The media is better placed than most to predict what will happen next in politics, but in Nepal this does not always apply. When politicians cannot be held accountable for what they say or do in private or public, anyone who claims to know what is going on is on shaky ground indeed.
With every turn of events in the ongoing saga of the peace process, there has been cause for hope, cynicism or despair. The formal handover of PLA combatants to the Special Committee a fortnight ago was one such milestone. Did the event represent a major stride towards integration of the ex-combatants, and thereby the conclusion of the peace process? Or was it another 'red' herring let loose by Chairman Dahal to appease his detractors on the domestic and international fronts?
Once more, the potential significance of the event has been obfuscated by statements from the Maoist leadership claiming they still hold the chain of command over the PLA. More immediately, the possibility of building on the symbolic handover is fizzling out in the all-too-familiar tussle for power.
Which brings us to Jhala Nath Khanal, our likely prime minister-elect at the time of going to press. Did that resounding slap not bring him to his senses? Even if he could dismiss his attacker as a 'gnat', surely he is politically perceptive enough to recognise the public anger against him and his ilk in the applause that slap generated? To go from red-faced to abir-faced will not be enough to erase the memory. He may be able to spin his ludicrous position into one of necessity, but all we can hear is this: "I withdrew support for a majority government led by my own party, and now I am ready to lead another majority government."
The difference, of course, is that there will be many more hands reaching out to slap him once he settles down in Baluwatar. He will lead a government, thanks to the last-minute shenanigans of MJF (Democratic)'s Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar. But this will be a government that the Maoists will assume they can control. His party and the nation may have been better off letting the Maoists lead from the front. With leaders like Khanal, who needs followers?
Khanal won't have a honeymoon; the knives will be out before very long. Let's hope the famous slap sharpened his senses. He will be hard-pushed to keep his eyes on the tough road ahead if he's busy watching his back. But we wish him luck. He will need all the diplomatic skills he can muster just to stay afloat, but if he is to make a mark before 28 May, he will need to rise above the treacherous waters of Nepali politics.