Nepali Times
State Of The State
Chairman becomes premier


There are at least five kinds of communists in Nepal: romantic, naïve, bigoted, calculative and pragmatic. By his own admission, Pushpa Kamal Dahal has passed through all these phases.

He began as a romantic in the Chitwan of the seventies. He grew naïve in the eighties as he voted in the Referendum, believing in the power of the ballot to change the system. He learned bigotry to wage war. Calculative politics forced him to make common cause with monarchists, and pragmatism made him make peace with the parties.

Afters years of aspiring, conspiring and waging war, the office of the chief executive of the country is within Dahal's grasp. Even though his party holds only over one-third of votes in the Constituent Assembly, almost everybody agrees that the Chairman should become Premier. Dahal is likely to be the first ever popularly elected Maoist leader in world history.

But this appears to frighten him out of his wits. Dahal was foaming as he bad-mouthed everyone at Tundikhel last week. But one could see he trembled even as he thundered. What is he afraid of?

The Maoist high-command maintained a working relationship with the monarchy, an understanding with the military and close association with the Indian establishment during the most violent phase of insurgency. The credit for discrediting the 1990 constitution is shared equally by royalist conspirators, army generals, Indian interlocutors and Maoist strategists.

The Chairman shrewdly manipulated contradictions between the NC and the UML when his nominees practically dictated almost every decision of the seven party ruling alliance. Madhab Nepal thought he was using Krishna Bahadur Mahara to keep Ram Sharan Mahat in check. Sher Bahadur Deuba let Baburam Bhattarai manipulate the UML chief. In the end, Dahal pulled the rug from under the feet of Girija Prasad Koirala.

Dahal's single-minded pursuit of political power has been extraordinary, he is a demolition expert also in the political sense. Standing amidst the debris, Dahal is now worried that there is almost nothing left to break. He probably doubts his own capacity of clearing the mess and is even less sure of his ability of building anything new. So, he attempts to hide this behind majoritaran mumbo-jumbo and Maoist rhetoric.

The Maoist rebellion wrecked the political economy. Fungibility allowed resources directed towards infrastructure to be used for counter-insurgency. The war economy scared away investment even as windfall trade profits flew out of the country. Agriculture collapsed as farmers fled villages. The trade imbalance widened as imports soared and there was nothing to export except unskilled labour. The litanies of woes is as much the Maoists' own creation as it was the handiwork of corrupt and incompetent royal regimes.

The urban middle class has its own worries: costly food, inadequate drinking water, undependable electricity, scarce petrol, unpredictable mobile-phones, expensive education and unaffordable health services. Unfortunately, like everyone else, Dahal doesn't seem to have a clue about what to do about these immediate crises.

The anarchy and civil disorder in the Tarai is even more alarming. The economic crisis has exacerbated an already strained relationship between Pahadis and Madhesis as too many hands chase too few jobs. Armed groups terrorise people as the tottering instruments of state fight merely to maintain their presence amidst a hostile population.

A day in Birganj is enough to convince anyone that the squabbles over spoils of office in Kathmandu are almost pointless. No matter who holds the reigns of power in the capital city, it will take a while before the state can re-establish its authority.

Despite the doom and gloom, there is still hope. All Dahal has to do is reverse his steps and become a pragmatic leader of the coalition, a calculative constitutionalist and a romantic dreamer of rosy future.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)