Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Right shift


A day after Gen Rukmangad Katawal issued circular to all regional headquarters to stay on high alert this week, he met President Ram Baran Yadav. The two reportedly discussed the security situation, the political turmoil, and the proposed promotion of certain army officers.

Why were the two meeting in the first place? Yadav may be the supreme commander of the forces but this is in theory a ceremonial position.

Occasional briefings, purely to fulfill formalities, may be necessary. But when there is an executive prime minister and defence ministry, what is the need for Yadav and Katawal to discuss the army's operational and administrative details?

But even raising such a concern is na?ve in these 'extraordinary times'.

The incident is merely a reflection of the reckless disregard for rules that has characterised politics of the past few months.

It is a wonder that General Katawal gets any time to run the army, given how busy he is politicking. He meets senior journalists, key business people, politicians, diplomats and other internationals. His message to them: this government is ineffective, the parties have no ideas, and the Maoists carry a destructive agenda. Hint: only me and my army can brings back order and stop the march of Maoist dictatorship.

This is not a surprise. The right-wing has fantasised about wrecking this process right since April 2006. The dogma and excessive ambition of the Maoists helped create the favourable environment. What raises concern is the president's reaction.

Yadav's blatantly political role has been an open secret in Kathmandu ever since he lobbied hard to get his son a ticket for the by-elections. But respect for the institution has prevented people from speaking out.

Conversations with informed sources in Janakpur last week revealed how Yadav is still engaged in district-level NC politics. He is known to have called government administrators to move or block certain cases. He has called up officials to recommend names for appointments. And during his son's election, he campaigned through the telephone: urging supporters to use all means possible to ensure a win, requesting NC leaders to rally support. Activist Krishna Pahadi has now revealed how he was asked by the president to stir up an anti-Maoist government movement in March.

These details are relevant because it shows Yadav has not been able to detach himself from party politics. He is not someone who sees his role as a passive guide. He remains a politician, not a statesman. And like with any politician, factional interest can easily overwhelm national interest.

And it is this ambition that the right-wing hopes to play on, in their desire to disrupt the process and engineer a 'Bangladesh model' (of army-backed civilian fa?ade) with a bit of 'Sri Lanka' thrown in (escalating security offensives).

The opening of the parliament has opened up the space for the revival of consensus. Gen Katawal thrives when the parties fight each other. His utility diminishes when there is consensus. The decision of the Maoist politburo to stick with the process (even if it means making compromises in the short-term) has also slowed down the pace of polarisation.

The parties can't support the kind of alternatives the army has in mind because that will automatically shrink their space. Even if factions of NC and UML play ball, there will be opposition from key leaders and rank and file. UNMIN's continued presence means that any adventurism will cost the NA loss of international credibility. Civil society (if not together, then separately, will oppose a right shift). Most critically, Delhi recognises the need to deal with the Maoists. It is not in the mood to support such an arrangement (at least not yet) and are still betting on the parties.

That these ideas, however far-fetched, are actually being discussed by the right wing and military is not an indication it will happen. A swing to the right may be difficult to pull off.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)