Nepali Times
State Of The State
Whose move?


In chess, Deep Blue can defeat Bobby Fisher because both of them play by the same rules. Whether it is a computer or a human brain, in a mind game it is the ability to manipulate memory that decides the outcome. Politics has often been compared to chess where a king is just a pawn in the hands of the master player.

There is one difference: the winner of a political contest can't be predicted. Factors beyond the control of the player make the outcome unpredictable. Politics is, in fact, closer to poker. When Sher Bahadur Deuba upturned the chessboard last year by dissolving parliament, Nepali politics ceased to be a mind-sport. It became a game of chance where players make their move and pray.

Four players were simultaneously making their moves last week.

Surya Bahadur Thapa was put on a leash when the king reportedly asked him to proceed with his foreign visits ignoring the clamour for his resignation from his own party. Since his RPP is a royalist party, it doesn't seem likely that its move to oust Thapa began without a nod from on high. It follows, therefore, that Thapa cannot continue if the one who appointed him wants him out.

This is classic Panchayat-style powerplay: two groups of courtiers try to run each other down. Thapa is a veteran of this game and has been through it more times than he probably cares to remember. That is why he exhibited a certain panache in throwing earthy invectives doubting rival Pashupati Shumsher's lineage. The grandson of Mohan Shumsher is too sophisticated to stoop so low and ignored that remark with aristocratic disdain. In hindsight, this storm in the teacup looks like it was orchestrated on the eve of Thapa's India visit to show palace dissatisfaction with a premier considered to be close to New Delhi.

Reading, perhaps correctly, that Thapa's days are numbered Comrade Madhab Nepal decided to pull off a headline-grabbing India trip himself. His multi-pronged strategy involved a) isolating the Nepali Congress by patching up with Sher Bahadur Deuba, b) forming an alliance with RPP, and c) getting the consent of the Maobadis in Lucknow to accommodate the concerns of the king in a sort of consensus government led by him. But the plan backfired.

Even though the Lucknow meeting had the intended effect (it proved the Indians aren't averse to showing their abiding interest in the games being played in Nepal) the UML leader he failed to convince Messrs Dahal, Bhattarai and Mahara that he could offer them a better bargain than any other occupant of Singh Darbar.

Comrade Madhab is sticking his neck further out than he has ever stuck it before by declaring: "Constitutional monarchy or republicanism-the choice rests with the king". But that is unlikely to convince New Delhi to let go of real Maobadi in the hand for nominal Marxbadi-Leninbadis in the bush.

Slightly overtaken by the rapid pace of events last week, Girija Prasad Koirala took one step backward and declared that he wasn't averse to the reinstatement of Sher Bahadur Deuba government if that would lead to the restoration of the lower house. This innocuous sounding statement swiftly punctured the UML trial balloon for an all-party government minus the Nepali Congress. So far, the political earthquake Comrade Nepal predicted has not materialised and the only tremors are being felt on the slopes of Machhapuchhre.

New Delhi, as usual, has all its cards on the table. It showed its displeasure by sending the foreign secretary (instead of a ranking minister) to receive him at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The unusually blunt joint communique at the end of the visit that called for a national government in Nepal was another indicator of Delhi\'s displeasure. In a field where 'protocol and alcohol' mean everything, such a diplomatic slight is noticed. Thapa has obviously failed to live up to the expectations of those who initially rooted for him.

By allowing the Lucknow meeting to go ahead, New Delhi once more thumbed its nose at Uncle Sam and showed it is ready to wear the Maoist millstone around its neck if that helps calibrate pressure on Kathmandu. The Indians are having fun.

All this has left the palace somewhat outflanked. Sher Bahadur Deuba has ceased to be the ace up its sleeve, and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai's Kashi pilgrimage appears to have gone waste. Koirala has used Deuba to spoil Nepal's game.

Towards the end of his political career, destiny has thrust two choices upon the paterfamilias of the Thapa clan from Muga. Will he resign, or allow himself to be sacrificed one last time at the altar of power?

But he has a third choice. Thapa can also recommend the restoration of the lower house and put the constitutional train, derailed by Deuba, back on track. Such a decision will transform Thapa from a pawn into a full-fledged political player again. But will the pawn be allowed to reach the other side of the board?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)