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Politics of pre-emption?

By Maila Baje
Khum Bahadur Khadka is a restless man. He has been edgy for quite a while.
The Nepali Congress luminary is said to have around half a dozen central committee members and twice that number of lawmakers in his camp. He has been seeking the party’s vice-presidency, citing the central role he played in the election of Sher Bahadur Deuba to the top job at the party convention.
Deuba, however, is wavering. The three-time premier has long been familiar with Khadka’s prowess. Without him, Deuba could not have broken away to form his Nepali Congress (Democratic) in 2002. Although that enterprise turned out to be a sheer disaster for the country in many ways, Deuba did ultimately prosper from it.
Sure, the king sacked him twice for incompetence. But that was then. Without the opportunity of leading his own party, Deuba could not have returned to the Nepali Congress so galvanized as to claim the mantle left behind by mentor-turned-rival Girija Prasad Koirala.
Khadka, for his part, knows the unreliability of Deuba. As general secretary of the breakaway party, he seemed thereby intent on establishing its primacy. Serving as Deuba’s home minister, he opposed the prime minister’s recommendation that the king postpone the parliamentary election, maintaining that the administration was capable of warding off the Maoists and organizing an exercise then deemed as central to survival of democracy.
Deuba instead got the sack and the king took over, with the deposed premier now peddling himself as the second coming of B.P. Koirala. Khadka, meanwhile, found himself imprisoned under some of the same senior police officials he was commanding. As Deuba continued playing the victim, it was Girija Prasad Koirala who would call the deposed home minister to enquire about his health and raise his political spirits. That ‘nurturing’ encouraged Khadka and core loyalists to return to the Nepali Congress in 2003.
Deuba got to become a palace-appointed premier before being sacked a second time in early 2005. His arrest and detention came late in the royal regime to really matter. Under republican Nepal, Khadka was convicted of corruption and spent one-and-half years in jail before emerging to resurrect his career.
He has been remarkably successful, one must admit. Today Khadka critics claim that rewarding someone with such a sleazy past with the vice-presidency would serve to tarnish the reputation of the party. They are missing the point. Khadka served time for his sins. If precluding a politician from politics for life just because of a criminally corrupt past made sense, those advocating might have prescribed Khadka a life (or even perhaps the death) sentence.
A man does time, paying his debt to society, and comes out to find out that he can no longer do the only job he knows how to do. How fair is that?
Furthermore, party members have trusted Khadka enough to elect him to the Central Working Committee with the second highest number of votes. Why, then, should a corrupt past be a bar to an appointive position like the vice-presidency? And if Khadka wasn’t too dirty for Deuba when he wanted the votes, should he really consider him too tainted to serve as his deputy?
Maybe the corruption argument is a ruse and Khadka critics fear him for his pro-Hindu statehood banner. Unlike the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal’s, Khadka’s plank is not tied to the monarchy. (At least, not overtly). Or maybe the critics remember something the rest of the country seems to have forgotten. Khadka is the last surviving leader who stepped out of that aircraft on that cold December day with B.P. Koirala seeking national reconciliation in 1976.
To many ears, B.P. and Hindu statehood probably don’t seem to go together well. Yet could they be a winning combination for Khadka – and one that his rivals desperately want to pre-empt?

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