Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has emerged as the most flexible of Nepali politicians. He is ready to strike a compromise on almost everything to return to the prime minister's quarters at Baluwatar. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for other political parties.
Should the non-Maoist parties believe Dahal this time? After all, there is no lack of evidence to question his intentions: the infamous Shaktikhor video tape in which he speaks of the 'real' goals of entering the peace process, the tape from Khanna Garment vilifying Baburam Bhattarai and India, and the very visible contradictions between what he has said in public over honouring commitments made in peace agreements and his assertions in the party's internal documents.
With the Nepali Congress refusing to stand down from the elections that, while failing to elect its lone candidate, have effectively blocked the prime ministerial designs of Dahal (who has been assured of support from a section of the CPN-UML and the Madhesi People's Rights Forum), Dahal has changed tack. From fire-breathing, venom-spitting 'Prachanda', he has rebranded himself as 'Mr Flexible'.
The chairman's flexibility springs from three other factors. China has asked him to mend relations with India. Remember his Nepal-China-India dialogue proposal after his return from Shanghai? It was a ruse to hide his failed attempt to play the 'China card'.
Second, India has gone very public in turning the heat up on the man and his party, which they sheltered and funded while it waged the 'people's war' in Nepal. All these leaks about the UCPN (Maoist)'s alleged support to the Indian Maoists are very deliberate and are intended to unsettle Dahal.
The third and most important factor is the ugly display of an internal feud over the Maoist party's next course of action and the alleged misuse of party funds on a grand scale. The funds of the richest party of the poorest people in the country are managed by Dahal's close relatives. Add to this the question of the legitimacy of his leadership, which is popping up here and there, ever so softly. Dahal has been leading the party for two decades without the benefit of an election. Talk about the hypocrisy of those who question the legitimacy of Madhav Kumar Nepal as prime minister.
Dahal, therefore, is under pressure the likes of which he has never experienced before. He knows he has to walk a tightrope when it comes to dealing with non-Maoist parties, his detractors within the party, and India.
Given Dahal's precarious situation, it might be tempting for the Nepali Congress and the UML faction led by MK Nepal-KP Oli to try to push him to the wall. Nothing could be more counterproductive.
The chairman still calls the shots in the party, since he controls its money and muscle. If Dahal can portray himself as a man cornered by an India-internal party rivals-NC/UML combine, he can generate a huge sympathy wave for himself and break free from the shackles he himself helped create in the first place. A teary chairman is very much capable of pulling off this stunt.
So the NC and UML should focus on the tasks at hand and concentrate on consolidating the gains made since the People's Movement II of 2006. An under pressure but secure-of-position-and-perks Dahal is a better bet than a completely humiliated one in taking the peace process to its logical end and ensuring the writing of the constitution by May 2011.