Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Goodwill hunting


NEW DELHI?Nepal's prime minister was a celebrity in Delhi this week. From arm chair revolutionaries to national politicians to the policy elite, everyone wanted to have a glimpse of a rebel leader who is now the head of government.

In a smart suit and tie, Pushpa Kamal Dahal was at his charming best. The common theme in all his speeches was: "Trust me." And judging from the reaction, the message hit home.

The motive of Dahal's trip was not as much to energise bilateral ties but to tell New Delhi he is a man they can do business with. So he donned his free market hat, taking a business-dominated 50-member delegation and assuring representatives of Indian joint ventures in Nepal of security. He told Indian business what it needed to hear: private sector is at the heart of growth, Nepal will set up special economic zones, government is only a facilitator, we want investment.

"I am really impressed," said one Indian corporate executive, "I had heard him the last time he was in Delhi two years ago and he has come a long way. His English has improved and he sounds more like Manmohan Singh than Mao."
Prachanda then addressed a gathering of strategic thinkers at the India International Centre and tried to come across as a statesman who had brought peace to Nepal, and he made it a point to thank the Indian establishment.

"Everyone I have met has told me India wants a stable and prosperous Nepal. I respect and appreciate that understanding. This peace process is our collective responsibility. If we fail, it will also impact India," he said.

Ties with India, he added, were far more intimate and could not be compared with China. He reached out to the entire political establishment but went beyond to meet critics like the BJP's L K Advani, telling him he looked up to him as a "guardian" and inviting him to visit Janakpur and Pashupati. He spent an hour with BJP president Rajnath Singh to assure him that concerns about Maoist links with Indian Naxalites were misplaced.

Dahal knew what to say to which audience. Talking to a gathering of the India-Nepal People's Solidarity Forum, a group of radical left activists headed by Maoist sympathiser Anand Swaroop Verma, he said: "I remember the time when you helped me during the war. Our revolution is not yet over. A communist republic is not possible immediately but we do not accept formal parliamentary democracy. The main battle now is with remnants of feudalism, the comprador bourgeoisie and imperialist foreign forces who have been meddling in Nepal."

Nepal's prime minister now needs to reconcile the interests of the Tata company which wants to invest in Nepal and the Indian radical left which wants him to fight corporates. He gave a clue about how he plans to do this, when he told reporters he wanted to carve out "a new form of democracy" where the majority of people will feel empowered.

At the banquet hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, all top Indian politicians from Sonia Gandhi to Sharad Pawar, Laloo Yadav to Mulayam Yadav were present. "I have been to 10-15 such banquets but this must rank as one of the most impressive and power-packed gatherings," said Siddharth Varadarajan, diplomatic editor of The Hindu.

The next day, political adversaries like the Congress's Digvijay Singh, CPM's Prakash Karat, Samajwadi Party's Amar Singh, and BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi were sitting on the same sofa to honour Dahal. Prime Minister told them he had spent eight out of his 10 years during the war in India, and wanted to strengthen the special relationship.

If his aim was to reach out to the Indian establishment and business, the prime minister succeeded. Now we have to see how he will leverage this goodwill for Nepal's growth.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)