The political utility of holding up Kathmandu traffic

Nepal’s Maoists do a Mamata-didi act

The ongoing metamorphosis of Pushpa Kumar Dahal has taken a new turn: from the little-seen underground rebel leader, to the slick statesman-like figure who spoke at an international pow-wow in New Delhi a few weeks ago and now, to the bandh-calling leader of the “Communist Party of Nepal (formerly known as guerilla)” as the official Chinese press now calls them. Prachanda, it would seem, has become a Mamata Banerjee.

The appointment of ambassadors to key foreign countries, while not insignificant, is hardly the sort of thing that should cause Prachanda to put up a public display of political muscle. While non-Maoist ambassadors can further damage the Maoist’s image, New Delhi, Washington, London and Moscow are likely to base their policy on their own objective assessments of the power Prachanda actually wields. Furthermore, ambassadors can always be replaced — and the future government of Nepal, which is likely to include Maoists, remains free to make fresh appointments. The Maoists’s ire over ambassadorial appointments, therefore, is largely a red herring.

The public flexing of muscles though is not without purpose. It serves to remind Nepalese politicians and people that the Maoists have coercive instruments at their disposal even after suspending their armed struggle. Moreover, it also allows the top Maoist leadership to rally their cadre and flag their sagging morale. It was a threat-cum-mobilisation exercise.

The current bandh a nice showpiece to add credibility to Prachanda’s real threat: that unless the Maoists get the places they want in the new government to be formed after the interim constitution comes into force, they will bring the normal life in the country to a standstill. As they prepare to participate in electoral politics, the Maoists seem to have adopted the ways of its worst exponents in the subcontinent: Mamata Banerjee and the two Bangladeshi begums. [Related Levity: See GreatBong]