Sunday, December 05, 2010

Whose Reputation Is Really On The Line?

Krishna Prasad Sitaula has become the newest emblem of an old malady gripping the Nepali Congress. As a polarizing figure, Sitaula may be non-pareil, but he continues a tradition upheld by men like Bhadrakali Mishra and Surya Prasad Upadhyaya.
While they drew much ire from within the Nepali Congress neither man had enough influence to take over the party like that other polarizer Girija Prasad Koirala eventually would. As long as they lasted, however, Mishra and Upadhyaya had forced the Nepali Congress to learn to live with them.
Critics, including many longtime associates, had called them puppets, whose external masters had devised for them specific roles that could never be clear or conclusive. As politics grew murkier in the 1990s, so did the motives and intentions of the puppeteers. No clear successor to the likes of Mishra or Upadhyaya could thus be established. On specific issues, and during specific contexts, a variety of people came into prominence.
Sitaula, in Maila Baje’s estimation, seemed to do so remarkably swiftly after the royal takeover of February 1, 2005. Safe on Indian territory, a week after the palace struck, Sitaula told Indian reporters that the Nepali Congress was ready to join hands with the Maoists against King Gyanendra. Of course, Sitaula carried the usual proviso that the Maoists must first lay down their arms. But that contention was made redundant in the next paragraph of the Press Trust of India story when Sitaula revealed that Girija Koirala had virtually finalized some kind of a deal with the Maoists, thereby precipitating the royal action.
Regardless, the Sitaula track would have to await the endorsement of the Indian National Congress government, which was still hoping to engage with the royal regime all the while seeking to appease its avowedly republican Marxist allies. When the palace sought to project greater international maneuverability, the Sitaula scheme came to the forefront. His special relations with sections of the Indian Marxists and the intelligence services gave the plan some indigenous cover. The Dhaka SAARC summit, of course, made that line of action inevitable and propelled Sitaula’s politics.
When Sitaula, as Home Minister, escorted Maoist chairman Prachanda to Kathmandu for peace talks, U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty felt compelled to ask Prime Minster Koirala to describe the antecedents and implications of the special ties his newest kid on the block seemed to share with the rebels. Many in the Nepali Congress subsequently branded Sitaula as a Maoist all but in name, while Koirala one more than one occasion wondered aloud whose home minister Sitaula really had become.
Still, it fell upon Sitaula to persuade ex-king Gyanendra to hand over the crown and scepter and vacate the palace in favor of the placidity of Nagarjun. However, by then, the Gaur massacre had alienated the Maoists from Sitaula. As Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal departed from the New Delhi-driven 12-point agreement script, Sitaula, predictably enough, became an acerbic critic of the Maoists.
Girija Koirala’s death was thought to have ended Sitaula’s career. Barely on speaking terms with the new party leader Sushil Koirala, Sitaula secured his space. The issue of extending the constituent assembly, we are told, served as the basis for the grand rapprochement.
Fate was propitious to Sitaula. He happened to walk into a heart clinic to visit Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, only to suffer a bout of chest pains. An immediate angioplasty and “stenting” made him fit as a fiddle – ready to confront the resentment smoldering in the party.
Sushil’s nomination of Ram Chandra Poudel and Sitaula as vice-chairman and general secretary, respectively, as his first official action convulsed a party that was supposed to have emerged united after the post-Girija Koirala convention. Sujata Koirala, Arjun Narsingh K.C. and Ram Sharan Mahat – all claimants to the general secretaryship – have now joined Sher Bahadur Deuba’s faction in criticizing Sushil’s act of brazen unilateralism.
Why would Sushil risk grand dissidence in the first place? With little to go beyond his surname in terms of political credentials, Sushil was no long ago named by India’s intelligence community as a leading benefactor of its Pakistani counterpart. By projecting the two most India-friendly members of his party, Sushil must have felt he could redeem his name while putting the onus of victory on someone else.
Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood has inherited much more than the interventionist traits of a renowned predecessor, C.P.N. Singh. He shares the stodgy Singh’s outspokenness in deriding anti-Indianism as an inherent affliction of the Nepali political class. If the overt external prop these two men supposedly enjoy – and have at times unabashedly flaunted – failed to see them through, then, Sushil knows, that would be more of Sood’s problem.