By Maila Baje
Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba finally has discovered why his party’s presiding deity so consistently counseled against cooperating with communists.
Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala died an inveterate anti-communist and circumspect constitutional monarchist. As someone who was once a communist, B.P.’s disenchantment with our variant of ideologists – if not the universal ideology per se – may have arisen from what he saw up close and personal. How deep his antipathy for the dictatorship of the proletariat ran no longer matters. How much of the dislike was dictated by Cold War calculations and configurations is similarly irrelevant.
B.P.’s turnaround on the monarchy was no less vivid. From the leader of a party that joined hands with a monarch to usher in democracy and then went on to mount assassination attempts on two other monarchs – albeit failed ones – B.P. propounded the Theory of Two Necks in a Noose. Over time, that concept went on to convey how the Nepali Congress and the crown would swim or sink together.
At the time of B.P.’s death in 1982, the Cold War was in post-détente flux. Internally, the monarchy seemed firmly entrenched in the aftermath of a referendum that validated the partyless system as the preferred polity over the multiparty system.
B.P.’s role in that validation was as significant – if not more – than the 55-percent support the palace-led system garnered among the people. As inexplicable as the outcome was to him, B.P. contended, as a democrat he was bound to accept it. This posture ran counter to the predominant mood in the opposition – including the Nepali Congress – which saw the exercise as heavily rigged in favor of the victor.
B.P. probably only had to recall that the referendum, announced after weeks of often violent and unprecedented student protests, came against the background of the Janata Party government in India, which his allies populated. When the referendum was actually held a year later, the Indian National Congress was back in power.
Personal experience with the Nehru-Gandhi juggernaut over the previous two decades must have convinced B.P. that only clear evidence of massive irregularities in favor of partylessness would allow the opposition to mount a successful challenge to the popular verdict. If such massive rigging had indeed taken place, the panchas were smart enough not to leave fingerprints.
What was also unclear to B.P. was the extent of communist backing for the partyless system in the guise of the ‘active boycott’ launched by the best-organized faction (and forerunners of today’s dominant faction in power). At once, B.P.’s support for a reformed Panchayat also sealed his anti-communist credentials.
One poignant emblem of B.P.’s enduring anti-communism was his refusal to reconsider support for partylessness even when the palace and panchas immediately made it clear that their idea of reform contained no place for the Nepali Congress as an organized force.
Eight years after B.P.’s death, when anti-Panchayat protests went on to threaten the monarchy, his youngest brother, Girija Prasad, held firm as a supporter of a crown that had considered him no worthier than a candidate for cabinet minister. (G.P., we understand, was equally firm on nothing less than deputy prime minister until the first convulsions of the fall of the Berlin Wall arrived in Nepal.)
Under the restored multiparty system, G.P. instantly inherited B.P.’s title as Nepal’s principal Red-baiter. It would take two streams of communists – Marxist-Leninists and Maoists – to command G.P.’s attention. Even then, the palace’s shunt was instrumental to the requisite geo-strategic realignments. When the ultimate push came to shove, the palace recognized the perils of equating the Nepali Congress’ anti-communism with its pro-monarchism.
In contemporary terms, the lesson for the Nepali Congress has been more profound. Alliance with the communists resulted in the Nepali Congress ceding ground to them. Having spitefully ditched the monarchy, Nepal’s premier democratic party discovered the sheer difficulty of going it alone. Marginalization may have enlightened Deuba enough to currently cancel a trip to India. But selective education may not help him draw proper conclusions.
Although politically incorrect, it might be useful for us to ponder whether B.P., had he lived a decade or two longer, would still have been against communists and for the monarchy.
BP between reds and Royals
By Maila Baje