By Maila Baje
He’s really messing with us, right?
The memorandum of understanding signed between Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) on establishing fraternal ties has triggered an array of suspicions and speculations. Beijing has tried to allay those misgivings, but almost with deliberate tepidity.
NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ – the man assumed to have taken many of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli’s party responsibilities – has also borrowed a key Oli personality trait: speaking allegorically. One moment it’s the chicken-versus-eagle parable about the NCP’s present and future. Before we even started scratching our heads, Dahal affirmed he would not rest until the NCP became the Nepali people’s only political party.
Forget the monarchy, such impenetrable profundity would be enough to stir the spirits of the Ranas, Mallas, Lichhchavis, Kiratis and everyone preceding them in the bygone.
Ordinarily, the people wouldn’t bother too much about political fraternizing. We all tend to hang out more and more with people we agree with. Institutionally, the Nepali Congress’s links with Socialist International gave it vital international legitimacy. (Although not enough to prevent the chairman of the Rastriya Panchayat from leading the Nepali delegation to the International Parliamentary Union.)
But training Nepali comrades in the virtues and wisdom of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era? Forgive our ignorance, but the only thing new the incumbent Chinese President is trying to do is break the term limit imposed by Deng Xiaoping.
Now, Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi has made it clear that while Xi Jinping Thought does provide a new underpinning for, among other things, global governance, Beijing does not seek to impose its political ideology on any country. Well, probably not.
Still, the context and coincidences are too chilling. With the swiftness of a magician’s wand, Nepal’s two major communist factions that were once set on obliterating the other decided to join hands ahead of parliamentary elections in 2017. If there was a magician anywhere, it sure seemed like s/he was domiciled across the Himalayas.
The promise of unity was enough to allow the two factions to jointly win a majority in parliament, and subsequently formalize their unity. Since assuming power, Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli’s government has worked unapologetically toward abridging civil liberties as well as freedom of speech and expression. During this same period, communist luminaries representing both the erstwhile Marxist-Leninist and Maoist strands have been praising the Chinese political system as one worthy of emulation.
Dahal, having graduated from co-chair to de facto executive chairman of the NCP, has brought back some of the ‘people’s war’-era radicalism in his rhetoric. Even the seemingly innocuous words he uses are scarcely reassuring in context. For example, Dahal says the Oli government is not in ‘favor’ of ‘controlling’ the press, all the while signaling an intent to establish a one-party state.
What are the Chinese up to? Sure, they have been seeking a more forceful assertion of Nepali commitment to upholding Beijing’s interests here. The politburo up north might not be terribly interested in Nepal as part of their usual agenda. But it’s fair to assume they have Nepal in mind whenever the issue of the Dalai Lama’s death/succession comes up. Also, we can’t be that far away from their deliberations on China’s relations with India, the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Himalayan front of the containment/encirclement threat.
Now, those political managers certainly wouldn’t want to honor Nepal with a Xi visit in exchange for nothing. Training Nepali communists – those in power, at that – on Xi Jinping Thought might be deemed as a big-enough fig leaf to serve as quid pro quo. After all, Xi has been dangling the prospect of a visit for far too long that Nepalis have prepared themselves to believe in it when they see it happen.
But, then, might the Chinese be up to something else? Maybe this snake-scorpion-frog equilibrium has become so tedious that they have decided to make a move in anticipation of the responses of the two other protagonists?
So, no, Dahal may not be exactly messing with us. But he sure seems to be having some fun while he’s at it.