19-25 August 2016 #822

The game changer

Rameshwar Bohara in Himal Khabarpatrika (14-20 August)

Bikram Rai

Three months ago, Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba was ridiculed by some of his own party leaders for having been taken for a ride by Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Deuba had proposed an alliance with Dahal to topple the KP Oli government, and Dahal had agreed to form a new ruling coalition with the NC. But Dahal backed off at the last minute, prompting political pundits to conclude that an NC-Maoist partnership was not likely.

But sure enough, Dahal did end up pulling the rug out from under the Oli government, forming a new government with the NC last month — surprising many sceptics. Central to this marriage of convenience was NC leader Bimalendra Nidhi, who held several secret meetings with domestic and outside figures to make regime change happen. Nidhi, it is now known, played a pivotal role in breaking the Maoist-UML communist alliance, unseating a ‘nationalist’ Oli government, catapulting the NC to power, and facilitating the entry of Madhesi dissidents into Singha Darbar.

“Nidhi turned out to be a game changer,” says political analyst Puranjan Acharya. “He was behind every political move that eventually resulted in the NC-Maoist partnership, and it has allowed him to take a great leap in his political career.” Deuba honoured Nidhi’s contribution by making him Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister in the new government led by Dahal.

However, as often happens in Nepali politics, senior NC leaders are now feeling insecure because of Nidhi’s sudden rise and influence. Sources say Deuba is also thinking of appointing Nidhi as the NC Vice President, further fuelling consternation in Congress circles.

But those who understand the recent history and dynamics of the NC say that while Nidhi’s rise is dramatic, it is not unexpected. Nidhi was always by Deuba’s side when he emerged as the leader of the anti-establishment camp in the NC. Narayan Khadka, Minendra Rijal, Bal Bahadur KC and Prakash Man Singh later defected from the Deuba camp, but Nidhi’s support has never wavered.

The Koiralas once saw Nidhi as the ultimate leader of the Deuba camp, and Nidhi has now demonstrated what they meant. Nidhi’s father, Mahendra Narayan Nidhi, was close to Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. When Bhattarai chose Deuba as his protégé, the junior Nidhi also joined the Deuba camp instead of the Koiralas.

After Ram Baran Yadav became President and Mahant Thakur and Bijaya Gachhadar broke off to form their own Madhes-based parties, Nidhi became the senior-most Madhesi leader in the NC.

Nidhi’s biggest drawback is that he is seen as an Indian stooge, and merely acting at New Delhi’s behest to persuade Dahal to topple the UML government. He has also been embroiled in controversy for overtly backing an Indian company to build the Kathmandu-Tarai fast-track highway.