Nepali Times
Who’s the boss?


The Nepali Congress' pathological disposition to self-destruction when in power has long ceased to be a source of amusement. A comfortable majority in parliament. A history of having led two successful popular movements. A virtual monopoly on the goodwill of the international democratic fraternity. How much better could things get for the Kangresis?

From the outset, power hasn't been very propitious for the party. The seeds of today's political rancour were planted during the BP Koirala-Babar Sumshere Rana fuss over the order of precedence at democratic Nepal's first cabinet session. The death of Chiniya Kaji in November 1951, when Rakshya Dal soldiers opened fire on a procession of students, gave the humbled Rana prime minister the excuse to go after his home minister. In submitting the resignations of all the Kangresi ministers in the coalition cabinet, BP left no alternative for Mohan Sumshere Rana but to resign. Matrika Prasad Koirala's appointment as prime minister marked the rise of Nepal's first popular government. It also institutionalised political bickering in the Nepali Congress. The BP-MP confrontations were essentially a struggle for supremacy between the party and the government. The country never got to know who won, but BP got the party and Matrika Prasad Koirala got the prime minister's job and his own party. (BP was taking on not only his half brother but also Nepal's first full-fledged "dictator", duly designated by the delegates to the September 1950 Bairganiya conference of the Nepali Congress.)

More than two-thirds of the political activists who helped the palace build the partyless Panchayat system crossed over from the Nepali Congress. You could argue that the proportion only mirrored the preponderance of the party then. In that case, you would also have to acknowledge that amid such a large floating population, Tulsi Giri was much more than a flawed personality. He personified a culture. We'll never know whether 15 December, 1960 would have come the way it did had Subarna Sumshere Rana's political ambitions been as influential as his money.

BP Koirala is credited with theorising national reconciliation during the turbulent 1970s. But it was Ganesh Man Singh who successfully tested that vision by striking an anti-panchayat alliance with the communists. When the people prevailed over the panchas, what did Singh end up with? A third Koirala brother towering over the party. In retrospect, it's surprising that Singh took so long to walk out of the Nepali Congress. (The delay worked in favour of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, though, who thrived on the ground between Ganeshmanji and Girijababu.)

In the latest party-government tussle, the fate of the emergency was hardly the real issue for either side. If party president Girija Prasad Koirala really wanted to find out whether the country needed another six-month suspension of fundamental rights, he would have consulted the district, municipal and village Kangresis ensconced in the security of the capital, instead of members of the central working committee.

Deuba, for his part, knew he would eventually have to learn to live without the emergency. But the opportunity to settle scores was just too good to be squandered. Koirala should have given Deuba his six-month extension just to keep all those lower house MPs happy.

I have a strong feeling that Deuba was in favour of an extension motion all along. His comments to the contrary at the airport had nothing to do with jet-lag. The decoy allowed him to do his job without having to worry about the next surprise Koirala and Madhav Kumar Nepal might spring. With the Kangresi mantle having passed from the first generation to the third, the relevance of what Yogendra Man Serchan, Dewan Singh Rai, Saroj Koirala and Tej Bahadur Amatya said or did is limited to Martyrs Week discussions. The identity crisis younger Kangresis face today is perhaps natural. Ram Chandra Poudel considered the party's directive to Deuba to withdraw the extension motion as unfortunate. A day later, he saw the prime minister make a more tragic mistake. By the third day, he was struggling to hold the middle path with fellow travellers. Since everybody expected Shailaja Acharya to demonise Deuba for plotting against democracy, attention automatically shifted to Sushil Koirala. The party general secretary is willing to take the heat for the distortions created by all the Kangresi governments since 1990. That's a noble gesture from a man who has never served as a minister. What we really want to know, though, is what crossed Sushil's mind when he shot off that letter to Deuba. (If you believe Shailaja, Sushil is part of the reprehensible plot while masquerading in public to be Deuba's principal rival).

Where Koirala, Nepal and the five other participants (I feel compelled to avoid the more specific "speakers" in deference to the silence forced upon Badri Prasad Mandal) at the Open Theatre mass meeting erred was in trying to whip up the spectre of an alien invasion without considering the corollary. If Deuba was so fixated with deploying foreign troops across the Maoist hinterland to save his job, wouldn't he have had to extend the emergency first?

So, who do you think is the boss-the party president or the premier? Before you hand in your answers, isn't it nice that Deuba has finally learned to put his foot down?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)