Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nepali Congress’ Collective Leadership Cloak

Nepali Congress spokesperson Arjun Narsingh K.C. maintains that his party will now adhere to a system of collective leadership. It looks like the nation’s self-proclaimed premier democratic organization is in for further democratization. K.C.’s assertion comes days after Dr. Narayan Khadka, another third-generation party luminary, made a similar insistence. Khadka’s language, though, made the idea sound more like a supplication than a stricture.
On the surface, the reasoning responds to the tight personal grip party president Girija Prasad Koirala has long been accused of exercising over an ostensibly open organization. By foisting daughter Sujata as leader of the party’s contingent in Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s cabinet over the objections of leading colleagues, Koirala has exposed himself to increasingly strident charges of nepotism. But the patriarch knows all this counts for little.
The Nepali Congress has tried its best to purge itself of “Koiralacracy” only to bring out the worst in it. Oddly enough, a Koirala led the first organized effort against family domination. Upset by the way half-brother B.P. was promoting his siblings Keshav, Tarini and Girija during the anti-Rana movement, Matrika Prasad raised the banner and almost immediately faltered.
The Panchayat-era wilderness forced the Nepali Congress to mount a united front (not counting the almost ceaseless defections to the partyless order.) But the deep resentment with which Koirala women were alleged to have bought bagfuls of saris with the Royal Nepal Airlines hijack booty was never really concealed. Rumors that Girija Koirala was about to bolt to the Panchayat side may or may not have originated at Chaksibari or Kupondole, but those two rival centers certainly whipped them up.
The restoration of multiparty democracy was bound to widen these rifts in full public glare. The platform of anti-Koiralaism was all too enticing and predictable. The theatrics at the Kalbalgudi convention was culmination of decades of bitterness. Ultimately, though, Ganesh Man Singh and – years later – Krishna Prasad Bhattarai were driven out of the party.
As the fuel of dissidence, anti-Koiralaism reached its peak in 2002 when Sher Bahadur Deuba succeeded in walking out with several former Girija Prasad loyalists to form his breakaway party. By failing to do anything beyond that, Deuba underscored the limits of that particular form of energy. After his vicissitudes, Deuba seems to have tied his fate – at least for now – with that of the Koiralas, thereby backing Sujata’s anointment. Koirala expressed his appreciation in public by finally visiting Deuba’s residence at Baluwatar.
For those who believe the Nepali Congress cannot survive without a Koirala at the helm, the choice has mercifully narrowed down to Sujata and Shekhar. Clearly, the daughter has the edge over the nephew, helped in no small part by circumstances outside the party. When a man defeated from both of his constituencies becomes prime minister and appoints another loser as his defense minister, critics cannot avoid squirming at the idea of singling out the foreign minister.
With Ram Chandra Poudel now elected leader of the parliamentary party and Deuba angling for the party presidency, internal NC dynamics may be on the verge of some steadiness. But a lot of things still need to be worked out before the octogenarian walks into the sunset.
Poudel would still probably need the good graces of fellow Tanahunan Govinda Raj Joshi to energize his constituent base. How better off would he be as prime minister than the incumbent? Deuba would require a giant leap of faith to avoid another allegation of ineptitude, which, coming from the people this time, would certainly seem more wrathful.
If Sujata could straddle between the military and the Maoists with the dexterity she has, there surely must be a way she might be able to gain the premiership by letting Poudel keep his position in the parliamentary party, regardless of whether Deuba gets the party presidency. The other movers and shakers – or at least those who think they are – are already contending for influence.
That’s where the concept of collective leadership becomes attractive. A Back-To-Village-National Campaign-style six-monthly stint by turns among the heavyweights may prove unwieldy amid the number of claimants. The Liberal Democratic Party’s model in Japan offers the façade to let factional bosses do their dark-room deals. But since the intent is to smooth the succession, the Soviet and Chinese models of the immediate post-Stalin and post-Mao years may be more relevant.
Come to think of it, the Nepali Congress need look no farther than the triumvirate mechanism B.P. Koirala put in place once he recognized he would not be around too long. How long one among the many would take to edge out his or her rivals would depend on a variety of factors. What can be said with reasonable certainty is that the next round of the nepotism and favoritism fireworks will fly faster and farther.