By Maila Baje
In what must be one of the wildest 180s in our modern political history, Nepali Congress General Secretary Shashank Koirala the other day spurned the need for a referendum on republicanism and federalism.
A day earlier, Shashank, who has in the past stressed the need to democratically revisit Nepal’s decision to declare itself secular, had extended that test to the country’s republican and federal character as well. In his revised comments, Shashank accepted that republicanism and federalism are achievements of People’s Movement II.
Despite that correction, Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba is among those objecting to the general secretary’s statement. Deuba is in a peculiar position. While the party officially stands behind the three pillars of the current constitution, he also knows that the stance makes it no different from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). More importantly, Deuba knows that the Nepali people know that even better.
But Deuba still carries the royalist tag. Two royal dismissals for incompetence and extended incarceration on corruption charges haven’t washed away the perception that he enabled renewed royal assertiveness in the first place.
Ram Chandra Poudel, for his part, is unhappy with Shashank, Deuba and a lot of other senior people in the party. But he is not prepared to don the royalist tag to take on his rivals or take over the party – at least, not yet.
Shekhar Koirala recognizes that he can never mount a challenge for B.P. Koirala’s legacy – the most prized one in the party – as long as the direct line of Nepal’s first elected prime minister contains viable contenders. If Shekhar realized that he stood even a smidgen of a chance, he would not let constitutional monarchy stand in the way. Very prudently, he has settled for G.P. Koirala’s mantle, confident of overcoming Girijababu’s daughter, Sujata. (Again, the operative word here being ‘viable’.)
As someone who owes his political rise to his bold slogans of republicanism at a time when party elders considered that heresy, Gagan Thapa’s opposition to Shashank’s remarks is far more than understandable. Nepalis in his age group and under may be reluctant to equate monarchism with lack of modernity. Thapa has locked himself too tightly in a do-or-die pose.
You can be pretty sure that Shashank didn’t make that comment in haste. And you can be equally sure that he withdrew it with the deftness and daftness of a trial lawyer with an eye on the jury, i.e., the wider Nepali people. If the country’s leading secessionist C.K. Raut can seemingly abjure his demand for a referendum on an independent Madhesh and then rename his organization the Janmat Party, you’ve got to wonder how many doors have been opened on this constitutionally enshrined exercise.
The political drivers can talk all they want about the necessity to strengthen the gains of People’s Movement II. The people have long begun to wonder whether those ‘gains’ have contributed to far serious losses over the long run.
Nepalis have long been flustered how republicanism, federalism and secularism could be deemed an intrinsic part of the 12-Point Agreement when the document never specifically mentioned them. It must mean that the Indian architects of the mainstream-Maoist alliance are finally catching up with the Nepali public that Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli’s cabinet wants Indian Ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri to clarify the circumstances and context surrounding his purported talks with former king Gyanendra in Janakpur recently.