Sunday, June 17, 2012

Nepali Congress’ Struggle For Relevance

As the once-formidable Nepali Congress struggles to retain its relevance, Chakra Bastola, a prominent party leader and a former foreign minister, has succeeded in placing the organization’s travails in the wider perspective of Nepal’s geopolitical legacy.
In an extended interview with a newspaper, Bastola conceded that the Nepali Congress only grudgingly turned in favor of republicanism after the April 2006 uprising. But he did so not with any sense of shame. In explaining that turn, Bastola seemed to underscore how the imperatives of Nepali politics can conflict and reconcile with the exigencies of geopolitics.
To press his point, Bastola claimed that B.P. Koirala, every royalist’s enduring icon these days, was never a royalist. Indeed, as Maila Baje constantly harps in this space, the Nepali Congress under Koirala’s leadership, attempted to assassinate two monarchs, Mahendra and Birendra.
Even before that, on the eve of the 1950-51 revolution, during the party’s Bairganiya Conference, Nepali Congress youths led by Devendra Raj Upadhyaya pushed a resolution for the adoption of republicanism as the party’s official policy, should King Tribhuvan decline to side with the agitating democrats against the Ranas.
Over time, and amid great personal and political cost, Nepal’s precarious geopolitical realities forced B.P. Koirala to acknowledge the salutary effects of the Nepali Congress trying to work with the monarchy on matters of national interest despite the deep differences over where political power should ultimately reside. In effect, constitutional monarchy was an ideal whose virtue B.P. hoped to impress upon the palace through persistent and often perilous prodding.
B.P. did not live to see events bear out his beliefs, but he did not die a broken man. Nepal’s 12-year democratic experiment that began in 1990 was marked by a struggle between the palace and the Nepali Congress on how best to steer the country – in essence, B.P.’s work in progress.
Ever since the Nepali Congress abjured constitutional monarchy as a defining principle in the aftermath of the April 2006 uprising, the party has been left struggling for relevance. Given the sudden realignment of forces, the extreme left of the political spectrum was bound to be captured by the Maoists, leaving to the UML the traditional left-of center social-democratic space the Nepali Congress traditionally occupied.
Logically, the Nepali Congress should have shifted rightward. The absence of the monarchy precluded that, allowing the Rastriya Prajatanta Party-Nepal to grow in that space. As such, the Nepali Congress was left competing with the UML, while no less fractious was far better organized and ideologically attuned.
The Nepali Congress has reached a point where it must ponder the injury its abandonment of the monarchy has inflicted not only to the organization but also to the country large.
Days before Bastola’s interview, Bishwanath Upadhya, former chief of justice of the Supreme Court and the man who led the panel that drafted the 1990 Constitution, began an earnest process of reappraising the role of the monarchy. Particularly invigorating was Upadhyaya’s claim, made in the course of an interview with the BBC Nepali Service, that the Nepali monarchy could not be called anti-people, if one compared the experiences of other countries.
Those who insist that the country has moved beyond the point of recognizing the monarchy as anything but a relic of history must answer how it went on to be abolished when such a demand was not part of the explicit agenda of change in 2006.
Again, those who insist that the monarch was never the symbol and source of stability that it was made out to be must account for the dysfunction and degeneration that has occurred since its abolition.
Should the Nepali Congress, in light of these realities, confirm the validity of its decision to espouse republicanism, it must take the next logical step. It must envision and construct institutional processes to bolster national stability in an inherently volatile region.
Political parvenus like Sujata Koirala or Krishna Prasad Sitaula lack the background, temperament and aptitude to grasp the Nepali Congress’ ideological legacy and galvanize the party toward enduring relevance. The task would fall upon people like Prakash Man Singh and Bimalendra Nidhi, who saw their fathers build the organization against great odds, suffer incarceration and exile for their beliefs when the geopolitical ground shifted, and regain the initiative once the winds started blowing the other way, all the while unwavering in their principles and poise.