Monday, January 28, 2008

Nepali Congress: Battle Royale For Survival

As a party reunited out of compulsion – national as well as international – the Nepali Congress was bound to expose its deep fissures again soon or later. It turned out to emerge sooner in the manifestation of the “royalist” faction.
Now this group seems to have been energized by the induction of Sujata Koirala in her father’s cabinet. Sujata is, by far, the most outspoken advocate of the monarchy, but the extent of her influence on the “royalists” remains obscure.
That matters in a party profoundly influenced by individualism. There was hardly a mutter when the Nepali Congress abandoned its core socialist principles during Girija Prasad Koirala’s first term as premier in the early 1990s. Some old-style Congress leaders like Ram Hari Joshi were forced into retirement. Others, like Dhundiraj Shastri, became embittered to the point of allying themselves with the palace.
In 2002, former premier Sher Bahadur Deuba and his allies walked out of the Nepali Congress because of personal, not ideological, reasons. Deuba’s principal lieutenants – Khum Bahadur Khadka, Bijay Kumar Gachchadar, Jay Prakash Gupta – were onetime protégés of Koirala. The new coterie insulating the party president had simply edged them out. Over the next five years, Deuba kept his flock together purely on the platform of anti-Koiralaism.
Of course, opposition factions in the party have always found an issue to camouflage their disgruntlement. (“One-man-one post” and “passing the torch to a new generation” have been among the favorite.) When political equations changed, and personal predilections intervened, dissidents have devised slogans equally dexterously. (“A divided Congress means a weaker democracy.”)
Khadka returned to the party during palace rule after Koirala called him in detention to inquire about his health, while Deuba virtually ignored him. After King Gyanendra dismissed him for a second time in February 2005, many of Deuba’s loyalists developed serious doubts about having cast their lot with him.
A formal reunification was precipitated last year by the escalating Red Scare. Once the Congress factions reunited, the Maoists and the Unified Marxist-Leninists went back to their own bickering. The
There is an interesting dynamic in the ongoing churning process. Govinda Raj Joshi, a one-time Koirala loyalist widely credited with scuttling the last-minute initiative to save the party in 2002, has joined the dissident camp. And he resents the “royalist’ tag.
You can’t blame him. When Joshi, in the aftermath of a daring Maoist raid in Dunai in 2000, criticized the then-Royal Nepalese Army – and by implication the palace – for failing to aid the beleaguered police and failing to provide them with better weapons, Prime Minister Koirala forced him out of the cabinet.
Joshi’s subsequent proximity to Koirala in the party organization suggests that he held King Birendra, as supreme commander in chief of the RNA, responsible for his ignominious exit. (If he hated the most popular Shah king that bad, you can imagine the scale of antipathy for the current monarch.)
Yet Joshi and his ilk recognize how republicanism has been merely a political expedient for the party along. Long before Narahari Acharya and Gagan Thapa emerged to carry the mantle, Nepali Congress youths like Devinderraj Upadhyaya had proposed a republican platform for a post-Rana Nepal. Upadhyaya, among others, went on to hold senior administrative and diplomatic positions under Kings Tribhuvan, Mahendra and Birendra.
After King Mahendra’s takeover in 1960, Surya Prasad Upadhyaya, home minister in the ousted B.P. Koirala cabinet, ended up supporting the monarchy in a circuitous way. He did so more out of his deference to advice tendered by “friends” across the southern border than out of his own convictions. Kuber Sharma’s path to royalism, we understand, began the day Koirala dropped him from the Congress central committee to bring in Khadka.
For today’s Congress “royalists,” the line is inextricably linked to self-preservation. In private conversations, members of this group are more candid. If the palace would stand to gain from their hard-line against the Maoists, then so be it.
They are acting on something many others in the party recognize: the Maoists already practice a degree of totalitarianism the monarchy could never dream of contemplating.