After a month of haggling between coalition partners over control of key portfolios, Sher Bahadur Deuba has finally succeeded in assembling a team. Looking at the crowd of usual suspects in the cabinet makes you wonder why it took Deuba so long to put this bunch together.
He went through the inevitable: suffer the indignity of compromising everything to please his new partners. The farcical exercise of cabinet formation was made even more tragic by its sheer futility. His cabinet colleagues are going to have an even lesser role to play in the governance of the country. Unless parliamentary procedures are brought back on track, ministers in Singha Darbar have no responsibility, which means they have no right to set their own agenda. They are functionaries entrusted with the task of implementing the royal command.
Deuba knows his limitations, and he knows his coalition partners know it. But he decided to play along with the face-saving games of the RPP and UML. In order to placate his uneasy young cadres, Comrade Madhab Nepal had to show he was driving a hard bargain. Pashupati Sumshere is yet to prove that pulling down the government of his own party was somehow a worthwhile political exercise. Badri Prasad Mandal, the man behind the first public felicitation of King Gyanendra and deputy prime minister of first post-October Fourth order, must be having a hearty laugh at the discomfiture of all his coalition partners. He is the only one who doesn't need to prove anything to anybody, so he has happily accepted a downgrade.
Deuba's main task now is to keep his jumbo afloat. The military in Pakistan gives its civilian heads of government up to 30 months before it begins to rotate them. The Narayanhiti palace is no less adroit at keeping our politicos on their toes. In the BBC comedy series Yes Minister, someone says "permanence is power, rotation is castration". That seems to be the palace's motto as well.
Having read the signals more correctly, Comrade Khadga Oli, (Madhab Nepal's bete noir in the UML) gives this government a life span of six months. Deuba's own senior party colleagues aren't too happy with the composition of the government since it is dominated by those who were unable to even get themselves elected to parliament in the last election. With a few exceptions, Deuba's party in the cabinet is represented by lightweights.
The RPP couldn't stand the stress and is cracking up: even while some of its stalwarts were taking their oaths at the royal palace, others were at the Hyatt plotting a split. Thapa loyalists mulled three options: oust party chairman Pashupati Sumshere, intensify the intra-party struggle, or launch a new party. They decided on the third.
So, to summarise, Narayanhiti Palace continues to be both referee and centre forward in this country's politics. An avowedly royalist outfit like the RPP is quite comfortable with this, the UML is satisfied with the pork barrel benefits of being in government and the less said about the politics of Badri Mandal the better. That leaves Deuba entrusted with the task of keeping this unruly herd together.
Deuba has to show he is boss when someone else is actually pulling the strings. For his own survival, Deuba must keep his hands off the serious games being played behind the scenes. His role on the stage is to keep people guessing. He can make it a little more tolerable by trying to be sincere and honest in doing what he is expected to do rather than pretending.
His sole agenda should be to make the lives of Nepalis a little more bearable in his third term. Other than that, there is very little he can do without risking being thrown out like his predecessors.