Sunday, April 07, 2013

Nepali Congress’ Crowning Catch-22

There seems to be an outbreak of nationalism angst in the middle rungs of the Nepali Congress. Be it on the asphyxiating hold of international stakeholders or the issue of domestic federalism, leaders of Nepal’s self-proclaimed single democratic party these leaders have awakened to the nation’s existential peril.
From Shekhar Koirala to Mahesh Acharya to Minendra Rijal, the imperative of an immediate course correction has come out in variety of ways. Some have belatedly recognized how they have used in a hasty plunge into national reinvention; others are suffocating on the sidelines.
B.P. Koirala, the party’s presiding deity, always excited the faithful. Yet today, when party members mouth his call for fusing democracy and nationalism, they do so by much more than paying lip service.
Congress leaders and workers may not say it aloud, but the torment is traceable to the party’s abandonment of its traditional commitment to constitutional monarchy. Whatever may have led the late Girija Prasad Koirala to hurtle toward full-blown republicanism – exasperation, a sense of history, ambition or an outright quest for revenge – there were those who were dubious of the rupture from the outset.
Forced to choose between fealty to democracy and monarchy, it certainly seemed fashionable for the party to ditch the palace. There was also a certain smugness about the separation. The idea that the party would require enough basic relevance in order to be able to hoist the banner of democracy was simply discounted.
What energized the Nepali Congress during good times and bad was its ability to combine its commitment to democracy and monarchy into a call for action. Even when the party attempted to murder two kings, it could assert with enough credibility that it was merely targeting autocratic monarchy.
Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal proudly insists that the Nepali Congress has lost much of its significance simply because Nepal is now a republic. Nepali Congress leaders and workers who thought they were doing the monarchy a favor are today feeling its absence.
What can the Nepali Congress do? Platitudes on peace and prosperity can only lead them so far among the people. At least the communists have the organization and regimentation to drag along a dead ideology. With the departure of Girija Koirala, the party has become an even more pathetic collection of individuals battling extinction.
Thus, the more important question is, what will the Nepali Congress do? Reversing its abandonment of constitutional monarchy will hardly seem credible, even with an overdose of contrition. Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal has a stronger case there.
Many Nepali Congress leaders, by virtue of their recent silence on the issue of monarchy, look more dignified than, say, Surya Bahadur Thapa and Pashupati Shamsher Rana. (The first of these avowed republicans, Maila Baje recalls, once wanted King Birendra to hang B.P. Koirala, while the second, as education minister during the 1979 student protests, thought he could simply snuff out those on the streets before he finally resigned.)
Still, a Nepali Congress alliance with so-called nationalist forces will divert too much attention on the meanings of both ‘alliance’ and ‘nationalism’. Let’s say such an amalgamation does become the dominant political force – one that might even lead to the restoration of the monarchy.
What would the Nepali Congress do about the damage that has already been done to Nepal’s ability to exercise its sovereign options? Here, the onus would fall heavily on the Nepali Congress, too, because much of that damage was inflicted by its rash desertion of the monarchy in the first place.