Sher Bahadur Deuba's NC-D and Madhab Nepal's UML had debased themselves by associating with the royals. Untainted with any accusation of compromising sovereignty of the people, the NC was riding high on the success of the April Uprising. Prime Minister Koirala was inches away from being the tallest statesman in Nepal's history.
He brought the marauding Maoists into the mainstream. The king was pensioned off into the palace. The extreme left and rabid right tightly reigned in, it appeared for a while that he would build on centrist politics. The international community was in awe of the octogenarian. President Jimmy Carter called him his "hero". Manmohan Singh pronounced him a South Asian stalwart .
The Koirala coterie at Baluwatar must miss those heady days. How things have changed in a year. Ever since the Madhes Uprising last year, the NC's credibility has seriously eroded. When Mahantha Thakur walked out of interim parliament and the NC to float his own party, an unperturbed Koirala reportedly told his madhes flock that a "slight overflow from a full vessel didn't mean the pot was leaking". That would be true if the NC still had its traditional base in the tarai intact. But the ground has shifted.
Thakur's commitment to national integrity, republican democracy and probity in public life is quite well known. He was one of very few ministers who didn't need to cultivate a clean image and his honesty was beyond reproach. His uncanny ability to swim with the flow of power politics is less publicised. Thakur is street-savvy with a keen survival instinct. If a person like him deserted the NC, it probably means the party is a sinking ship in the tarai.
Had it not been for the rebellion of Thakur, Maoist footman Matrika Yadav wouldn't have gotten re-entry into Singha Darbar on his own terms. Remember, Koirala had gruffly told Yadav to go where he had come from. Since nobody loves a loser, Koirala better prepare for his shine to wear off. The NC needs to act, and act immediately, if it is to be saved from electoral annihilation in the tarai.
Thakur's Tarai-Madhes Loktantrik Party isn't like Deuba's experiment of cohabiting with the army to seal lucrative defence deals. Everybody knew Deuba had no alternative vision for the Congress, it was all about power. The TMLP has begun its business by talking about self-respect and social justice. Whoever took the initiative to 'expel' Thakur from NC when he had already resigned on his own will probably escape lightly. But Koirala will have to pay the price of that political blunder. Playing with questions of identity and dignity is fraught with consequences of unimagined proportions.
These are the twilight years of Koirala's career, it is headed towards decline and demise. His daughter Sujata Koirala is positioning herself as heir apparent, but by waving the card of constitutional monarchy. Even she seems to have failed to gauge people's frustrations with politics of elite consensus.
Nepal may just be a paper republic now, but no other future is likely to meet the aspirations of a large section of Nepalis.