nepal could trade only through Pashupatinagar and Panitanki. “The customs offices are situated in these two places and if people from Nepal want to trade, they can do so from these two points, but not from Manebhanjan.” Gohian admitted that even cattle were being stopped by his personnel. “That is because most of the cattle are brought in from the other side of the border. The bribe allegation is totally false,” he said. The India-Nepal border is porous and one can step into Nepal from any place undetected.

5) More on the Gorkhaland agitation with no need to go over it beyond a certain point: Linky 1 and Linky 2

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