There were no surprises at the four day-long conclave of the Nepali Congress district unit chiefs. With no clear directives from the central leadership on republicanism, inclusion and socialism, the district committee chairs are going back home more confused than ever.
Basically, Girija Prasad Koirala told his party that procedures rather than cheap sloganeering would help establish a republic, and district presidents should go back with a positive mindset and create favourable conditions for the election. Fair enough, but no help at all to party presidents caught in the crosscurrents of republicanism and inclusion at the grassroots.
Koirala's flip-flopping on the monarchy is getting tiresome. First he came up with the idea of a ceremonial monarchy, a position without role or responsibility. He then proclaimed from Biratnagar that Gyanendra could save the throne by abdicating, presumably in favour of his only grandson or granddaughter. His last salvo was fired from New Delhi where, as Nepal's de facto head of state, he thundered that Gyanendra should no more be called 'king'. The coup de grace was his accepting the credentials of the new Chinese ambassador. Koirala now holds the position as well as the power of head of state. So why is he so hesitant to bid adieu to the Shah Dynasty? Because he needs the pro-palace lobby.
Nepali communists have had a troubled relationship with the palace. Until the mid-80s, the palace repeatedly used them to keep kangresis in check. This climaxed with the communist boycott of the 1980 referendum. Palace strategists had succeeded in engineering the victory of the king over multiparty democracy by co-opting everyone opposed to BP Koirala. This is why the UML had no moral authority left to lead the anti-king coalition in 1990. The Maoists also squandered away their credibility by forming an alliance with the palace against the country's imperfect but democratic governments in the 1990s. Prachanda and his cohort undermined their own case for a republic by opening negotiations with King Gyanendra.
Thus, even though the other parties swear by republicanism in public, the fate of the monarchy will ultimately be decided by the NC. Koirala knows this and wants to use it to attract pro-palace forces to his party. A desperate choice, but the NC is in dire straits in most districts and is clutching at straws.
The Madhes Uprising has severely weakened the Congress on its home turf. The NC has been the main enemy of the traditional power elite that drew its sustenance from the palace. The party has never done well in the capital even when it has the Valley's biggest political personalities on its side. The so-called Chure-Bhabar and Bhitri Madhes, populated mainly by migrants from the mid-hills, continues to be a UML stronghold. The CPN-M remains the first choice of dalits and other marginalised groups in the hills and the tarai.
Koirala is skating on thin ice laid out by the 'international community' monarchy. But there is a limit to what Mukherji and Moriarty can do. He needs conservatives and right-wingers close to the palace as much as they need him.
This marriage of convenience between the NC and the 'ceremonial monarchy' camp seems to have been solemnised with the tacit support of the Nepal Army. The problem with all this is that Gyanendra has alienated the rank and file of the Congress to the extent that they may even defy their own president to reject any form of monarchy.
This is why Koirala goes on about 'procedure' rather than openly opposing republicanism. The standard bearer of the republican movement inside the NC, Narahari Acharya, might be getting closer to his goal after all.