Nepali Times
You ain’t seen nothing yet.


If you thought the split in the Nepali Congress would end instability and focus the minds of politicians to restoring peace and governance, think again.

Expect even uglier scenes as two Congresses grapple for the party's four-star flag, its powerful symbol (tree), and the party name. What is surprising is that the climax of this epic battle appears to be completely removed from the country's present crisis. There is a disconnect. This makes the Deuba-Koirala feud even more surrealistic. The Maoists themselves are quiet, and don't seem to see the point in overthrowing a government that is busy overthrowing itself.

It may take months for the Supreme Court and the Election Commission to decide on how the 53-year-old party's spoils should be divided. Till that happens, everything else will be on hold.

First, the Election Commission has to decide which is the legitimate Nepali Congress: picking between Koirala's legally elected party body and Deuba's hurriedly cobbled together team.

The EC will probably decide to reinstate the Girija Congress, leaving Deuba with no party with which to contest elections. The deadline to register a new party ends on 10 July.

How could things have got so nasty? A brief recap:
. May 1999: Nepali Congress wins a majority in Parliament. KP Bhattarai is prime minister and brings in sidekicks. Koirala immediately begins needling him.
. March 2000: Koirala engineers Bhattarai's exit and installs himself as prime minister. KP gets Deuba to challenge Koirala. , and is defeated.
. January 2001: Deuba tries again, is defeated and is drubbed by Koirala again at the Pokhara Convention.
. June 2001: royal massacre, a new Maoist offensive.
. July 2001: Koirala resigns after failing to get Army to retaliate against Maoists in Holleri.
. August 2001: Deuba gets Maoists to agree to truce and talks.
. November 2001: Maoists break truce, attack Army in Ghorahi.
. 22 May 2002: Party brass orders Deuba not to extend the emergency, who retaliates immediately by getting the king to dissolve parliament and call for elections. Party expels Deuba for three years.
. 16 June: Deuba convenes "party convention", re-writes rules, expels Koirala as president and installs himself as head of rump Congress.

And that's where Nepal now stands with elections for 13 November, though few believe it will be full, free and fair. The Maoists have been strategising and have sent signals they don't want elections. And if the polls can't take place, we have a constitutional crisis which King Gyanendra will have to unravel.

Suddenly, Deuba is not as strong as he once seemed, and he appears to have banked a bit too much on the support of the international community. Of the elected 18 Central Working Committee (CWC) members, Deuba has been able to take only six. He thought mediators Ram Chandra Poudel and Mahesh Acharya were on his side, but got a rude shock when they defected.

Till this week, state media was still giving glowing accounts of the prime minister's party takeover. CWC member Narahari Acharya tried to patch-up till the last moment on Tuesday. He told us: "Deuba shouldn't have taken the legal path, it will make it more difficult for him once this is over."

There too still too many "ifs". What if the Election Commission freezes the disputed party symbol and flag? What if it reaches a decision only after the deadline for registering a new party has passed? When will the Supreme Court finish hearing four different lawsuits, with 36 lawyers arguing and only four-hour session daily?

What intrigues one ex-minister is how Deuba, known as an indecisive prime minister who has been sitting on ten ambassadorial appointments, hurriedly decided to dissolve parliament within two hours on 22 May. "Don't ask me who is pulling Deuba's strings," the minister told us. The answer may lie in the joke that was being whispered at the Birendra Convention Centre this week: Q: "What is the name of Deuba's faction?" A: "Royal Nepali Congress."

One man hasn't spoken up yet: patriarch KP Bhatarai. Can he still pull a rabbit out of his hat?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)