Maoist road show

October 20, 2008

Daniel Lak in Nepali Times:

You’d think by now that New York had seen it all, but nothing like the Nepali Maoist road show in the Big Apple.

During the war, Comrade Prachanda never stinted on stinging anti-American rhetoric. But at the UN and on the lecture circuit in Manhattan, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was centrist sweetness personified.

This week, Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai also came across as a serious proponent of free market capitalism in Washington DC. Ironically, he and his boss were at the heart of the capitalist beast during its worst financial meltdown in modern times.

Whether PM Dahal spared the time to tour the Asia Society’s excellent exhibit of Mao Zedong memorabilia (paintings, icons, posters and lapel pins) isn’t known, but wonder what he’d have made of the Mao chic.


India’s street dogs of war

August 19, 2008

From The Times:

India’s legion of street dogs are being offered the chance to make their country proud by joining a crack cadre of the country’s military.

The elite Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College (CTJWC) last year picked four mongrel puppies from the streets with the hope of transforming them into a unit of explosive-detecting sniffer dogs.

The mongrels – Lily, Sally, Teja and Kareena – have just passed an intensive nine-month training course with flying colours. After they were found to be “tougher, harder and sharper in battle” than their pampered pedigree peers, there are plans to collect more for similar work.


Maoists in the forest: Tracking India’s separatist rebels

July 3, 2008

Jason Motlagh in the Virginia Quarterly Review (via Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting):

The express bus from Hyderabad to Dantewada takes fifteen hours on a good day. As the suburbs of the software hub are left behind, and then the wrought-iron gates of Ramoji Film City, the smooth pavement falls apart. But the sweep of paddy fields and palms-a facsimile of the INCREDIBLE INDIA! billboard hanging at the Delhi airport when I first arrived-grew more hypnotic with each mile, making up for the rough going. Hills loomed in the hazy distance. Cowherds shunted their stock out of harm’s way, and women carried grain in clay pots on their heads. Passing into virgin forest so dense that hardly a ray of light broke through, I finally dozed off, rustled by the occasional thwack of a tree branch as we hurtled into dusk.

Dantewada, the main town of Chhattisgarh state’s remote Bastar Division, seemed bucolic enough. The smell of freshly fried samosas wafted from the corner dhaba, where lanky men took cover from a sun that beat down like a fist. Long-distance coaches to Andhra Pradesh and Orissa came and went in a fit of honking. At either end of town, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) barricades, reading WE NEED YOUR COOPERATION, were the only signals that something might be wrong.

[Photo: Teenage “special police officer” scans the forest around Rani Bodli camp, scene of a midnight Naxalite raid early last year that left 55 security forces dead, South Bastar region, Chhattisgarh state.]


And click here for Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. And below, a video, Kashmir’s uneasy peace, made by the Center.

After Koirala, what?

June 30, 2008

Manjushree Thapa, the Kathmandu-based author of ‘Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy,’ in The Indian Express:

Girija Prasad Koirala’s resignation as prime minister has been greeted with equal relief and dismay in Nepal. Ahead of the April 10 Constituent Assembly election, Koirala had announced that no matter what the outcome, he would resign afterwards. When the Maoists came in as the largest party, though, his apologists began to claim that the election had been only for a constitution-drafting body, and not for a government. They argued that the interim government – with Koirala as the prime minister, and also as the provisional head of state – could only be voted out with an absolute majority. Koirala went along with this dubious logic; and his refusal to resign came across, to his detractors, as an expression of megalomania.

This launched a month of intense inter-party bickering, bickering which cast an anxious shadow over what should have been a joyous moment for Nepal: the abolition of the monarchy on May 28.

The subjects being bickered over have been among the most decisive of the peace process, subjects that will make or break Nepal in the coming years. Who is to be the head of state, the prime minister or (with the king now gone) a president? Which of these should hold executive power? How, if at all, should the Nepal Army and the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army be merged? Who should be the commander-in-chief?


‘We are trying our best to understand democracy’

The Maoist guerrilla leader who is about to become Nepal’s prime minister faces a dilemma: how can he reconcile his ideology with the realities of political office? Raymond Whitaker of The Independent met him:

It is not easy securing a meeting with the Maoist guerrilla leader poised to become prime minister of the new republic of Nepal.

Prachanda, which means “awesome” or “the fierce one”, came out of the jungle two years ago, but his journey from insurgent commander to mainstream politician is far from complete. As if to emphasise his distance from the Kathmandu political establishment, which he calls “feudal”, he lives in a run-down area of the city, close to a rubbish-strewn canal. His house, with sandbagged emplacements at each corner, is guarded by unsmiling male and female cadres in camouflage fatigues and caps with a red star on the peak.


Nepal: the world’s newest republic

June 21, 2008

In The Telegraph, UK, Thomas Bell reports from Kathmandu:

In his last act before leaving his palace last week, Nepal’s former king, Gyanendra, tried something he never attempted during his disastrous experiment with autocratic rule.

He decided to call a press conference – and for dismayed royalists the ensuing scene encapsulated the fall of an ancient institution that had collapsed from within.

Excited journalists climbed on the palace furniture. They posed for pictures in the chair where Gyanendra would sit, flanked by two stuffed tigers. When the ex-king arrived they heckled him with the rudest words in the Nepali language.


Royal flaws in focus at birth of Nepal’s republic

June 7, 2008

From Reuters:

Kathmandu: Four people, clad in white mourning clothes, carried a dummy corpse in a bamboo coffin.

“Gyane is dead. We are carrying his body to the cremation grounds,” they said, using an abusive shortened form of King Gyanendra’s name.

Watching the crowds gathered to celebrate the birth of the republic of Nepal last Wednesday, it was clear to me they were not yet done protesting against the king.

I flashed back to 2001, when I was awoken by a midnight telephone call. An old friend was on the line, saying he had heard the Maoist insurgency had exploded a bomb in the royal palace.

The Maoists at that time were still classified as “low intensity”, mainly confined to remote villages and valleys in this Himalayan nation and I thought they did not yet have the strength to do this. I was right.

As a helicopter hovered in the sky and after frantic telephone calls, it became clear: Crown Prince Dipendra had massacred his parents and seven other royals at a family dinner, then shot himself.


Nepal’s ‘living goddess’ in limbo

Reuters report from Kathmandu:

The appointment of a new “living goddess” in Nepal is being held up by the recent abolition of the monarchy, a Nepalese official says.

According to tradition, the king’s priest appoints the girl, who is chosen in her infancy and is treated as a goddess, or Kumari, until puberty.

But the priest no longer has any say in the republic, the head of the trust overseeing the tradition says.

[Photo: The previous goddess, Sajani Shakya, retired in March]


The king gone, Nepal must confront a new danger

June 3, 2008

Unless the deadlock over government formation is broken soon, the constitution writing process will be compromised, writes Siddharth Varadarajan in The HIndu:

Nearly a week after the abolition of the monarchy in Nepal, a democratically formed coalition government still eludes the world’s youngest republic. Instead of introspecting over the reasons for their defeat in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninists are behaving like victors. And the Maoists, who came first but still lack a majority, have yet to master the art of compromise without which there can be no coalit ional politics. At stake is not just the question of governance but something much more fundamental. For unless the deadlock over government formation is resolved quickly, the political atmosphere in the country will get so vitiated that enormous and perhaps irreparable harm will be done to the prospects of writing the country’s new constitution.

Nepal’s voters want the Maoists to lead the government and process of constitution writing, but only on the basis of power sharing. That is why they gave the former rebels 220 out of the 575 elected seats in the Constituent Assembly (CA) but withheld the two-thirds majority needed to allow them to run a single-party government under the terms of the interim constitution. Of course, the Maoists have never said they wanted to run the government by themselves. As soon as the election results became known six weeks ago, Chairman Prachanda extended an invitation to the others to join a government under his leadership. The terms of power sharing had been clearly spelt out by both the text of the interim constitution and the spirit of its working over the past 18 months and it was assumed that these arrangements would carry over.



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