If Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala was wondering why it was getting so difficult to sell his broader democratic alliance proposal to his own party, he probably got a good idea last week. The theatrics at the central committee meetings clearly show how urgently Koirala needs to get his act together. The ruling party chief should forget about comparing notes with Madhav Kumar Nepal, Surya Bahadur Thapa and Badri Prasad Mandal and look straight in the mirror. He should consider all those one-time proteges like Sher Bahadur Deuba, Khum Bahadur Khadka, Bijay Kumar Gachchadar, Bal Bahadur KC and Jaya Prakash Gupta who have prospered in the rival camp today. Any rookie Kangresi can figure out by now how easily allegiance to Koirala can be altered into a career-enhancement tool.
The tragedy lies not in the fact that the second-generation leaders' discussions on critical national issues resembled little more than a kindergarten brawl. It lies in the deep suspicion and distrust with which they view one another and have no qualms about displaying. Prime Minister Deuba was evidently infuriated by the liberty Congress general secretary Sushil Koirala took with secondary sources while preparing his evaluation report on the state of emergency. Referring to persistent allegations that the prime minister was among senior Kangresis who had donated money to the Maoists, Deuba advised Sushil not to believe, much less paraphrase, everything he saw in print. To prove his point, Deuba recalled all those stories he had read about how Sushil had accepted Rs 60 million from a foreign benefactor before the last general election but refused to give credence to.
As for Shailaja Acharya's outbursts against the prime minister, everybody knew she couldn't stand Deuba because, among other things, he was barely out of his diapers when she was waving black flags. When the former deputy prime minister criticised Deuba for reportedly saying he would defeat the Maoists with the help of foreign forces, if that was needed, the head of government flew into a rage. Deuba challenged Shailaja to provide documentary proof (apart from those inadmissible newspaper stories) that he had ever uttered such a thing. Reaffirming his patriotism, Deuba pledged he would remain in the country to fight any foreign army even if Shailaja decided to cross into Jogbani from Biratnagar.
It turns out, however, that Shailaja detests Sushil with almost equal virulence. She accused the party general secretary of conducting midnight strategy sessions with the premier in an ostensible plot to throttle democracy while masquerading in public to be his principal rival. Sushil retorted that he had gone to Baluwatar after receiving Girija Koirala's permission. And you thought the infighting in the Koirala clan would soon be over now that Mahesh Acharya and Amod Prasad Upadhyaya have switched camps.
As for the camp in power, several state and assistant ministers have been complaining of how underemployed they were. Some have had so much difficulty killing time that they've simply stopped speaking to their departmental ministers and are concentrating on the progress of the signature campaign instead. The minister for women and social welfare says he feels doubly embarrassed at the size of the cabinet and the gender discrepancy in his own portfolio.
So why does Deuba need a 41-member cabinet when the security forces are in charge of the countryside and emergency regulations have limited political activity in the capital? Because he wants to avoid the distraction of having to check every 10 minutes whether has still has at least 57 MPs on his side. To be fair, the prime minister has pledged to form a 15-member cabinet if Girija Koirala and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai gave him a list of seven MPs each, complete with a joint undertaking to immediate call off their proxy war. Neither party elder has seriously taken what could be the key to the stability of a majority government. The situation has become so complicated that the party's pre-eminent middle-of-the-roader, Ram Chandra Poudel, is having trouble finding enough space to maintain his relevance.
Home Minister Khadka and a few other Kangresis have proposed limiting the cabinet's size to a tenth of the number of ruling party MPs. It would be tempting to dismiss Khadka's formula as hypocritical posturing when you recall the list of nearly two dozen MPs the home minister handed over to Deuba along with his ultimatum before leaving on that Australian sojourn last year. But you have to remember that the 10-percent rule would also make it easier for Khadka to manage his faction, which, by most accounts, is the most influential-and, by extension, potentially disruptive-within the fold.
I say take a wider perspective and double the spoils to 20 percent. That way, every ruling party MP would get to serve a one-year non-renewable term on the council of ministers. The ranks and portfolios can be worked out through a prudent mix of fund-raising experience, re-election prospects and time spent in prison and/or exile. You can throw in seniority and geographical origin in case there is a tie. This way, a majority parliament could expect serve out its full five-year term and the people spared mid-term radio jingles, posters and stump speeches. Of course, this formula wouldn't work in the case of a hung parliament, unless each partner of the emerging coalition agreed to abide by these terms. Even then, you would still have to find a durable framework for a minority government. It might be a good beginning, though, to set a statutory limit of one prime minister per year, which roughly corresponds to the record Nepal has maintained in the last 12 years.