Monday, December 17, 2007

Bruised But Unbroken ...

Education Minister Pradeep Nepal, in some ways, sounds like a man ahead of his time. Long before Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala offered the advice, Nepal had urged King Gyanendra to abdicate and reside in the country as a respectable citizen.
Last winter, that counsel was viewed as part of the manoeuvrings in the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) party. Specifically, Nepal’s remark was seen as an effort to torpedo the idea of a referendum on the monarchy, which his boss and (sur)namesake Madhav Kumar Nepal had been advocating. That was then, of course, when the UML was pushing for full proportional representation and the Maoists insisted on a mixed system.
Months after joining the Koirala cabinet this year, Nepal began insisting that the interim legislature didn’t have the authority to abolish the monarchy. This notwithstanding the fact that the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists had jointly railroaded the second amendment to the interim statute specifically empowering our unelected representatives to do precisely that.
When Maoist leader Prachanda began dangling the premiership to Madhav Nepal in a flash of broader Red bonhomie, Pradeep Nepal came out with a great revelation. Koirala would rather return power to the palace than see the UML chief finally get his job. If that remark ended up shoring up Koirala, it was an unintended consequence. Pradeep Nepal doesn’t seem happy in the cabinet.
For weeks on, he had a hard time getting the premier appoint university vice-chancellors. Koirala did make the appointments, but that didn’t seem to help. Last month, Nepal accused Koirala of preventing him from carrying out his work.
The reason? Koirala’s purported fear that the UML would score electoral points if the people saw the Education Ministry function smoothly. Echoing comments by former Maoist ministers Matrika Yadav and Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Nepal claimed the premier simply didn’t understand the meaning of cooperation. He didn’t stop there. Nepal described himself as “the most victimised person at the hands of the premier.” (Yadav and Mahara would probably dispute that categorical assertion.)
Still, Pradeep Nepal is against changing the leadership of the government during these trying times. It’s easy to dismiss his stance as an act of self-preservation. Nepal, after all, runs the risk of losing his job should Koirala step down voluntarily or under pressure. (Not that he would lack a political platform. We heard recently that he is a promoter of Saptakoshi FM.)
As the rest of the country remains petrified by repeated delays in the constituent assembly elections, Nepal remains unruffled. Where have such important elections been held on schedule, he asked one recent interviewer. With the specific examples he laid out – from Guatemala to South Africa – not a few nerves must have been somewhat soothed.
In his latest policy position, Nepal wants a merger of the Maoist fighting force with the national army before the constituent assembly elections. That way, he argues, the Maoists wouldn’t be able to avoid the elections. A smart move indeed, if the Maoists were the only ones uninterested in seeking a popular mandate.