MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Nepal did once petition the king to be appointed prime minister, but that was during the hybrid royal-military regime when the CEO of the country was also the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. This time, in GPK's metaphor, the prize of premiership fell into Nepal's lap like a ripe mango.
Nepal had once also aspired to be the president of the republic with the help of Maoists. But it didn't take long for him to realise the futility of that dream. Having spent the better part of his life in various communist parties, Comrade Nepal knows that no apparatchik willingly accepts another even as a ceremonial superior.
What actually led to Nepal's surprise selection remains unknown. Koirala may have thought that it would be imprudent to step into a chair just vacated by the leader of the largest party in the legislature. Chairman Jhalanath Khanal was probably considered too beholden to Pushpa Kamal Dahal to lead an anti-Maoist coalition. Mercurial Upendra Yadav was unlikely to receive the sanction of those who have the final say in the making and unmaking of governments these days.
Meanwhile, the paper crown of premiership, pasted overnight with the joint effort of proactive diplomats and an assertive military had to be put upon Nepal's head precisely because he was the unlikeliest candidate to resist a rightist roadmap of the Kathmandu establishment.
Even Nepal didn't expect to be at the head of an anti-Maoist coalition so soon after Dahal had bequeathed the chairmanship of Constitution Drafting Committee upon him. There is no other explanation for the complete absence of vision, mission or plan of the anti-Maoist formation at the helm of government.
Other than an irresistible urge to have their hands at the till during a period of extreme volatility, Premier Nepal's existing and probable colleagues have no plausible reason to join a government that is fated to fail even before being formed.
Fortunately, the Maoists have been kind towards the new government: their protests provide legitimacy to a ruling coalition that has done nothing to deserve such vigorous opposition. But now that Nepal is in hot seat, he has to make best use of this historic opportunity.
The greatest challenge for Nepal is to prove his authenticity. The Maoists can't question his legitimacy because they were the ones to give cabinet berths to non-elected politicians in the previous government.
The prime minister can prove his political antecedents by insisting that at least all his senior colleagues be directly elected CA members. His helplessness in accepting the nominations of Bidya Bhandari and Sujata Koirala is understandable, but exceptions should not be allowed to become the rule. Nepal needs to be prudent in choosing his cabinet colleagues from his own party as well as from his coalition partners. He needn't hurry or worry, other than the Maoists no one can unseat him without losing credibility.
Asserting his authority is a little trickier for a premier who owes his position not only to constituent assembly members but also to various extra constitutional players. The Bhadrakali Brass has thrown a challenge by insisting on the prosecution of an officer who just accepted the order of the government of the day. Premier Nepal has erred by extending the tenure of eight generals who had retired from their posts even as their combined appeal remains sub-judice.
The ripe mango in Premier Nepal's lap is too small to be shared by all anti-Maoist forces in the country and outside. No matter what he does, Nepal would have to take the blame for being a lame duck prime minister, appointed merely to keep the seat warm for a more suitable successor.
Meanwhile, he has an unusual opportunity to prove the old hypothesis that accidents of history often produce extraordinary leaders. The mango tree grows from a seed. Being and nothingness are all about fundamental freedoms of human beings against determinists of all stripes.