Sunday, January 13, 2013

Being Sushil Koirala

It’s becoming harder by the day not to feel for Sushil Koirala.
Asked by the beleaguered Maoist-Madhesi ruling alliance to name a candidate for the premiership, the Nepali Congress pressed forward the name of its president to succeed Baburam Bhattarai.
The ruling alliance probably thought that the deeply fractious Nepali Congress would have had a hard time coming up with one name. Conspiratorial minds within the party, it was probably thought, would not be able to stop pitting all those contenders off one another.
That way, Dr. Bhattarai could hope to continue at the helm for a little while longer. Failing that, another communist could step in to pursue that chimera called consensus.
When Sushil was nominated, the astonishment across the political spectrum was palpable. But it was almost immediately camouflaged by a bevy of excuses. He was too disinterested about everything, Maila Baje heard some said. Others pointed out that he was too ill to be able to focus on national challenges. He was inexperienced in administration, still others contended, citing his lack of an executive background.
The latest count against Sushil seems to be that he is somehow against the 12-Point Agreement, the cornerstone of our hyped but hazy post-April 2006 transformation. By extension, this implies that Sushil is against India’s stifling involvement in Nepal, if not an outright anti-‘Indian’.
Such talk is not new. A decade and a half ago, sections of the Indian media – inspired no less by that country’s intelligence community – had sought to link Sushil with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. The allegation that the ISI had bankrolled Sushil election campaign was exacerbated on the basis that his Banke constituency consisted of a heavy Muslim electorate.
That charge did not seem undercut Sushil’s politics. (Let’s not forget that this was a time when the queen was virtually accused of masterminding an Indian premier’s assassination.) He remained active in the higher echelons of the Nepali Congress, emerging as Sher Bahadur Deuba’s nearest competitor for the premiership in the parliamentary party election following the Narayanhity Carnage in 2001.
After strongman Girija Prasad Koirala’s death in 2010, Sushil was elected to the top job bolstered by much more than his surname. While nowhere near the towering personality Girija had been, Sushil has been no puny seat warmer, either. If anything, he has kept divisive tendencies within the party in rather notable check, as it ponders its future.
How that anti-12-Point Agreement tag emerged, it’s hard to say. Sushil’s public pronouncements before and after the April 2006 uprising have not veered in any substantial way from established party policy. As far as his private collaborations are concerned, in all fairness, they should be as irrelevant as those of his peers.
Part of the reason may be Sushil’s vociferous questioning of the Maoists’ motives in entering the peace process. But such suspicions have remained widespread from the start and have been fanned in large part by the Maoists themselves.
Regardless, any impression that Sushil may be less than enthusiastic about India’s role in Nepali affairs appeared to have been negated last summer. In what seemed to be a hastily arranged visit to New Delhi, Sushil had engaged in broad-ranging consultations there. He met most prominent Indian politicians and his subsequent pronouncements did not differ from those made by his peers emerging from similar visits.
So if critics believe Sushil is unworthy of the premiership, they must be able to make a more compelling case. Heck, he might even want to wear the current criticism as a badge of honor, given where we are today.