24-30 April 2015 #755

The final redemption

The good news is that the constitution has become the only way for senior leaders to ensure a political future for themselves
Anurag Acharya
Two weeks ago, we had said in this space that the opposition has run out of options and will have no choice but to return to the negotiation table. It is likely that the Maoist-led opposition will soon attend their first Constituent Assembly meeting, since they boycotted the house in February.

Among many other things, politics is also determined by the sum of fears among its protagonists. Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s fear of disappearing into political oblivion forced him to unilaterally call off street protests and engage in the ongoing dialogue. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has his own fears to manage: for any negotiation to succeed, the incentive to cooperate among the protagonists must be greater than that to outplay one another. In a reverse prisoner dilemma, both have wisely chosen to maximise their own gains rather than trying to inflict maximum harm on each other.

This inability to dictate a political course and dipping public support means the Maoists and the Madhesis are forced to engage with the ruling parties. But the government assuring the Maoists of the judicial review on the landmark Supreme Court verdict on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission/ Commission on Enforced Disappearances is plain ridiculous. It demonstrates Sushil Koirala’s desperation to buy the opposition at any cost. Having lost immediate hope of reigning in Nepal’s political power centre, Dahal will take any deal that can save him from being haunted by the bloody legacy of his ‘People’s War’. A presidential lollipop will be a bonus he will not refuse, if offered.

Madhesi leaders Bijay Gachhadar and Mahanta Thakur both made their choices clear when they backed the decision to call off street protests and enter negotiations, even as Upendra Yadav and Rajendra Mahato fumed at Dahal’s ‘opportunism’. While an NC leader merely smiled at my mention of the rumours about Gachhadar’s ‘return to the fold’, my guess is Thakur may be looking to reassert his stature as an elder Madhesi statesman, something that will qualify him for any constitutional position in the future.

It does not take a genius to figure out that the day the constitution is drafted the UML will challenge the NC leadership. It is entirely plausible that the NC could then cobble together a coalition with UCPN(M) and the two Madhesi factions who have 105 seats among them in the legislature parliament. In trying to get the Maoists on board, Koirala and his advisors may be looking even further ahead. A stronger Maoist party could help cut the UML down to size in the next election by dividing the left vote bank. KP Oli is smart enough to understand this, and therefore does not want to share any political dividend with the Maoists.

But Oli and the UML aren’t Koirala’s sole problems. The octogenarian may have publicly declared that this is his last stint at the top job, but those close to him have revealed that he is not ready to concede the party leadership immediately. “There is immense pressure on him to contest another term as there are no other candidates that can match the stature of his rival Sher Bahadur Deuba,” an NC member close to the party establishment told me this week.

If Koirala can talk Deuba out of the race for party leadership with a promise of government leadership after the Constitution is drafted, it will save the ailing leader all the hassles. But we have it on a close Koirala confidante, that it is unlikely. So, Koirala’s team is gearing up for the showdown. Trouble with the party membership distribution in the districts is only the beginning. It will get uglier.

Sushil Koirala will need to mend old ties and offer sufficient incentive to those on the other side, and even that won’t necessarily guarantee him a win since he has rivals within his own clan. Managing the egos and ambitions of senior leaders like Arjun Narshing KC, Ram Chandra Poudel, Sujata Koirala and Shekher Koirala, who have all been very critical of him, isn’t going to be easy.

Oli may have lost faith in Koirala stepping down after the statute is drafted, but prolonging the constitutional deadlock hasn’t helped brighten the prime minister’s future either. Suddenly, drafting the constitution at the earliest has become the only way for the senior leaders of all major parties to secure their political careers. Isn’t that a good news for all of us?


Cartoons by Diwakar Chettri

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Let's go back to work

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