Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
The buck stops with PKD


Pushpa Kamal Dahal is a clever man. To pre-empt any criticism of his government and style of functioning, he has admitted to lapses, blamed the NC and bureacuracy and threatened to resign. It is smarter to agree with your critics and pass the buck than defend a dismal record. What Dahal forgot was that the buck now stops with him.

Girija Koirala's ambitions are a key obstacle. But how does NC's non-cooperation explain the government's inability to improve law and order or tackle the situation in the Tarai? Can Dahal evade his responsibility of ensuring inter-ministerial coordination and bringing coherence in a fractured coalition? Instead of only blaming the bureaucracy, why does he not engage with them more deeply? In fact, a top bureaucrat was heard complaining he does not even get five minutes with the PM when he has to discuss governance issues.

Dahal's mixture of self-pity and anger is not convincing because the root problem lies in the Maoists' own dual strategy. The former rebels have adopted a two-line policy of maintaining a facade of cooperation with other parties while relentlessly trying to marginalise, divide and weaken them.

This allows them to look like the good guys keen on a consensus while others are portrayed as spoilers. Simultaneously, they can continue with their project of ruthless political consolidation. The Maoists know this strategy will invite resistance. But as a political party, that suits them just fine. They need an enemy.

If Girija Koirala allies with 'democrats' like Surya Bahadur Thapa and Pashupati Rana, leaders with little credibility and an even lesser vote share, the former rebels would have found exactly what they are looking for: a right wing consolidation. What better way to project oneself as the champion of change and progress than to have men like these oppose you?

However, the Maoists need to start thinking not just as a political party but as a party in power that has the responsibility of running the government, delivering on basic services and concluding the peace process. If they fail, public disillusionment will grow. And for all their bravado and rhetoric, the Maoists will be exposed as just another party that used the state for its own benefit, not to improve lives.

As the party leader, Dahal's aim is to expand at the expense of others. As the head of government, it is his job to take everyone along, even at the cost of sacrificing his own interest. It is this dilemma that makes Dahal a troubled man. The dual strategy is now confronted with limits inherent in its logic and operation.

Dahal has to make some difficult decision soon. If he continues on this 'publicly co-operative, privately confrontational' path, the government will be in trouble. The fissures within UML are becoming more apparent in the run-up to the convention. Madhab Nepal has seen through the Maoist-Jhalanath Khanal-Bamdev Gautam strategy to kick him upstairs to the PCC and is increasingly uncomfortable with the arrangement. He is playing to the sizeable anti-Maoist gallery within his own party.

With the TMDP submitting its demands and warning of an agitation, there is also pressure on other Madhesi parties to act more radical now. Differences within MJF are to do more with organisational and leadership issues. But when the convention happens, do not be surprised if the district leaders add to chorus, asking the party to withdraw from the government.

It is a seemingly intractable situation. But if he wants to avoid political alignments from taking a different course in the next 4-6 months, Dahal has to reach out to all sides.

He needs to engage with Girija Koirala. If Koirala's aim is nothing less than becoming PM himself, little can be done. But talking could throw out other points of compromise: assurance of a seat for Sujata Koirala in the by-elections, making way for some of his men to benefit financially, taking Girija's advice on key issues and telling Maoist cadre to be less belligerent on the ground. Dahal must give up this strategy of sidelining Madhab Nepal. And he needs to deliver on the eight point agreement signed with Madhesi parties.

This is still a fragmented polity. Alienating too many people at the same time lost them the presidential polls. They should not take on more than they can chew yet again.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)