Sunday, June 21, 2009

Relish The Redemption, Ram Chandraji

Just as Ram Chandra Poudel’s political fortunes seemed to have started plummeting, he has ended up atop the Nepali Congress. In the constituent assembly, at least. Well, technically.
Thrust into the dissident camp after party president Girija Prasad Koirala defiantly catapulted daughter Sujata to the cabinet, Poudel was exposed as a has-been. He made the perfunctory noises, together with new-found ally Sushil Koirala, but to little effect. At least Sushil has now found a valid reason to slip into retirement.
Poudel’s triumph at the parliamentary party elections reinforces the never-say-never adage, especially when it comes to horses cast in the darkest colors. Poudel got 61 votes, while his rival, Sher Bahadur Deuba, garnered 48 out of the total 109 cast in the second round of the long-awaited election. Contrast that with the first round, in which Deuba had won 45 votes, while Poudel secured 39, with the two other candidates – Kul Bahadur Gurung and Suprabha Ghimire – garnering a dozen each.
Professing his neutrality, Girija Koirala stayed away from the elections. Several other luminaries were absent for a variety of reasons ranging from the personal to – yes – the political. Going by their antecedents, Ghimire’s votes were probably going to go to Poudel. The surprise lay in the choice by Gurung’s supporters. His politics are certainly closer to Deuba’s in most respects. Something here simply doesn’t pass the smell test.
Granted, Deuba came nowhere near the 72-40 win he scored over Sushil Koirala after the Narayanhity carnage before regaining the premiership. Still, the twice-sacked premier’s performance this time was slightly better than his 2000 and early 2001 showing, when he unsuccessfully contested against Koirala. (Actually, the Deuba faction walked out of the polling venue in the latter instance when they discovered the balloting would not be secret.)
That was Old Nepal, for sure. But there was some expectation that things might still go Deuba’s way this time. First, the generals are on the ascendancy and aiming higher. Who can forget how Deuba, after the collapse of the royal regime, was still insisting that king retain control of the army in order to maintain the chain of command?
Then there was Deuba’s deafening silence during the thunder over Sujata’s nomination. True, the man probably hasn’t forgiven Poudel’s “betrayal” in the summer of 2002 when the former speaker had promised to accept the leadership of the breakaway Congress and had actually sent his supporters to the dissidents’ convention before throwing in his lot with Koirala.
Clearly, Deuba wasn’t entirely focused on payback, say, by denying Poudel the deputy premiership. If that were the case, what better way to batter Poudel than by letting him share power at a time when – so to speak – the ghosts are on their outrageously frequent snack breaks?
So the obvious question is, was there a Deuba quid pro quo with Koirala? Prakash Man Singh lamented that Koirala and Deuba had joined hands to send the controversial contingent for some unspecified purpose. Until the last moment, Deuba wanted Koirala to lead the parliamentary delegation. In the spirit of newness, Deuba could have forgotten the main plank of his challenge to Koirala at the party convention almost a decade ago: that the septuagenarian’s shoulders had become too frail to bear the entire burden. We certainly haven’t.
That’s why he’s the man to watch. As the results were being announced last week, Deuba was absent from the election venue. Eight years ago, Sushil had the decency to congratulate him and lock his arms in solidarity in a threesome with Girijababu. (Not that it really meant much.)
How events unfold in the days ahead would probably depend on what really happened. Was Deuba’s defeat a protest vote against Girija Koirala, especially since Sujata came out in open support of Deuba. Or, as is more likely, did our wily old man succeed in pitting those two perennially thorny leaders against each other to clear Sujata’s way over the long haul? Girija Koirala, we cannot fail to recall, was instrumental in Deuba’s ouster in 1996 and 2002. As for Poudel, the NC patriarch has already kept the new PP leader on a short leash by instructing him to keep the party intact.
All said, Deuba may start rooting for the rise of the fifth generation of Congress leaders – Gagan Thapa and younger. Or can we expect him to do something more immediate? Such as, say, start divulging the purported contents of the almost daily conversations Sujata supposedly has been having with Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal?
Relish the redemption, Ram Chandraji, as long as you can.