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Takes two to tango

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012
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Pic: Min Ratna Bajracharya

For those who have given up hope on Nepal, President Ram Baran Yadav stands out as a symbolic bulwark against dictatorship, disintegration and disharmony. The fact that the son of an ordinary farmer from Mahottari, and a lifelong freedom fighter, should one day rise up to be Nepal’s head of state is itself a sign of how far we have come.

But President Yadav is an improbable personality to wear that mantle. He became president by fluke four years ago because Girija Prasad Koirala and Pushpa Kamal Dahal were so busy trying to stab each other in the back for the job that they cancelled each other out. Yadav himself was at first reluctant and awkward in his new office, and immediately embroiled himself in controversy by reinstating an army chief that Prime Minister Dahal had removed.

But Yadav has matured on the job. Even though in private he is said to have a quick temper, and is not averse to using explicit Maithili expletives when he is not within earshot of the media, in public Yadav projects the persona of a patient guardian. He is not the most scintillating speaker, tends to ramble a bit especially when reminiscing about his good old days with BP, but everywhere he goes in Nepal, there is genuine affection and respect for this farmer’s son. People spontaneously throng to shake his hand, and throw flowers at his feet.

Part of this esteem stems from the regard people have for the office of president, which replaced the monarchy as the symbol of national unity, the other is a result of Yadav’s careful adherence to the rules of his office. But what can’t be discounted is the support he gathered by not joining the opportunist bandwagon to play identity politics and defecting to Madhesi parties in 2007. The Madhesi parties may scoff at him and call him a “traitor”, but wherever he goes in the plains there is genuine outpouring of support from people for one of their own who has risen to the highest position in the land. His own colleagues in the NC are envious of the public support he commands.

In the post-27 May vacuum, President Yadav’s every move is carefully watched for signs of the steps he may be contemplating. Some openly urge him to declare Presidential Rule, others criticise him for over-stepping his mandate by giving Prime Minister Bhattarai a hard time. In actual fact, the president has been restrained, patient, and playing a behind-the-scene role in finding a solution to the current impasse.

Those who think President Yadav is going to do a Gyanendra can think again. What he has done quite successfully is to clip Bhattarai’s wings by reminding him repeatedly that he is a caretaker, and to be picky about what he signs into ordinance.

Yadav is tempted to give Bhattarai an ultimatum on setting up a government of national unity, but he knows that the deadline will not stick. Being a former Kangresi, he knows very well the psychology of the hate-triangle between Poudel, Deuba and Koirala. Bhattarai knows this as well, and he is using the rivalry within the NC to linger on in government.

Anything a ceremonial president does now will be legally iffy, and whatever a caretaker prime minister does will be constitutionally questionable. Only decisions that President Yadav and Prime Minister Bhattarai take jointly will have legitimacy. It takes two to tango, and the good news is that both Yadav and Bhattarai have grudgingly come to accept this.

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