BY M. R. JOSSE
NEW YORK, NY: Metaphorically gazing out from New York one perceives a kaleidoscope of eye-catching developments – some more sparkling than others – emanating from Nepal and in its periphery.
In order to accord due attention to them, one is perforce obliged to refer to a bunch of other comment-worthy events only most cursorily, reserving the right of dealing with them more fully in a future column(s).
Indeed, before moving on to the main focus of this week’s write-up, one should briefly list them as hot-button policy issues involving gun-control; foreign trade; President Donald Trump’s jabs at the media at the Girdiron dinner in Washington, D.C., where those in attendance dined on a three-course meal laid out with ‘Fake Menus’.
Also grabbing attention are Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia has tested powerful nuclear weapons that render all missile defense systems useless; and, lest one forgets, German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally securing support from the Social Democrats (SPD) to enable her to lead a coalition for four more years – following five months of uncertainty in the wake of September 2017’s elections that rendered her governing coalition rather wobbly.
Meanwhile, back home, just as one was led to assume that the Nepali Left had finally morphed into a granite-hard political bloc – in firm command of the government – one is informed not only of disruption of the peace by Netra Bikram Chand (‘Biblab’) but, additionally, of a working unity forged between ‘Biblab’ and the hard-line Communist faction led by none other than Mohan Vaidya, one-time guru to Prachanda.
Apart from raising doubts about how solid Communist unity in Nepal really is, it opens the embarrassing conjoined issue of whether the celebrated Oli-Prachanda bear-hug is, in fact, ideologically driven, rather than representing a rank opportunistic gambit to seize the reigns of government.
Additionally, it might be perfectly legitimate to speculate whether or not extraneous forces – the infamous ‘foreign hand’ – may have been instrumental in orchestrating the ‘Biblab’-Vaidya tango, perhaps by supplying the moolah required for bankrolling a shady political movement towards its desired end.
Whatever be the true story, what was unequivocally disturbing was the spectacle of the Indian national flag atop the Janaki Mandir in Janakpur, captured by Artha Sarokar’s lensman Rabindra Chaulagain, subsequently posted on Facebook. Curiously enough, it did not seem to have raised a perfect nationalist storm of protest, as I had rather naively imagined.
Shifting gears, there is reportedly an opaque subterranean tussle within the UML, and between the UML and the Maoists, regarding who should be the next president. Though there is theoretically the possibility of Vidhya Bhandari making it for another term – the first under the new constitutional arrangement – other outcomes cannot be ruled out. More on the ‘bhag-bhanda’ politics of the issue will be out in the open soon, perhaps adding clarity to the murky overall political climate.
Another absorbing event was the warm public reaction greeting a gaunt former Crown Prince Paras Shah as he made his way to Pachali Bhairav, in Kathmandu, for a hallowed ritual. Is it just a flash-in-the-pan, or is it yet another ephemeral indicator of what appears to be the inexorably growing popularity of the monarchy? Time will tell, doubtless.
Finally, if the report on an online news outlet is correct, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will be visiting Nepal for a two-day visit – to congratulate Prime Minister Oli on his assumption of his high office – and to discuss the convening of a SAARC summit, scuttled by India’s refusal to attend the previously scheduled summit in Pakistan, more than a year ago.
It should be hugely educational how New Delhi reacts – in public and in private. What is for certain is that Oli has been presented with a rare geopolitical opportunity to raise Nepal-Pakistan ties to the heights it occupied during the Mahendra era. Will Oli bite? Let’s see.
While India’s foreign secretary Vijaya Gokhale’s two-day visit to Beijing resulted in public assertions that Sino-Indian relations are on the mend, that is difficult to swallow sans a fistful of salt, especially in view of a report in Beijing’s Global Times that, days earlier, claimed that “China is upgrading its Western Theatre Command in order to confront any threat from India.”
That aside, there has been a slew of alarmist write-ups in the Indian media centering around what Chinese President Xi Jinping’s extraordinary rise means for the world, most reflecting apprehensions and suspicions on the theme awash in the West.
The New York Times, for example, explained that “Xi is essentially doubling down on the idea China can refashion authoritarianism for this age – possibly setting the country on a collision course with history…China’s moves are also eroding the American sense that China’s path would bring it closer to the U.S.”
The thing that has rattled many is that Xi is allowing a cult of personality to develop. That during the last Party congress, no successor was named to replace him after his second presidential term, means, in their opinion, that there would be no checks and balances, essentially allowing Xi to remain at the helm for his lifetime.
Peter Marino, an American pundit, notes with trepidation that “Xi successfully pushed for removal of a formal term limits to the presidency”, while, last October, he “successfully maneuvered to have his name/idea added to the party constitution and to be named the ‘core of the party’ – a title closer to something for Mao than anything else.”
Marino argues that “His reign so far has been a series of signals for the world and to China itself that business-as-was is now over, and it’s got an emperor again.”
One does not have to agree with such fevered prognoses to suggest that our foreign policy formulators objectively assess how Xi’s increasing political clout might impact, generally, and specifically, on the South Asian politico-diplomatic chessboard.