Nepali Times Asian Paints
State Of The State
Senility and the saviour syndrome


Nobody is welcome at the Bhainsepati residence of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. The two-time premier lives in self-imposed isolation in a modest house provided to him by Mahottari MP Sharad Singh Bhandari. Kisunji has to be referred to by his initials 'KP' rather than 'Bhattarai' as the familiarity of that surname is now claimed by Baburam. KP hits headlines these days only when he says something outrageous or does something absurd.

Two years ago he vehemently opposed the agreement between the seven party alliance and the Maoists in New Delhi. His silence spoke louder than words during the April Uprising. When Gyanendra was forced to restore parliament, Bhattaraibaje as MP didn't even bother to attend. When the house passed the interim constitution, he was absent.

A month ago, KP was the only politician of any consequence to visit a convalescing Paras. Soon after, he resigned from the party he helped found when the NC decided to go for a federal republic. There is no telling what surprise the old man will spring next. In normal circumstances, it wouldn't have been necessary to pay attention to the antics of a bachelor octogenarian who has to be carried by two assistants up and down the stairs.

But circumstances are not normal. The elections were deferred at the last minute. There is no new date. The Maoists have called for a special session of parliament to debate the fate of a suspended king. According to the amended interim constitution, the legislature can vote out the monarchy by two-thirds majority if it is found that the king had been hatching conspiracies against elections. But who is to judge who is against polls, if it's the Maoists who keep shifting the goalposts? Meanwhile in the countryside, the mountains are restive and the plains are smouldering.

This is why KP's laconic statement may be significant. Whatever else he may be, this lifelong warrior for democracy can't be dismissed lightly as a royal lackey. There must be something that makes him fear for Nepal's "nationality, integrity and independence".

Nationality for the people of KP's generation implies the Nepali jati. That is indeed under threat because only a pluralistic Nepaliyata nationalism will be acceptable to those struggling for identity and representation. The meaning of national integrity in the Cold War lexicon used to be a strong centre commanding undivided loyalty of all. That too is sure to fall by the wayside as Nepal finds federalism. But there is no relativity to independence. It is freedom from political control by other countries.

If there is any such threat, KP should know. He still has more friends in the Nehru-Gandhi family in New Delhi, where the Koirala surname is frowned upon, than anybody else in Kathmandu. And he has been a favourite figure of Americans for decades. What does he fear then: interference from our unusually quiet northern neighbour?

The paranoia over national sovereignty may partly be a result of guilt. Madhesis remember how KP as prime minister once implied that people of plains were somehow unfit to be soldiers. Even so, he won the first parliamentary election of his life from Birganj. Perhaps it's payback time and KP knows he is now at a political deadend with very few supporters and an obsolete ideology.

KP used to admit that his ancestors came into Kathmandu Valley tugging at the tail of Prithbi Narayan Shah's horse. But there isn't much he can do to rescue this cornered king. Hence his exonerations to nationalism, the first recourse of republicans and the last refuge of royalists.

CK lal in

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)