Nepali Times
Congress chess

Once more the Nepali Congress has stepped back from the brink of binary fission. Not that it is not already split for all practical purposes. The party\'s remaining veteran leaders, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Girija Prasad Koirala, behave like cranky old men poking each other with their walking sticks. The two actually get along pretty well, but their sidekicks loathe each other more than they detest the UML. All this would have been very funny if it didn\'t have such serious implications for governance and the polity.

Caught conspiring to oust his mentor, Khum Bahadur Khadka was expelled by Koirala from the cabinet as we went to press last week. Khum thrives in conspiracy, and many will remember how he ditched Bhattarai in his hour of need earlier this year to join the Koirala bandwagon. This time, Koirala didn\'t wait for Khum to make the first move, and sacked him on the spot.

For Khum, this expulsion should have been a part of the occupational hazard of politics. But he chose to react, and badly exposed himself. Speaking in Parliament, Khum proclaimed that he was not obsessed with power. For those who know him, this was quite a revelation. Khum has been a minister in every Nepali Congress cabinet except the one formed to conduct the last general elections. He is alleged to have set new records for wrongdoing in every ministry that he has handled: Transport, Water Resources, Civil Supplies and Home.

Khum has no regard for legal niceties. They cramp his style. But that is precisely why he was useful to the Nepali Congress, he was their fixer. Don\'t tell us how you do it, Khum, just do it. But to do things, he needed to be a minister, and now his own mentor has clipped his wings. Khum without a ministry is as useless as a gambler outside the casino. Perhaps this is the best way Khum Bahadur can serve his party and country: by remaining out of power. But given his ambition, and the clout he has amassed, he will continue to be a behind-the-scenes Congress kingmaker.

A sideshow of this non-event was the way Bhattarai supported the same fellow, who stabbed him in the back, in order to get back at his old foe, Koirala. Just goes to prove that intra-Congress politics is a cesspool.

In fact, it was the other player in this fascinating game of Congress chess, Sher Bahadur Deuba, who zigzagged through it all unscathed. He refrained from getting too close to Khum in public and salvaged some of his credibility, even though he was believed to have been conspiring with anti-Koirala forces privately. Shailaja Acharya, whose name Khum used in vain, also did well by keeping out of this unseemly business.

On Monday morning, Koirala once again patched up with Bhattarai. Some Bhattarai cronies will be added to Koirala\'s reshuffled cabinet, potential foes will be defanged, loyal lapdogs will be rewarded. This will ease some of the tension of the past week, at least until someone else in the Congress decides to mutiny again. To be continued.
Parliament logs on
So our cyber-sawy Communication Minister has promised knowledge-hungry parliamentarians free Internet connections for a year. Considering that our hard-working lawmakers are also entitled to a certain number of free phone calls, one assumes that the traffic on the Net will now pick up. But one wonders, what will the MPs explore on the World Wide Web? The last time we looked, there were no portals offering lessons in hurling mikes towards the podium. The price of lal mohans in the canteens of other parliaments are not posted in real time for our lawmakers to compare them with Sharmajee\'s menu in Singha Durbar.

Is Minister Jaya Prakash Gupta trying to do a Cyberbabu Naidu? In that case, a fully online legislature would be helpful. But one question that should be explored is whether Internet access actually improves productivity, or are the honourable members going to be on Net2Phone chatting with relatives, playing solitaire or Mortal Kombat. The more committed could be given SimCity to hone their urban planning skills.

In a country where people grow old waiting for a land-line, one wonders whether MPs with Internet Explorer can send emails home to Olanchung Gola. And if they do, whether they will be satisfied with the bandwidth. And given their well-known extracurricular proclivities, maybe the minister should think of blocking some X-rated sites. And while he is at it, maybe install a spamguard.

Meanwhile, from all of us here, happy surfing.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)