Journalists waiting to ambush Sher Bahadur Deuba after his meeting with Girija Prasad Koirala this week in Baluwatar didn't have to chase him for a soundbite. The five-time prime minister got out of his car and did a standup on the sidewalk. His message: prospects of NC unification are dim.
Because the split in the NC five years ago wasn't over principles there is actually nothing to prevent unification. In 2002, Prime Minister Deuba had declared a state of emergency, dissolved parliament and split off from Koirala's party. He positioned himself as a strongman to counter the spread of the Maoists.
Within six months it became clear he had been taken for a royal ride. On 4 October 2002, King Gyanendra dismissed him. In hindsight it is clear the split in the NC was engineered by the palace to derail democracy. Deuba just didn't get it. But instead of reuniting with the parent party, he went crawling back to the king two years later with his tail between his legs only to be sacked again on 1 February 2005.
The creation of the NC-D was conceived in conspiracy. Bogus convention members were enumerated, forged signatures were used, and padded numbers shown to the Election Commission. The Prajatantrik faction was a branch pretending to be a tree. Gyanendra's re-instatement of parliament last year should have finally made Deuba realise his blunder and return to the NC, but he lost another opportunity of political rehabilitation.
Those who created the Prajtantrik faction have drifted apart. Khum Bahadur Khadka has flown back to the old tree. Jaya Prakash Gupta, Deuba's fire-breathing Communication Minister helped set up the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF). Bijaya Gachhedar is positioning himself more as a madhesi/janajati leader than an NC-D. Sharad Singh Bhandari and Narayan Khadka find solace in the company of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai.
The only people Deuba has around him are those who will dump him at the drop of a hat. It's only their shared antipathy towards Koirala that keeps the flock together.
Deuba has never pretended to be aligned to any political philosophy. Other than a vague aversion for communism and a commitment to some form of democracy, he is unencumbered by principles. In recent days he has confined himself to translating the statements of the US ambassador and serving it up as his own. That's the reason he sounds even more confused than he actually is. By publicly declaring that there is less chance of unification, he has freed himself from the pressure of having to toe the Koirala line and show flexibility towards Maoists.
He now needs to take the process to its logical end and rule out all possibility of rejoining the NC. Diehard kangresis will then go where they belong. Opportunists will weigh their options and chose between RPP, Janshakti, and MJF, parties that are even more anti-communist. Deuba will then be left to build his own centrist party with high stakes in hydropower.
History will perhaps be kinder to the first kangresi who was decorated by the king. But even his contemporaries realise Deuba has been a victim of circumstance rather than a conspirator. He is a tool used by more adventurous personalities to write history. But history remembers, kindly or unkindly, only those who take decisions during times of crisis.
Deuba has one last chance to dissolve his party and begin afresh. Since the word Prajatantrik has already been taken by his in-laws in the RPP, how about Rashtriya Loktantrik Party? Who knows, at some point even Gyanendra and Paras may find it expedient to jump in if ex-royals ever take on a political avatar.