Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sushil Koirala: Ambition Vs. Ambivalence

Sushil Koirala has long since learned how little there is in surname when it comes to leading the today’s Nepali Congress party. He seems intent now and then, though, on invoking the magic of his forebears.
The Nepali Congress president stated the other day that the Maoists had entered the peace process six years ago after realizing the real meaning of B.P. Koirala’s doctrine of peace and reconciliation.
It is unclear who is offended the most – B.P.’s adherents or the Maoists – from Sushil’s strange claim. Far too many Congressis continue to lament how Girija Prasad Koirala not only usurped B.P.’s legacy but also undermined its ideological intent in reaching out to the Maoists. The former rebels, for their part, insist that they ended their violent campaign on their own volition to lead the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist into the realm of new Nepal.
Sushil thus recognizes that he alone stands to lose by uttering such inanities. Yet he persists because, Maila Baje feels, he hopes it might deflect attention from his real predicament.
The five-point agreement the ruling Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist and United Democratic Madhesi Front signed with the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML on May 3 envisaged handing over the government’s leadership to NC just before the constitution was promulgated. While Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal insists that the agreement has been overtaken by events, the CPN-UML has been admonishing the Nepali Congress to name a prime ministerial contender forthwith or else forfeit its claim to lead the next government. The intensity of each ultimatum only seems to have increased Sushil’s desire for the top job.
His ambitions suddenly grew after a series of meetings he held in New Delhi several months ago. Sources close to Sushil contend that their man is merely waiting for a propitious alignment of external stars. In reality, the NC president’s challenge is internal. He confronts Sher Bahadur Deuba, a three-time prime minister, and Ram Chandra Poudel, who contested 17 round of elections in the now defunct legislature to become premier.
That contest has percolated to the lower rungs of the party and fraternal organizations to such an ominous extent that some veterans like Ram Sharan Mahat are scrambling to stanch the bleeding. Other NC leaders are urging Deuba and Poudel to take turns. Still others prefer to see Dr. Baburam Bhattarai continue in the job and lose further credibility.
Sushil’s dilemma is real. By letting Deuba become premier, he will find it harder to tighten his grip on the party. Since Sushil wants another term as Nepali Congress leader, he is also in no mood to promote Poudel’s standing within the party.
So far Sushil shrewdly has not explicitly stated his desire to take the job, waiting instead for others to nominate him. To be sure, there are practical political considerations he must make. What if Deuba and Poudel, in their common exasperation, join hands in subverting a Sushil-led government?
Yet Sushil also seems to be gripped by a lack of confidence in his ability to deliver, especially after having so excoriated Dr. Bhattarai’s performance. The NC president, after all, record stands out for its dearth of executive experience.
Maybe this is the right time to let people like Gagan Thapa to take charge and prove they can turn their words into deeds. But, again, considering the history of the Nepali Congress, a campaign to seat Gagan would more likely push Sushil, Deuba and Poudel firmly behind the Bhattarai government. Now, that would be an interesting manifestation of peace and reconciliation, would it not?