Monday, July 16, 2007

What’s Really Going For Nepali Congress Unity

At times, the initiative to reunite the two Nepali Congress parties must seem sickening to the faithful on both sides. One morning, it looks like Girija Prasad Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba are just seconds away from sealing a deal. The next, unity seems an impossible undertaking. Then some senior Congress leader comes out with a timetable. And the cycle continues.
When the Nepali Congress split in 2002, it merely formalized the factional infighting that brought down the Koirala government in 1994. Deuba’s dissolution of the House of Representatives may have provided the trigger, but the actual foot soldiers – people like Khum Bahadur Khadka, Chiranjivi Wagle, Bijay Gachchadar and Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta – were fully armed. In other words, Koirala protégés turned critics led the charge. Of course, there were natural allies like Prakash Man Singh, the son of senior Koirala critic Ganesh Man Singh. Pradip Giri, once brutally assaulted – we are told – for the simple desire to establish marital relations with the Koirala clan, was another readymade heavyweight.
Demonized as the new Tulsi Giri for his proximity to the palace, Deuba eventually had to chart his course. His Nepali Congress faction seemed to gain the upper hand. The power of incumbency needed only the formal recognition of the Election Commission to precipitate a major realignment of Nepali politics.
Somewhere down the road, something went wrong. The Koirala Congress got formal recognition. The Democratic suffix was probably redundant, given the Nepali Congress history, but it sounded good enough for the Deuba Derby to go the polls with.
With parliament gone, Deuba didn’t have to worry about the kinds of machinations Koirala engineered to bring down his government in 1996. Unfortunately for the premier, the other parties were no less active outside the chambers. They pressed Deuba to recommend a postponement of the elections, and specifically instructed him to rebuff King Gyanendra should the monarch seek the premier’s resignation.
Some of the same people advised King Gyanendra to dismiss Deuba should he become adamant about his popular mandate.
After King Gyanendra’s October 4, 2002 intervention, Deuba ended up in a far worse state than B.P. Koirala’s after King Mahendra’s takeover 42 years earlier. Sure, Deuba avoided incarceration. But let’s not forget that the 1959 constitution empowered the monarch to dismiss the elected prime minister.
The Tulsi Giri appellation stuck on Deuba. For the next two-plus years, the mainstream parties didn’t consider him a worthy member of the anti-palace alliance. When Deuba was reappointed premier in 2004, adherents of Koirala’s Grand Design Theory were outraged.
It was only when the real Tulsi Giri returned from decades of exile to become King Gyanendra’s principal deputy in the royal regime that Deuba was rehabilitated.
Today the preponderance of the Maoists and other communists in the national firmament has made Congress unity an imperative. But has the principal circumstance really changed? Nepali Congress (Democratic) leaders may have changed their view on Koirala, but they don’t seem to have on Koirala-ism.
True, Khum Bahadur Khadka returned to Koirala’s party, but he did that to spite Deuba. (Koirala made a phone call to Khadka in detention inquiring about his health, while Deuba was too busy advancing his own victimhood.) Most of the other Nepali Congress (Democratic) leaders don’t seem to want a united party just to see it packed with younger Koiralas.
There is one thing going for unity, though. The Nepali Congress may have turned fiercely republican these days. With the communists dominant everywhere, the oldest democratic party doesn’t see the kind of republic it wants. General Secretary and Peace Minister Ram Chandra Poudel has been quite candid in admitting this.
Now Narahari Acharya, the preeminent republican in the party – whom Koirala once called a palace agent – has set forth his ‘ganarajya’ school of thought. That hasn’t found too many takers within. Worse, critics have been portraying Acharya’s model as a backdoor to national disintegration.
The prime factor, however, lies in the popular mood. Around half the country still wants some kind of monarchy, according to most surveys. Now who might be able to tap into this vote? The question must be worrying both factions, especially after how the equally fractious ex-panchas united for King Gyanendra’s birthday.