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Yesterday once more


PUSKAR BHUSAL


With the vapours of the political fluidity of the 1950s billowing over us again, it would be in order to dip deeper into those turbulent years. The seeds of instability built into the 1950 Delhi Compromise took little time in sprouting. The Kangresis' acceptance of the cease-fire was a clear recognition of the power of the other two parties, the palace and the Ranas. To shield themselves from allegations of a sell-out from the rank and file, Congress ministers adopted a hard line in the cabinet. This complicated an unnatural alliance.

A fellow Kangresi minister advised a distraught BP Koirala that he could become premier of an all-commoner government if the party quit the Rana-led coalition. BP heeded that counsel, paving the way for Matrika Prasad Koirala's rise. The Kangresi minister retained his job. Internal bickering led to MP's expulsion from the Nepali Congress and subsequent resignation as head of government. Meanwhile, an advisory council enforced a Special Emergency Powers Act that vested greater political powers in the palace.

Predictably, Kangresis and their allies began warning of threats to the hard-won gains of 1951, but were too busy squabbling to do anything about it. Deteriorating law and order triggered by labour and agrarian unrest, among other things, led the palace to reconstitute the government. Since there was no way of gauging the strength of the parties, leaders were asked to join the cabinet in their personal capacity. A condition the Kangresis rejected. While the parties were busy negotiating a common minimum programme, MP was reappointed prime minister, with the backing of the Rastriya Praja Party he had recently founded. After the party's decimation in the Kathmandu municipal board election, the Nepali Congress, Tanka Prasad Acharya's Praja Parishad and Dilli Raman Regmi's Rastriya Congress formed a Democratic League and began questioning the legitimacy of MP's government. The wily premier had another card up his sleeves. He approached each party in the League separately with offers for sharing power. The Nepali Congress took the bait and submitted four names. MP promptly withdrew his offer. The result: the Kangresis were neither with the League nor the government.

MP resigned on 17 February, 1954 to be appointed the head of a national cabinet the following day. The Nepali Congress, riled by the ostracism, and the communists, under ban, refused to accept the legitimacy of the government. A 106-member advisory assembly set up to familiarise its members with parliamentary practices became increasingly assertive. MP sought to fortify his domestic flank by trying to form a "homogenous" cabinet, but failed. The Nepali Congress launched a civil disobedience movement to press its demand for civil liberty, independent judiciary, early elections and steps to control inflation. MP's government was defeated in an assembly vote on a budget grant and resigned. After a spell of direct rule, the king appointed Acharya as premier on 27 January, 1956. MP's decision to oust Acharya from the Home Ministry but retain him as minister without portfolio had bolstered his standing. His joining hands with the banned communists in a United Front fortified his position. (He returned the favour by lifting that ban.) Acharya, whose pleas for homogeneity in the cabinet were rebuffed by the palace, stepped down on 13 July the following year.

KI Singh's appointment as premier produced another realignment of forces. None of the parties were willing to join his team. The Praja Parishad, Nepali Congress and Rastriya Congress formed a Democratic Front and demanded early elections. They couldn't agree on whether it should be for a constituent assembly or parliament. The communists joined the three parties without becoming a formal part of the alliance. The elections scheduled for October 1958 were postponed till the following February. The royal proclamation did not specify whether they were to be for a constituent assembly or parliament. KI Singh's efforts to reorganise the army, palace bureaucracy and central secretariat provoked the wrath of the royals. After 110 days in office, Singh was sacked in November 1957. By this time, the Nepali Congress, Rastriya Congress and the communists were demanding an election to the constituent assembly while the Praja Parishad stood in favour of a sovereign parliament. After concluding that the palace was in no mood for a constituent assembly, the Nepali Congress national committee session in Birganj said an election for a new government was vital to remove the reactionaries that stood between the king and the democratic forces.

After another spell of direct royal rule, the king appointed Subarna Sumshere to hold the elections the following year. The Nepali Congress won 74 of the 109 Lower House seats. The rest is history, tragedy, geo-strategy or whatever you choose to call it.

You can spend as long as you want trying to figure out who has stepped into whose shoes today. The omens are not good, especially with Rastriya Prajatantra Party president Surya Bahadur Thapa having extended only personal congratulations to party colleague Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand. More apocalyptic, though, is the failure of successive all-party meetings to demand the restoration of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government even as a theoretical option.


LATEST ISSUE
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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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