Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Strategic selfishness



Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel were pioneers of Nepali democratic student union politics. Jhalanath Khanal spent an austere underground life building the party for years; KP Oli was part of a group that believed in class annihilation. Pushpa Kamal Dahal spent three decades on the run, and built and maintained an underground organisation. Baburam Bhattarai left a comfortable career as a planner and academic to translate his ideas into practice.

When today's top leaders joined politics, they were inspired by larger ideologies, group interest and made innumerable sacrifices – in the name of the people. Perhaps the supreme irony of Nepali politics is that as the same leaders became stronger and entered Kathmandu's power maze, the principle of individual interest became supreme.

There are broader social forces at play and alliances are based on more than merely individual dynamics. But a simple principle to understand Nepali politics is – look at the actor, his background, follow the money, how he wants to position himself, and you will know why he is doing what he is doing. Last week's politics shows why this is a useful guide.

For everyone else, the majority was 301; for Khanal, it was 401.

Was it because those who forced the condition in the UML central committee were really interested in the constitution, and wanted to get two thirds for that purpose? Clearly, Oli and Madhav Nepal were driven by other interests.

Oli remains in revenge mode for his loss in Butwal. He was banking on the fact that Khanal would not get the required number, weakening his position internally. In the event of Khanal winning, Oli would have had his pound of flesh: getting nominated to the CA, making someone from his camp acting party chair for greater control over the large corporate structure that is the UML, and key portfolios for some of his people. Madhav Nepal wanted to pay Khanal back for giving him a tough time in the past year.

Khanal wanted to be PM, because who doesn't want to be, and had spent the last year appearing relatively 'softer' towards the Maoists precisely for this day. Oli and Madhav wanted to squeeze him, for they were worried he and the 'pro-Maoist' lobby would become powerful, which in turn would have shrunk their patronage networks, control over cadres, and money.

Dahal had three aims: become PM; if that's not possible, prevent Bhattarai from becoming PM; and either win over or split the UML. His interest was not allowing what he feared would be an alternative power centre that would weaken his grip over the party. He was also acutely aware that if he backed Khanal and he won, he would be kingmaker, get access to state power, and it would be a setback to India.

Dahal played the Khanal card a bit too early and so Bhattarai argued that the party should nominate a candidate. He was confident for the Madhesi parties had supported him, and he had a solid external constituency of support. Dahal acted according to the larger party mood, but threw an ace by saying he would contest, leaving Bhattarai speechless. The next morning, Dahal said that the Maoists should support Khanal if he was able to get two thirds, since Khanal was the next best alternative to break the existing 'democratic alliance'. The party fell in line.

Dahal had lived up to his promise to Khanal, left Bhattarai with no option, and got his own party's backing once again to become a candidate – something that was not certain till even Tuesday afternoon. His ploy may or may not succeed, but showed perfect political timing, cunning, and explained how this man has managed to remain head of the Maoist party for so long.

Sher Bahadur's Deuba act of proposing Poudel was seen as a great sacrifice by some, but was calculated self interest. Well-wishers told him not to commit suicide by challenging Poudel at a time when he had limited internal support. He would lose once again, close on the heels of the parliamentary party defeat last year, and find it hard to get anything in the upcoming convention. And he would then be left with little choice, for he couldn't split – even his loyalists would not have walked away with him. Deuba also calculated that Poudel might not succeed, so he could afford to back him; if he won, he at least would gain the moral high ground for his 'sacrifice'.

Nepali politics today is controlled by half a dozen men, all in their mid-50s to 60s, with about three to four decades of political experience, and thus a similar degree of ego and ambition. They balance and block each other, leading to even greater uncertainty.

Hitting three centuries, PUBLISHER'S NOTE
Trial by media, CK LAL
Will history repeat itself ?, JAKUB SMUTNY

1. Nirmal

How many souls throb within the UML? And above all, which one dominates them when there sounds the trumpets of the apocalypse? That is, when you can not stay at the fork and you must choose a path unambiguously. As in any big game, many souls that make up its kaleidoscopic nature, a part of its greatness, can not be easily definable. In the UML coexist with evidence red and blue peanuts(not exactly the same like badame bhela), and even some of the demos without being red or blue peanuts, let's say it like this, and all can feel completely at ease among KP Oli and Madhav Nepal, among Jhalnath Khanal and so called Maoists inclined faction. The question, therefore, is not in the complexity of the UML supposedly a central party( with 100 and something seats in CA) in our country, whose serene tilt between the nationalism and communistness has given them qualified institutional representation than any other party has ever had in Nepal since 1990 till CA elections, minus party split. The issue arises when their souls are moving into clear confrontation to the point of drowning each other. On Wednesday, for example, in the CA, the show was sad. Madhav Nepal betrayed Jhalnath Khanal openly and Jhalnath Khanal could not even react properly, he said(it seemed clearly, of course), "for less than 10 votes out of 401(less than 2.5%!) we are not claiming for my leadership." In another way this is to say: Jhalnath Khanallai khalnath banauna khojya thiye banaidiye jhalluram. And while all this was expected, it was not without a bitter symbolism. For the umpteenth time the UML barons were faced with the dilemma of serving the interests of Nepal and those of their mother party, clearly out of place in the debate of  the statute and peace process. And yet again opted for the souls of their party henchmen. I do not recall a single occasion in the history of democracy, the UML have seen eye to eye to their counterparts and called things by their name and have taken an unequivocal gesture of native courage.

It is true that if the UML stalwarts like Pradip Gyawali had not lobbied for the extension of CA , the latter has not existed, and it is also true that this happened under the influence of the UML, which speaks of some sort of their seriousness about the prevailing politics. It is also true that days like the last Wednesday was not any less important day also:selection of the head of the govt which has to complete the peace process and statute writing. It was not an ordinary day, that political gestures after discounting the bloody 401 approach of the UML was  highly symbolic, that reading was crucial to the interests of Nepal as to the interests of her enemies AND that the UML enjoyed a unique opportunity to kick the board. Current so called democratic alliance or Nepal: that is the question, and the question was resolved without any surprises. Where there is "the standard bahun", not even a single hattakatta and hartakarta neta can have something mended. At least, a UML neta. And so, again, to the shame of what Jhalnath Khanal called "sacrifice," the UML lowered its head, held its nose and voted against the same decision that had inspired them, agreed not voted in the CA. "Treason? Let us be epic. "Servility? Let's not get dramatic. Worst of all: practice. Habit of being and nonbeing, being and not being, and by the way it is not found, the inability of knowing. It is not that the UML has many souls. You do not know what to do with its soul inspired by nepaliness.

2. sashi
The analysis is incomplete and even perhaps dishonest by not presenting the complete picture: Indians kept the four cards up their sleeve --the overnight so-called Madhesi alliance. Keeping silence on this speaks volume about the writer's "angle."  I wonder how much money leaders made this time for this "unity" as opposed to the time when the party was broken to elect MKN.

3. Arthur
Everyone can see that despite the Maoists being the largest party, both Prachanda and Baburam Bhatterai agreed to support yet another UML led government so that an effective government with a stable majority could be formed, capable of completing the peace process and adopting a constitution.

But all Prashant Jha can see is the same self interest as motivates the other parties, and yet another opportunity to attack Prachanda.

What is the attack on Prachanda? According to Prashant Jha:

1. The Maoist candidate should have been Bhatterai who has a better chance of forming a majority. But a stable majority is not yet possible for a Maoist led government and won't be until the other parties have got tired of demonstrating the futility of every other possible permutation. Neither Bhatterai nor Prachanda want to be in the same position of presiding over an ineffectual government lacking a stable majority as MKN.

2. The UMLs hate each other and may split. This of course does not reflect on them but is Prachanda's fault.

This is the same sort of "cynicism, apathy and outrage" articulated by Kunda Dixit, but combined with an obsession about Prachanda personally.

4. Rameshwar Koirala
 I thank Mr.Jha for producing some analytical and independent views in this article.It would have been beeter if he had tryed to make more indepth analysis of the current political opportunisim found in the conduct of our so called national level leaders. of major political parties. I suggest him not to be overcomed by cynicism which is common among Nepalese intellectuals.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)