Monday, July 11, 2011

Why Deuba Throws Caution To The Stars

Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba says he sees no reason why he cannot be the next prime minister. For a man who allegedly failed to defend democracy twice during two previous terms as prime minister, Maila Baje would have expected Deuba to be more circumspect in his public comments regardless of the comfort level.
Yet things have turned around too fast for someone so addicted to the job to stay still. The Nepali Congress is no longer in the grip of the people who had pushed the alliance with the Maoists, insisting they could make it work. The external quarters that nodded with them are now left perusing their palms in remorse.
With Krishna Prasad Sitaula and Sujata Koirala struggling to wash off any stains from the Sudan scam, all Deuba needed was to push aside Ram Chandra Poudel. (Yes, the same man who once upon a time egged him on to split the party, promising to accept the chairmanship before coming out in a full embrace of Girija Prasad Koirala.)
During those interminable rounds of legislative voting to find a successor to caretaker premier Madhav Kumar Nepal, Poudel may have considered himself the only thing standing between democracy and a full Maoist takeover. For Deuba, Poudel’s endurance was an illustration of his aching for power without purpose – or was at least a perception that could be advanced some way.
It turns out that Sushil Koirala, someone who never has had to take decisions and live with them, entered into a secret deal with Deuba as a last-ditch attempt to reorganize the post-Girija party. If Deuba is today intent on cashing the check, it is because circumstances have turned favorable in more directions than he can behold. (As that Turkish psychic said a couple of years ago about Deuba, the stars can get better only in a rare few other Nepali pols.)
Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal may relish the prospect of Deuba’s return to center stage at a time when his rival Dr. Baburam Bhattarai is using his ostensible international acceptability to become prime minister. Even if he would want to forget the precise circumstances, Dahal probably remembers that Deuba remains the only Nepalese prime minister to have a full Oval Office meeting with the U.S. president.
Yet the prospect of a Deuba candidacy has engendered a flicker of hope within the Maoist chairman. Eyeing their opportunity, Poudel and key CPN-UML leaders have asked Dahal to reenter the race for the simple reason that he heads the largest party in the legislature, without whose leadership the peace process cannot progress. Whether this is a belated recognition of reality or a shrewd move to shift responsibility to the Maoists for the inevitable failure to draw up the new constitution within the current extension period, it has certainly left Dahal searching deep within.
New Delhi is likely to seek a full-fledged public gesture from Dahal – something the wily Maoist cannot wiggle out of easily – before granting any imprimatur on his candidacy. If Dahal does a K.I. Singh anytime soon, the surprise will lay less in his return to the premiership than in the swiftness of his consolidation of authority inside the party. (Faster in case the current crisis is all a ruse). By temperament and trait, Dahal is in a better position to deal with the aftermath should there occur a full and formal affirmation of the failure of the latest experimentation in reinventing a nation. If Dahal were to deem the price too high for his personal peace and security, then Deuba may be the one to watch for. Or maybe Deuba, who was prime minister when Dahal first marched out leading that ragtag band of marauders, knows something crucial the rest of us don’t.