Saturday, May 27, 2006

Anyone Seen Her Lately?

Perhaps the most controversial woman during Nepal’s 1990-2002 brush with democracy, she went on to become one of the fiercest critics of King Gyanendra’s direct rule. Her daring escape from Kathmandu after the Feb. 1, 2005 royal takeover made headlines across India.
In Sujata Koirala’s retroanalysis, narrated to one Indian reporter, King Gyanendra certainly had something to do with the Narayanhity bloodbath not because of his family’s fortuitous survival or because the crown fell on his head a second time. It was because Nepal, under his watch, had accelerated toward an autocracy always associated with his personality and predilections.
Sujata was among the first Nepali Congress leaders to advocate an alliance with the Maoist rebels. Weeks later, she traveled to Washington D.C. to rally for democracy in front of the White House. Remember that was a time most Nepalese still blamed her, more than anyone else, including King Gyanendra, for distorting democracy.
Nepalese society wasn’t prepared for such a strong mix of stubbornness, self-assurance and a scent of sleaze in a woman. The fact that she was modern enough to marry a German didn’t matter. Actually, that reality was held against her. (If marriage and life abroad were ever a bar to democratic ebullience in neighboring Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi would probably still have been in Britain.)
Sensing the royal regime’s vulnerability once her father, Girija Prasad Koirala, arrived in New Delhi for his first series of “medical treatment” in mid 2005, Sujata returned home with him to galvanize the pro-democracy protests. (At one point, she was rumored to be paying between Rs.300 and Rs.500 per person per protest day.)
Soon the Nepali Congress dropped its five-decade fealty to constitutional monarchy.
Sujata, however, stunned a Kathmandu audience by asserting that her party would be ready to accept a ceremonial monarchy if King Gyanendra acknowledged his errors. Moreover, she almost extracted a similar pledge from the other SPA speakers on the podium.
With the reinstatement of the House of Representative – an unwavering demand of Girija Prasad Koirala since the day it was dissolved in 2002 – there was little doubt that the NC octogenarian would return as premier. This time, Sujata is conspicuous by her absence.
There could be several explanations. With Maoist supremo Prachanda scripting each act in Kathmandu, there is perhaps little for the prime minister to do, much less for the Koirala coterie.
Or, having finally secured a formal place in the Nepali Congress, Sujata herself must have found it prudent to focus on party organization. (Her last effort was sabotage by someone within the family who whispered into the returning officer’s ears that Sujata had not spent the mandatory five years in the country to be eligible for any Nepali Congress office.)
Maybe the crass politician she is sometimes castigated for has come to surface. Obscurity, no doubt, would shield her from needless controversy. But the corollary must have been more convincing: prominence would pummel those expected to perform in full public view.
Whatever her motives, politics does seem a little different without Sujata Koirala. Unless, of course, that’s the whole point of the historic House of Representative Proclamation.