Monday, December 03, 2007

The RPP: Radicalism Or Ruse?

This isn’t a good time to be Pashupati Shamsher Rana. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) chairman opposed King Gyanendra’s direct rule to the point of allowing the party to split. The breakaway group led by Kamal Thapa considered Rana as much of a destabilizer as the agitating opposition alliance. Yet to this day, few Nepalis consider Rana little more than a palace frontman.
Rana’s claim to formal recognition as the opposition leader in the interim legislature would have helped the ruling alliance. The perception of a fractured coalition fumbling in power might have been dispelled to significant degree by the RPP’s cutting perorations. The Six Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists might have succeeded in raising the anti-monarchy banner higher in the house. Their compulsion for political cover apparently paled when considering the perils of countenancing the ex-panchas in a parliamentary role on the road to a new Nepal.
The ruling establishment’s loss hasn’t translated into Rana’s gain. A man who won all five adult-franchise-based elections since 1981 from his Sindupalchowk constituency is still struggling to establish his party’s democratic credentials.
In a sense, political fortune has looked kindly upon Rana. He was knee-deep in the Tanakpur waters in the final years of the Panchayat system. But Girija Prasad Koirala is who the country associates with the blot. As to the parliamentary ratification of the much-maligned Mahakali Treaty, how many people remember Rana’s exuberance that the sun had dawned from the west? Or, for that matter, his refusal to join the cabinet of one-time boss Lokendra Bahadur Chand because he didn’t get his favorite water resources ministry?
On the personal front, too, Rana has largely avoided major political ramifications. After the Narayanhity massacre in 2001, Rana was well placed to shed light on the tragedy. He is, after all, the father of the woman Crown Prince Dipendra couldn’t marry, driving him to open fire on everyone around him before turning the gun on himself.
Equally, Devyani’s Dad could easily have sustained the competing theory that would have exonerated the crown prince. Yet Rana was about the only person of interest that kept quiet – and got away with it. By the time Devyani returned to Kathmandu for her wedding reception, hardly anyone recalled her as the palpably distraught woman who had refused to depose in person before the panel probing the massacre.
In the run-up to the party convention, the RPP has dropped references to constitutional monarchy from the statute and all other official documents. But it stopped short of openly espousing a democratic republic, largely because of Rana’s stand, we are told. In fact, republicanism has gained significant ground in the party, with some erstwhile members of the partyless legislature among key advocates.
This camp has readied an alternative to Rana at the convention should matters take a divisive turn. The party chief, for his part, seems prepared with a proposal to coalesce the royalist factions of Surya Bahadur Thapa and Rabindra Nath Sharma under Chand’s leadership.
A year ago, Rana signaled that some momentous change was underway in the party. In a speech in Biratnagar, he rejected suggestions that the RPP was a royalist group. Thereafter, the party took a major step in repudiating its relations with the palace while registering with the Election Commission for the constituent assembly polls.
The RPP characterizes its latest posture as a prudent “middle path,” between republicans and monarchists. It could just as well mean the party is setting on the fence. The RPP probably believes that an avowedly monarchist party wouldn’t garner significant votes amid the frenzy whipped up by SPA and Maoists. Otherwise, it would not have let the breakaway RPP (Nepal) hog that field.
Or perhaps the RPP has been watching the Nepali Congress rather closely. Even after the party convention that plunged the largest democratic party into the sea of republicanism, the Nepali Congress is finding it difficult to break its bonds with the monarchy in the interest of self-preservation.
Considering the number of power-brokers in the Nepali Congress that seem to have recognized the political benefits of the monarchy amid a resurgence of the Reds, a lot could change in terms of the party’s voting pattern in a putative constituent assembly.
So it comes down to this. If an overtly republican platform needn’t constrain the Nepali Congress’ room for maneuver vis-à-vis the monarchy, why should it impede the RPP’s more nuanced approach?