So you thought you had heard everything there was to hear about the municipal polls? Hear this.
In the run up to the elections, an Indian tv reporter from Gorakhpur decided that he had to have an exclusive coverage of a Maoist attack on an army camp to depict the insurgents' intensity of opposition to elections. An advance party of the channel chose volatile Nawalparasi as the setting of the event. The crew mobilised some villagers to act as Maoists (presumably with the promise of pocket money) and convinced an army unit to play along for the camera.
Had everything worked as planned, viewers in India would have seen a sensational report from Nepal's war-zone. But a slightly tipsy soldier thought that the camp was under real attack and opened up with his SLR at the 'Maoists' hitting and wounding a pretend-Maoist. Fortunately, the journalist was also a cover-up artist and rushed the fallen actor-warrior to a border town for treatment. But the Indian nursing home refused to touch the patient for fear of police reprisals, so he was taken to Gorakhpur where the journalist could wave his press-card and get out-of-normal things done. Happily for everyone concerned, the 'Maoist' recovered and the incident has since been buried into the inner pages of local papers in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Media manipulators know the power of images, and they know what makes media hounds go wild. They seize the moment, stage the show, and let it play in the media: just like the comments made by US Ambassador James Moriarty last week.
The venue was the Ganesh Man Singh Adhyan Pratisthan, a pseudo-academic body known for its right-wing sympathies. The list of invitees was made as representative of the Kathmandu upper crust as possible. And lo and behold, the ambassador soon had the gliterati eating out of his hands.
The aftershocks of the Moriarty speech still reverberate in the Nepali media. And every time it threatens to die down, His Excellency shoots off another letter which the editors dutifully print. Unlike the utter failure of the chairman-king's election fiasco, the ambassador's address has proven to be a public relation coup staged on a shoe-string budget. It has succeeded brilliantly in drawing away the attention of the country from Washington's failure to convince the king to hand power back to the people.
Walter Bagehot who knew something about the duties and responsibilities of imperial envoys observed that an ambassador wasn't simply an agent, he was also a spectacle. American envoys take their imperial responsibilities with the seriousness of the arriviste. Michael E Malinowsky, Moriarty's predecessor on the stinky banks of the Tukucha reveled in the role of street-smart conservative firefighter from Chicago and loved to demolish the reputations of popular party leaders. Moriarty has taken up where Malinowsky left off and likes to ridicule Nepal's monarchy and democracy with wit and humour. His conclusion: military supremacy must be maintained to keep the Maoists out of Kathmandu.
But howsoever striking may be the visage of a lean and mean envoy predicting a Maoist takeover, the competing visual of an Ian Martin holding the flag of democracy and human rights is no less arresting. Even though the message sent by an American ambassador playing golf with Crown Prince Paras is quite powerful, it's no match for a UN official in shirt-sleeves interacting intensely with a clutch of committed professionals, activists and journalists.
Moriarty has temporarily succeeded in stealing the limelight, but the future belongs to those who will side with the underdog in the ongoing struggle between the people and the palace.