Nepali Times
State Of The State
Leadership deficit


Circumstances sometimes propel weak personalities to the top. Nagendra Prasad Rijal became prime minister of the country twice during Panchayat regime, but few outside the Marwari community of Biratnagar remember him. Other than his role as a reluctant midwife of multiparty democracy in 1990, it's difficult to pinpoint contributions of Lokendra Bahadur Chand even though he served four stints at Singha Darbar.

Rijal and Chand were products of Panchayat, but Sher Bahadur Deuba became prime minister of the country after democracy. During his first term, he had to resort to pork barrel politics to save his government from collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.

When Deuba went into Baluwatar as the leader of a majority government in 2001, within a few months of the Narayanhiti massacre, vastu experts, feng sui consultants, siddha sanyasis, itinerant yogis, indigenous dhamis and renowned tantriks were engaged to placate the stars.

Apparently, the heavenly bodies weren't amused. Deuba became the first premier in modern history to be sacked not once but twice by the king. He served his third term as a loyal henchman of the royal CEO and was put under house arrest even before being served with a dismissal order.

But despite his spectacular failures, Deuba isn't considered the weakest prime minister of the country. The choice for the dubious distinction has to be made between Padma Shamsher (1945-1948) and Ranganath Poudel (1837-1838).

Padma's predicaments were real. The Ranas lost their patrons as the British went home from India, leaving native potentates to their own devices. To his credit, Padma did try to modernise statecraft, but had no courage to implement the constitution he promulgated in the face of opposition from his restive cousins. He chose honourable exit and went into self-exile.

Ranganath Poudel was fortunate. He was the guru of Rajendra Bikram Shah and didn't expect to be a mukhtiyar - the job usually went to Chhetri nobles from Gorkha or to Kathmandu's military aristocrats. But in the conspiracy-ridden politics of 1830s, he was the only person acceptable to everyone in the all-powerful coterie of the Darbar. He put the condition that he would accept mukhtiyari only if Bhimsen Thapa was released. Rajendra complied but harboured the suspicion that Ranganath Guru was probably more loyal to the British Resident Brian Hodgson than to the king.

The shifty monarch once said Rangnath was a man of first-rate talent but second-rate honesty. So the first Bahun premier of the country couldn't do much and had to bow out in disgrace. Rangnath was probably a victim and not a failure, but he is considered to be the weakest prime minister in Nepal's history. It seems now he has some competition.

Just as all competing groups of the palace had accepted Rangnath's nomination 170 years ago, Pushpa Kamal Dahal became prime minister with the support of 25 political parties in the constituent assembly. The NC could have accepted a supportive role in the government had Dahal offered it in a proper manner, but the NC was so demoralised it opted out . Buoyed by the prospect of leftwing unity, the Maoist Supremo forgot that UML would not carry him on its shoulders for nothing. As cost-benefit analysts, the schemers of Balkhu palace are some of the best in the business.

It's understandable that the Maoists want a presidential system of government. Its party chief can then reign, rule, and roll unchallenged all over the domain. But consensus is the hallmark of a parliamentary system. When the prime minister is merely first among equals, he has to be a leader that commands the respect of all his colleagues and competitors alike.

An ideal leader is the one who rules with the consent of the ruled, guides by being at the head of the group, and inspires all others by setting an example. Dahal needs to ask himself: "Am I just a party supremo, or am I the prime minister of this country?"

The soul of Ranganath Guru can now rest in peace. In the lineup of weak prime ministers, the most recent entrant is also perhaps the least efficient, his legendary craftiness notwithstanding.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)