Nepali Times Asian Paints
Crisis leadership


The post-4 October atmosphere has allowed us to take a fresh look at our mainstream leaders and ponder our politics. Let's face it. We misjudged Girija Prasad Koirala's proposal for a "broader democratic alliance".

When the Nepali Congress patriarch first made the plea last year, the most charitable critics dismissed it as going against the principle of majority rule. Those of us who were positive Koirala was only trying to return to Baluwatar in time for the Kathmandu SAARC summit were misled by his record. When Koirala said his party's majority in parliament amounted to nothing, who could have imagined the entire House of Representatives-barring the speaker and his deputy -would be wallowing in irrelevance barely halfway through their tenure? The consistent flip-flops of a man who built a 50-year political career on an image of steely determination had to have some explanation. Had Kangresis-and the rest of the country-heeded Koirala's one-man-two-posts counsel, we'd be somewhere close to another boisterous winter session of parliament now.

Long-time Koirala associates say he excels in adversity. With leading figures of the breakaway Nepali Congress (Democratic) either in jail or in disgrace, Koirala should have little problem wooing back the rank and file to rebuild the party. Once he's reasonably sure democracy is back on track, Koirala should honestly retire from politics or declare himself party chief for life. Both would be an infringement of democracy, but nothing in between can work anymore.

Maligned for having offered only critical support to a constitution that two of its leading luminaries helped draft, the UML has used this crisis to its advantage. Madhav Kumar Nepal has shown his party is fully committed to the parts of the basic law it supported from the start. After the Siliguri conclave, the Maoists dismissed Nepal as the torchbearer of the Rayamajhi Reds. The characterisation was among the few constants as the UML struggled to fuse its republican ideology with Nepal's realities. When good ol' Keshar Jung began explaining how he plotted our political trajectory over the last two years, Nepal asserted that a violation of the 1990 covenant by one signatory would free the other two from their obligations. The comrade hopped off to conferences in Colombo and Bangkok to register the country's presence in the international democratic community. Upbraiding KP Sharma Oli for breaching party discipline by seizing the palace's olive branch, Nepal has set new conditions for joining the government. (He should have been less harsh on Oli, the only member of the UML triumvirate who hasn't served as deputy prime minister.)

The RPP has a real problem. It can't afford to fully support or oppose Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand ahead of a stormy party convention. The four-way leadership contest is complicated by party president Surya Bahadur Thapa's longing to ram through a charter amendment and serve a third consecutive term. Some ex-panchas see the current crisis as a rare opportunity to prove their liberal democratic credentials. Others are lured by the monopoly on power they once enjoyed. The rest don't want another split in the most fissile party. If you're not sure whether the RPP is or isn't part of the government, don't expect an answer until after the party convention. The status of Deputy Prime Minister Badri Prasad Mandal of Nepal Sabhavana Party, too, should be clear by then.
You can get a fair idea of the irrelevance of the smaller parties from how timid Lila Mani Pokharel's anti-palace speeches sound amid Koirala's and Nepal's tirades.

The greatest metamorphosis has been Sher Bahadur Deuba's. By relying almost exclusively on Bushies and Blairites, he ended up alienating almost everyone inside the country. From the silence that marked his ouster, you get a feeling that not many people in Washington or London were terribly impressed either. To be fair, Deuba's ability to hold the elections on schedule was impaired by the sustained scepticism of his adversaries. He insisted he had endorsed the all-party statement only as a goodwill gesture to the other signatories at a time when the Election Commission and security agencies were ready for the polls. The only point where Deuba stood up for prime ministerial prerogative-trying to stay in office for another year-brought him down. In the end, the "incompetence" label may help erase the Tulsi Giri trademark. Deuba, however, should quit trying to compare himself to BP Koirala. Even Giri briefly went to jail with BP before emerging as the chief Panchayat ideologue.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)