Girija Prasad Koirala excused himself from the first sitting of the historic interim legislature. It was left to Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to table the proposal for the endorsement of the interim constitution adopted unanimously shortly before at the last sitting of the restored House of Representatives. Viewers glued to the live telecast of that momentous event probably thought it was time we started looking for another prime minister.
There are reasons Koirala's transitional leadership will be remembered-the marginalisation of the Shah rulers on the strength of the April Uprising; the mainstreaming of the Maoists through negotiations; ending the statelessness of madhesis by enacting civilised citizenship laws; and promulgating the interim constitution and forming the interim legislature. If he were to take Maoists on board in the interim executive and hold the constituent assembly election on schedule in a peaceful manner, Koirala's place among the political greats will be secured.
But no nation can live on the force of history alone. Nepal needs a leader who can steer the country ahead in the coming days. In an entry made on 25 January 1977 in his Sundarijal jail diary, BP Koirala lists five qualities desirable in a Nepali leader. The person must:
. Enjoy the support of the people and be able to govern the country with their consent
. Be conscious of national identity and be recognised as a nationalist inside and outside the country
. Be committed to slightly left-of-centre domestic policies
.Be acceptable to India
.l Not be opposed to China.
Three decades later we can add two more prerequisites-not be persona non grata in the US, and enjoy the confidence of major European donors. For now, these conditions rule out the emergence of a national leader from among the Maoist or UML politburo. We'll either have to accept a leader from the Nepali Congress or embrace some former pancha the UML thrusts upon us.
The influential international community seems to want a unified Congress with Sushil Koirala as chair and Sher Bahadur Deuba as parliamentary leader, the idea being that such a rightwing formation will be easier for the Nepal Army to accept.
The UML has worked with Deuba in the past and Maoists won't be too uncomfortable with a person renowned for his pliancy. The loophole: Deuba lost all credibility when he became a pawn in Gyanendra's autocratic experiments and as fourth-time prime minister will be the laughing stock of the country.
Leftwing Indian politicos would love a Maoist-UML coalition. If Sitaram Yechury of CPI (M) could facilitate that, it's possible that Speaker Subhas Nembang will emerge as a universally acceptable janajati prime minister.
Chitralekha Yadav could similarly be the first woman prime minister if the UML, taking broad hints from the Indian socialists, played the populist card. The party has lowest madhesi representation in the interim parliament-only 14 percent of the UML lawmakers are madhesi, compared with the Maoists' 25 percent. To broaden its support base, the UML must make a bid for Nepal's three largest unclaimed vote-banks-backward communities, madhesis, and women. No one fits the bill like Yadav, the Siraha woman who could neutralise firebrands like Jwala Singh, Jay Krishna Goit, and Matrika Yadav on their home turf.
Of course, all these permutations are merely in the realm of possibility. For now, anybody Koirala deems fit will be the new leader.
Unlike most political parties that follow at least a semblance of democratic practice, all the NC chairman has to do is fish out a list from his pocket and the central committee goes quiet. The mantle of NC leadership will probably stay within the Koirala clan. But should the prime minister so desire, a loyal stopgap leader from outside the family isn't impossible. It could be BB Tamang, KB Gurung, or Mahanth Thakur. One thing is certain. If the NC and UML stick with their traditional Bahun-Chhetri-Newar male leadership, they will soon be history.