Advance information from the prime minister's office had indicated that Lokendra Bahadur Chand's address to the nation on Monday evening would be an "important" one. It was to be broadcast live by Radio Nepal and Nepal Television.
The sense of anticipation was so strong that Radio Sagarmatha and Kantipur FM had a battery of commentators ready to pounce on the text and analyse it to bits on the spot. In the end, the preparation turned out to be pointless. Minister-in-Chief Chand delivered an anti-climax by failing to announce his expected resignation.
Earlier in the morning, Chand and his wife had performed special puja at Pashupatinath, raising hopes that he had finally realised the futility of his stay in Baluwatar. Later in the day, he faced cameras with the huge lump of holy sandalwood paste stuck to his forehead.
By his refusal to bow out gracefully, Chand has shown that he is willing to risk being kicked out as ignominiously as his predecessor. By all indications, ouster of this courtiers' cabinet is only a matter of time. For the mainstreaming process of the Maoists to continue smoothly, he and most of his colleagues will have to go. The question is no longer if, it's just how soon.
As a matter of fact, the present administration fulfilled its main function the day it was formed. The appointment of Chand as prime minister was a clear message to the Maoists and their international backers that there was no ambiguity any more in the unity of command of all the forces at the disposal of the state. For a while, all political parties could wander in the wilderness, the king had decided that a drastic disease warranted a drastic remedy.
Since 4 October, the resolution of the insurgency has been the number one priority of the real power centre, while the dummies in Singh Darbar were free to entertain the masses with their antics. In retrospect, the buffoonery of some ministers appears to have been intentional; decoys for the real behind-the-scene negotiations. Since talk about talks has come out in the open now, perhaps there is no need to maintain a virtual cabinet any longer and go for a real one that divides up the spoils among the main political contenders in the corridors of power.
The Maoists' claim that the leadership of government always goes to the successor political regime isn't without merit. After the success of the People's Movement, it was the Nepali Congress and the Left Front that took over the reigns of government, and if that precedence is to hold, Chand should prepare to hand over the charge to Baburam Bhattarai.
However, unlike in 1990 the Maoists aren't clear winners of a political movement, they are merely a party to an armed conflict. Although Maoists are more powerful than the political parties ever were, Bhattarai had to wait for a government decision in order to be able to sit for negotiations. The Maoists' power is illegitimate, hence it lacks the authority that the leaders of the People's Movement in 1990 had. Even at best, the status of the Maoist cadre is no better than that of Jhapali Communists in mid-seventies who had burst upon the Nepali political firmament with no less force at that time. Bhattarai's name may be quite acceptable to the social elite of the Kathmandu Valley as the next prime minister, but the rest of the country would not be as ready to accept him. Donors would need coaxing before they agree to do business with a person who had a price on his head till very recently.
Krishna Prasad Bhattarai's pronouncement notwithstanding, the chance of the restoration of dissolved parliament is getting more and more remote. Even if the house were to be restored, it's quite unlikely that it will once again accept Bhattarai's blue-eyed boy, Sher Bahadur Deuba, as its leader. In all probability, the new leader of the old house will now be Comrade Madhav Nepal, victor in the UML's just concluded Janakapur Convention. Perhaps it is in him that the search for the new prime minister could end. Speaker Taranath Rana Bhat is another contender, but he may remain just that.
A new premier must have the following qualities;
. political adroitness to take the process of mainstreaming of the Maoists to its logical conclusion,
. ability to see through local and parliamentary elections as soon as possible and
. must enjoy the confidence of Comrade Prachanda and Girija Prasad Koirala as well as that of certain important foreign powers.
Observers who have been following the political dexterity of Comrade Nepal in the wake of 4 October are convinced that he fits the bill on all the three counts. Had he not withdrawn from the Royal Commission to investigate the Narayanhiti Massacre, his chance would have come much earlier. But he seems to have made up for that glaring lack of courage by being instrumental in pulling down the Koirala government last year.
The commissar of Balkhu has waited in the wings for far too long. After Janakapur, Comrade Nepal is raring to go places. The next place for him could be an all-important negotiating table set for the Maoists. Comrade Prachanda should be happy to see a hammer and sickle fly over Nepal again-even if that logo has the sun symbol in the background. Blessed are the patient.