A shutdown that works by coercion and threats can never be justified. But last Tuesday, for once, the Maoists had a reason to be miffed. The manner in which the dominant parties of the ruling alliance divvied up ambassadorial assignments among their favourites deserved to be condemned.
Although it was called with little warning, there was an effort to make it manageable to the public by fixing the time from 10 to four. Burning tyres cause cancer, so they were discouraged. Exhortations to keep vehicles off the roads during shutdown hours were made politely. Although the Maoists made a show of force with their guns in the tarai and some vehicles were torched, violence was relatively light.
It seems as if the transformation of the Maoists into an electoral force has begun. In comparison, the SPA stalwarts lived up to their reputation of being incompetent, myopic, and self-centred. They squandered one more opportunity to redeem themselves.
More than the appointees themselves, it was the manner in which they were selected that caused the bitterness. After the agreement over the draft interim constitution, it is incumbent upon the present occupants of ministerial chairs to also consult the Maoists about major decisions.
Diplomats of the 21st century need to be media-savvy, flexible, friendly, and multilingual. They must get along with people, provide a sense of history to contemporary events, and have the capacity to assess risks in murky situations. Negotiating skills and a personality that inspires confidence are added assets. If these criteria are strictly applied, very few of Girija Prasad Koirala?s relatives or UML cadres will pass muster. But the qualifications were tweaked to suit the preferences of the foreign minister?s political bosses, and the result is a mixed bag of the worthy, the commonplace, and the odd.
There are some notable names. Hamid Ansari deserves to be an ambassador. A rare Marxist Muslim, he also has an enviable track-record of passionate advocacy for minority rights. But how a leftie diplomat will do in the Saudi theocracy remains to be seen. Tanka Karki for China or Surya Gurung for Russia are both amiable enough.
But it is difficult to imagine a more inappropriate candidate than Shailaja Acharya for India. She is obstinate, self-righteous, and often wrong in her politics. She lost in the last general elections, and disgraced herself by opposing the April Uprising. It is only in light of the other candidates?so mediocre you can?t even say anything against them?that her worth comes through as a person worth censuring.
Such a fuss over the suitability of individuals would be unnecessary were it business as usual: cultivating friends, courting donors, and attending receptions. But our representative abroad will have to ?sell? the Maoists to the world until the constituent assembly elections. You can?t expect that from Acharya, who was against any understanding with the Maoists to start with.
Parliamentary hearings for the proposed appointees are still to take place. The Maoists might have been a little premature in opposing the tentative names. But their banda, and deadline for the formation of interim arrangement, serves as notice to the bickering, blundering, bumbling SPA ministers.
The April Uprising wasn?t only against the dictatorial king and violent Maoists. It was also against mindless mainstream parties. They have no mandate to go against its basic spirit. Politics henceforth must be based on principles of equity, equality, fraternity, and solidarity, not the old practice of distribution of spoils to the party or personal favourites.
That said, the Maoists must withdraw their year-end bandas. Having made their point, they need to engage, not threaten, the government.
Bandas are counterproductive. Madhab Nepal?s popularity has suffered as a result of the UML having enforced more shutdowns than all other parties put together since 1990. Pushpa Kamal Dahal must find better ways of conducting oppositional politics.