Nepali Times
State Of The State
The priest and the warrior


Those who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it. Never has that been more true than now.

The wish of Pushpa Kamal Dahal that the first president of the Democratic Republic of Nepal be a non-political person is reminiscent of ex-king Gyanendra's call in May 2004 for clean and competent individuals to apply for the post of prime minister.

Gyan's invitation triggered a rush to the palace gates by all manner of colourful personalities, and Dahal's offer has similarly attracted bewildering proposals. Bulk email requests from the UK in favour of a law professor in London are doing the rounds. The name of a retired UN officer is being circulated on electronic bulletin boards. A couple of socialites want the Burmese-Nepali Bahuni widow of a respected Newar communist leader.

There seems to be no shortage of claimants who seem to think they are qualified for the top job. Civil society stalwarts sitting cross-legged at Maitighar Mandala or New Baneswor junction all seem to nurse a secret ambition to be head of state.

Just as king G had no moral authority left to call for applications for the post of prime minister in 2004, Dahal too lacks the political standing to have a decisive say about a post to which he has been a claimant.

In June 2004, Taranath Rana Bhat was the frontrunner in the race to Baluwatar. Madhab Nepal and Daman Nath Dhungana were also favourites, although they hotly denied it. In the end, Sher Bahadur Deuba, fired for 'incompetence' two years previously, was brought back.

Dahal possibly floated the name of Ram Raja Prasad Singh to pre-empt the possibility of serving as premier under President Girija. For now, Singh clearly is the frontrunner with MJF and TMLD closing ranks to support a Madhesi for the top job. But the contest between the two octogenarians is far from settled.

There is more to the race between Koirala and Singh than a simplistic and possibly populist Pahadi vs Madhesi confrontation.

Philosophically, a ballot-versus-bullet contest of beliefs is involved. Ideologically, it's a face-off between principles of parliamentary democracy and the theory of presidential supremacy. In operational terms, the Maoist strategy to downsize Koirala is evident. At the level of personalities however, these two old warhorses of the democratic struggle are alike despite all their differences-both Girija Prasad and Ram Raja Prasad are destiny's children.

Koirala epitomises the character of an edgy radical thrown into the excruciatingly slow process of peaceful change through patient negotiation. Singh is a quintessential aristocrat who would have loved to argue his case till the cows came home, but was forced by circumstances to unsheath his sword.

Dahal was declared an avatar of Parsuram by the Marwari Brahman community of Kathmandu in a public function last month. In Hindu mythology, the axe-wielding Brahman is reputed to have cleansed the earth of all blood-letting Kshatriyas. But a time comes when even Parsuram has to be tamed to make the world safe for the downtrodden.

Koirala renounced violence in the mid-seventies. Singh claimed responsibility for the series of bombs on 20 June 1985 in Kathmandu-an act of pure terror that killed at least three people. He has yet to admit his historic blunder. Dahal's politics are responsible for the untimely and tragic deaths of more than 15,000 Nepalis.

Once Dahal comes out of his reverie, we will know whether he has learnt anything from history. Meanwhile, here is one more presidential candidate for the chattering classes to chatter about: Kashi Devi Jha, widow of martyr Durga Nanda Jha. A proletarian, a Madhesi , a Brahman, a character from history and a courageous woman. You can't be more politically correct than that.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)