It was quite out of character for Comrade Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ to go after a group of Nepalis living in the United States while updating reporters on his eagerly watched visit to that country.
Not that the former Fierce One is a stranger to acerbity and causticity. In his incarnation as Maoist supremo, Dahal would routinely rail against individuals (i.e. ex-king Gyanendra and, at one point, the late Girija Prasad Koirala) and institutions like the erstwhile Royal Nepali Army (as he so memorably did during his first public appearance in Kathmandu in 2006). His rant against ‘foreign deities’ while announcing his resignation on national TV in 2009 remains etched in modern Nepali politics.
That the co-chair of the Nepal Communist Party chose to single out a collection of long-time Nepali residents of the United States for opprobrium perhaps speaks of the broader psychology at play.
Dahal’s criticism is far from unwarranted. After all, how many weekend gatherings out there are complete without someone or the other undercutting Nepal? Some of the most vociferous US-based Nepali critics of King Birendra and the partyless regime in 1990 turned out to be the most avid supporters of King Gyanendra’s takeover 15 years later. The deep factionalism within Nepali parties is mirrored in the bigger US cities, sometimes taking an enormous toll on personal relationships.
But, then, such generalizations tend to do injustice to the countless Nepalis who – as the saying there goes –make America work, while closely but quietly following affairs back home. In fairness, Dahal didn’t refer to Nepalis in America generically.
The NCP co-chair’s infuriation is understandable. Much confidence-building must have gone into planning the visit (the Venezuela brouhaha notwithstanding). The Americans have creatively dealt with the issue of whether the Maoists were ever on par with Al Qaeda in terms of Washington’s terrorism lists. For individuals, officials waivers abound. The humanitarian purpose of Dahal’s visit was enough to suggest that the federal government wasn’t going to arrest the former Maoist chieftain.
What about other tiers of US government and the plethora of human rights groups? If President Donald J. Trump, who has just been let go by special counsel Robert S. Mueller, is still on tenterhooks over what prosecutors at the Southern District of New York are poring over, why should Dahal have lowered his guard?
The bloke who sent in that “address correction requested” complaint to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) got great publicity. FBI sleuths weren’t going to dent this particular joist of the Indo-Pacific plank of the US establishment’s long-term foreign and security policy imperative – at least not until Dahal even had a chance to discuss the quid pro quos.
Still, you can help wonder whether other dynamics might have been in play. For one thing, the two foreign governments most displeased with the prospect of a US-Nepal strategic partnership each have the heft to show their sentiment on US soil. For another, there are all those people committed not only to ending impunity in Nepal but also to making an exemplary public demonstration of that. What if there were, say, undisclosed complaints or even indictments against Dahal that myriad local law-enforcement bodies were expected to act on?
Despite their evident preparation, Nepali diplomats in Washington DC didn’t have to sneak Dahal out of the airport. Our former prime minister stayed at the embassy, held talks with junior-level US officials and visited places like the Maryland state legislature. Pre-visit speculation that Dahal might meet with Vice-President Mike Pence remained just that.
If Dahal indeed had a close shave, could his public fury be directed at individuals he may have suspected of aiding and abetting the foes that he could not name?