Kathmandu's talkerati is all abuzz with Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal's fiery anti-Indian tirade on Tuesday, followed by the sudden retraction of his statement with the explanation that he was just joking.
Everyone knows India is always the elephant in the room in Nepal's domestic politics, but Dahal's public utterance was inflammatory, provocative and irresponsible. The Chairman, as is his wont, has tried to distance himself from his original statements by first saying he was quoted out of context, by blaming the messenger and accusing the media of 'yellow journalism', and then saying he was just being 'sarcastic'.
A few hours after calling Prime Minister Madhav Nepal a 'puppet' and 'robot', however, Dahal met him secretly to strike some kind of a deal. Nepalis have reason to be confused by these contradictory words and deeds.
Some have taken all this as a sign of Maoist desperation, others as the hardcore of the Maoists raising the ante within the party. Whatever the reason, the outcome has been inexplicably positive because it paved the way for the resumption of the House. We lost six months in pointless boycotts and street protests, and there is a lot of catching up to do. But at least the supremacy of parliament has been reinstated.
Populist ultra-nationalism in Nepal has always been the recourse of scoundrels. We saw it during the 1990s when the NC and UML just couldn't resist the temptation of stoking anti-Indian nationalism to garner votes. When the UML won the elections in 1994 and Prime Minister Man Mohan Adhikari went to India on a state visit, he was grilled by the Delhi media about his party's anti-India platform. His reply in Hindi was: "Aap log samajhta hai na, election mein to aisa karna padta hai."
Dahal's speech on Tuesday was not as innocent as all that. His incendiary words risked igniting a re-enactment of the so-called 'Hrithik Roshan riots' of December 2000. That ugly episode should be a warning to the Maoists of how quickly ultra-nationalism can escalate into a pogrom. All the six people who were killed in two days of riots were Nepali.
The dominant theme of the fourth phase of Maoist protests that is supposed to culminate in an indefinite strike next month is to 'expose' India. The Maoist central committee decided on the anti-Indian course, and a significant moderate faction was outvoted. By first declaring parallel ethnic provinces and now stoking anti-Indian feelings, the Maoists are playing with fire on several fronts.
Also to blame is a resurgent right wing within the NC and UML that wants to roll back the peace process and are cornering the Maoists by giving them no face-saving exit. This is also dangerous because it is sure to drive the Maoist party into the hands of an extreme faction that isn't happy about the peace process either.
One can understand Dahal's frustration with sections of the Indian establishment. But he hasn't done much to allay fears that his party is bent on establishing a totalitarian people's republic. If only he had been more of a statesman and less of a party apparatchik and publicly renounced violence and disbanded the YCL, Dahal would have commanded much more respect at home and abroad.
Dahal invokes India - FROM ISSUE #482 (25 DEC 2009 - 31 DEC 2009)