Ordinarily, Nepalis ought to be biting their nails in anticipation of the composition of the new coalition and cabinet. However, we seem to have become too chastened by other events going on around us.
Suddenly, the air has become thick with talk of the imperative of writing a new constitution. If the recent wave of Kathmandu-centric protests launched by Madhesi and ethnic parties does not bring that about, there is another clock ticking.
Should the country fail to hold provincial and local elections within the stipulated time-frame, we would be back to a situation a la October 2002. No wonder, then, that former king Gyanendra has begun assuring ordinary Nepalis beseeching his intervention that all is about to turn well.
Still, there are too many nagging questions here. Why was it so important for Prime Minister K.P. Oli to be able to present the budget? So much so that Dahal could barely last 24 hours in his avowal to form the next government? What difference would it have made had Dahal replaced Oli last month? Was it a no-no because he was riding on the back of Sher Bahadur Deuba and the Nepali Congress, which has turned quite conservative following the last party election? Never one to forgo an opening, did Dahal seek rehabilitation via a New Delhi-backed regime change, even at the cost of pledging himself to remain a titular head?
If so, China’s much-ballyhooed intervention does makes sense, to the extent that it bought time to facilitate the unification of the various Maoist factions. If Dahal now has a wider berth, surely the Maoists have become decidedly pro-north in their geopolitical orientation.
Publicly, some Nepali Congress luminaries are still trying to blame the fiasco on the misplaced ardor of their newly-elected party president. Yet even they look like victims of wounded pride. Not so much because Dahal buckled but because Oli got a breather. The consolidation of the Maoist forces raises the chances of the Nepali Congress turning further right, precipitating a broader realignment on that flank.
Granted, Dahal was detailing his political plans with the greatest candor while speaking to pro-Maoist media representatives. But he was also the most categorical about things at that venue, stressing that his succession as the new prime minister was inevitable following a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ implicit in the nine-point agreement with Oli. Indeed, Dahal went a step further and pledged to provide impetus to the implementation of the constitution, post-earthquake reconstruction and national unity.
Still, you cannot forget Oli’s record as the longest serving prime minister-in-waiting. Who can really say he is ready to give up so easily. With the local elections having become so central to the survival of the constitution, Oli might strike his own understanding with the Nepali Congress to run the government until then. After all, the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist and the Nepali Congress are both interested in ensuring that the Maoists – no matter how rejuvenated internally – still stay in third place in national politics. In that scenario, much would depend on the ‘arrangements’ made during Minister for Law and Justice Agni Kharel’s visit to New Delhi.
And that is where Mohan Baidya’s and Netra Bikram Chand’s strenuous decisions to desist from the Maoist backslapping would make the most sense.