On Monday, as a television show recording finished, Krishna Prasad Sitaula got a call on his mobile asking if he was free to talk. It was from the prime minister's office. In a few minutes, there was a direct call again: this time from PM Dahal himself.
After exchanging warm pleasantries and joking (Dahal asked about Sitaula's disappearing act and Sitaula said it was impossible to get through to the PM after he took office), Dahal got down to business. He wanted to know what the NC had in mind with its Biratnagar rally and asked for support.
Sitaula responded that NC would not hamper the constitution writing exercise and urged Dahal to meet Girija Koirala again.
The same evening, at the Sadbhawana Diwali get-together, all three leaders found themselves sharing a sofa. Dahal immediately pointed out Sitaula to Koirala and said he had reached out and wanted to fix a meeting. Girija said he had referred to his 'sentimental attachment' with Dahal only that morning, and would be happy to meet.
Is this the beginning of a kangres-maobadi thaw? Unfortunately not. Beneath the surface, the trust deficit between the two parties is deep and small talk over tea will not be enough to bridge it. The NC feels cheated.
Koirala still sees the Maoists refusal to give him the presidency as a betrayal. The NC rank and file feels they have appeased the Maoists enough during the peace process and wants to take an aggressive stance.
NC moderates Sitaula, Shekhar Koirala and even Ram Chandra Poudel are relatively weak. They are peeved with the Maoist arrogance and claim it is ridiculous to expect them to work with a party which has categorised the NC as their 'dushman'. Yet, it is not this school which poses the problem to cooperation, it is the party's rightwing (Sher Bahadur Deuba and his technocrat cronies, Govinda Raj Joshi, K B Gurung and Sujata Koirala) who feel NC suffered because of its association with the Maoists and that it should distance itself.
The Maoist version is different. They feel the kangresis are sore losers and can't reconcile to being just a junior partner in an alliance. Maoist politicians claim they have made the effort and are being flexible on all fronts, including integration. It is the NC which is unclear and not reciprocating. Some Maoists admit privately that they botched up on the presidency but say the NC insistence on the defence ministry and decision not to join the cabinet was wrong.
Like on most other things, there is division in the Maoist top brass on the question of engaging with the NC. Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai realise that their political survival is dependent on the success of this process, which cannot happen without NC. If this means keeping their ambitions of total political consolidation in check for now, they are willing.
Not everyone in the party sees it that way. They feel the NC is a spent force and can be brushed aside.
If we want a constitution in two or even three years, the country needs the NC and the Maoists to work together. This does not mean NC has to join the government as some are demanding, it is their prerogative to stay out.
Neither does it mean that the Maoists need to get hyper if the NC organises rallies and criticises the government, that is their job. But sections of the NC need to stop flirting with the idea of overthrowing the Maoists in six months. The party also needs to come up with specific demands and constructive proposals instead of only ranting at rallies.
The NC moderates Maoist impulses. The Maoists keep a check on the right wing in the NC and forces it towards the social justice agenda. Both have their class biases and constituencies at odds with each other. Neither can
prevail totally over the other. It is fine if they discreetly consolidate and cater to these biases.
Competitive politics is natural but confrontation needs to be postponed for two years till we have a stable political system. Otherwise, the NC will become the rallying point of the right wing. The Maoists will veer towards an ultra-left agenda. And the people will be caught in the middle and continue to suffer.