21-27 June 2013 #661

Congress congress

The congress government in New Delhi finally rolled the red carpet for Nepal’s grand old party
Anurag Acharya
After snubbing the Nepali Congress for the last two years, New Delhi finally rolled out the red carpet for vice-chair Sher Bahadur Deuba as if he was a head of state. Such is the significance of a Delhi visit here that the reception the NC’s second man got in Delhi put to rest any doubt about the party’s continued significance in Nepali politics.

But most Kangresis aren’t exactly thrilled and complain instead that the manner of the visit was aimed at humiliating the party president Sushil Koirala and discouraging Deuba’s arch rival Ramchandra Poudel. Koirala was seen to have been punished for his angry reaction conveyed to the ambassador himself to remarks by India’s Birganj consul general about the Madhes.

Deuba, for his part, suddenly seems a more reassured politician and already has a prime ministerial swagger. His statements to the media after landing at the TIA were short and diplomatic, one could say almost statesmanlike. Such is the effect of taking a Delhi shuttle.

Later, Bhusan Dahal of Fireside grilled Deuba about whether India was in favour of UCPN (M)’s model of democracy or the one proposed by the Nepali Congress. Deuba sounded like he was echoing something someone had recently told him somewhere: “Both parties have accepted fundamentals of democracy and expressed commitment to its basic principles. So there are no two models.”

Dahal wasn’t satisfied and pressed on, trying to trap Deuba into saying something about Pushpa Kamal’s suggestion that India was in favour of linguistic federalism. Deuba deftly sidestepped the question.

At a time when most NC and UML leaders have been high-pitched about the UCPN (M)’s democratic credentials and commitment, Deuba’s comments point to a new willingness to engage in a healthy competition with political rivals rather than endlessly antagonise them. He has tried to use the visit to distinguish himself from Koirala’s leadership, which is seen to be rigid and unpragmatic.?

From a reputation of being an impatient, immature, and short-sighted leader, Sher Bahadur Deuba is suddenly exhibiting political acumen, level headedness, and most importantly, tolerance towards dissenting views.

These are not just healthy signs for the oldest party, but also a silver lining for Nepali politics, which has been paralysed by dissent, deadlock, and a sense of drift. While the NC with its legacy of struggle claims to be a pillar of Nepali democracy, the new forces including the Maoists and the Madhesi Morcha want to redefine those pillars.

The distinctiveness about Nepal’s political transition is that the political system envisioned by different social movements since the 2006 People’s Movement has rejected the outside models in favour of a system that best reflects the aspirations of the majority as well as minorities of this land.

Despite widespread resentment, political parties are still the only legitimate bodies who represent that aspiration. The failure of the last CA should have made it clear to the political top brass that statute drafting is not a ‘winner takes all’ affair but a concerted effort to institutionalise a way of life for the nation.

In a society with plurality of views like ours, we need leaders who can take a step back at times in order to take a collective stride forward. This affords the Nepali Congress the opportunity to reinvent itself in the upcoming election by fielding a new crop of candidates with fresh ideas.

Other columns by Anurag Acharya

Not everybody's cup of tea

Easier said than done

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