Sunday, September 21, 2008

Custodian’s Not-So-Curious Ways

Now that the Maoists and sections of the Unified Marxist Leninists (UML) have declared their intention to tilt the political system leftward in the new constitution, the Nepali Congress can hope to reenergize itself as democracy’s custodian.
Having left the anti-Maoist mêlée to his subordinates during much of his tenure as premier, Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala has now assumed the mantle in full force. There is much more at play here than the dynamics of the post-election power shift.
The grand old man seems to have a real personal beef with the Maoists. When they enticed him to ditch the monarchy by almost demanding him to become Nepal’s first president, Koirala knew the welcome would have worn out pretty soon. Yet the prospect of a Nobel Peace Prize was too irresistible, especially by the way nephew Shekhar and chief aide Krishna Prasad Sitaula dangled it in collusion with the ex-rebels.
Considering how former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and British premier Gordon Brown heaped praise on Koirala for mainstreaming the Maoists who are now bent on marginalizing him, the octogenarian may still consider himself a serious contender. But, then, who ever pretended limits could be set on pretentiousness?
In that spirit, Koirala’s talk of spearheading a broad non-communist democratic alliance may have sounded like a dud. But there appears to be a new urgency for him, especially that the personal can now be camouflaged as principle. The reception Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal received in New Delhi must have sowed seeds of suspicions in the Nepali Congress president. Was New Delhi seeking to co-opt the Maoists to tighten their grip on Nepal through India Inc.?
It would have been sufficient for the Indian commentariat to attribute the rise of the charming ex-rebel to the purported despicability of royal feudalism. Why the frontal attack on the political parties that ran the show for 12 years after 1990? Specifically, weren’t the Indians central to the political machinations then? Not an iota of an intention to share culpability could be detected anywhere.
As premier for most of those 12 years, Koirala had reason to be upset. Even before his fortuitous ascendancy after the 1991 elections, he carried enough baggage through his birth in India. (Although, in fairness, one must question the credibility of his critics whose forbears did nothing to stop the Ranas from exiling Krishna Prasad Koirala.)
The pro-Indian tag became outrageously observable during the Tanakpur imbroglio. For all the ills of that abortive subversion of the constitutional process, Koirala did stick out his neck for India so long against the UML and others.
Over the years, he stood up against the Maoists and the monarchy, the prime beneficiary of which, it turns out, was India. But in influential eyes in India, he became the symbol of what was wrong in Nepal, until King Gyanendra became their principal problem.
Koirala knew his 2006 rehabilitation in India was ephemeral, and not only because of advancing age. But the wily man didn’t seem to have exhausted his cards. Spilling the beans on how Indian spooks knew the illegality of some of his anti-Panchayat subversion didn’t stem from age-induced hallucination.
Daughter Sujata was reviled as a monarchist to the point where she had to explain how she was not involved in any business partnership with the king. (Compared to, say, how members of the media house most critical of the monarchy had no problem joining the king as shareholders in a futile enterprise to revive Sajha Yatayat.) A constellation of leaders prepared to take on the Maoists and the UML remained vociferous.
Koirala’s overtures to the former king must still be seen in the light of his 2006 counsel that time would ultimately heal things. Dahal, certainly more adept in building bizarre bridges, has opened his own lines of communication with the former king on a nationalist platform many Maoists now refuse to consider credible.
Can it be much surprise therefore that the restoration of the monarchy has so soon become a central component of our national conversation?