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Nepali Congress’ nettlesome contortions

By Maila Baje
As Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli was busy railing against our fraternity of professional star-watchers for advancing a vast right-wing conspiracy against his government, Nepali Congress Vice-President Ram Chandra Poudel helped a little to explain how we got here.
On the last day of the first constituent assembly, then Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ had pledged the premiership to Poudel in exchange for the Nepali Congress’ support for the still-dominant ex-rebels’ 10 ethnic state model of new Nepal. Poudel said the price tag for the top job was too excessive. Even for someone who contested a dozen or so times against Dahal for the legislature’s backing for the premiership. So incumbent Baburam Bhattarai stepped down for chief executive Khil Raj Regmi to conduct an impartial election to the second constituent assembly.
Of course, the 10-state model fizzled into something amorphous during the second assembly. In the end, the states were delineated but they still don’t have official names and capitals. Yet they are already locking horns with the center over power, privilege and pelf. Dahal is probably happy that Poudel refused his offer. Our federalism fiasco would be emitting a louder thud today, with the Maoists getting most of the blame.
A more pertinent revelation from Poudel might have been one on why he chose to stay with the main Congress party after promising to lead the breakaway Sher Bahadur Deuba faction in the summer of 2002. Irrelevant as that may seem to republican Nepal, the precise details might help explain some of the Nepali Congress’ woes today.
If Poudel’s intention in letting us in on this forgone-premiership tidbit was to suggest that Congressis do have the national interest in mind when it really matters, well, good for him. But isn’t he the leading Congressi who has been saying all these years that the party can no longer expect to sell its history for a profit?
The Nepali Congress’ current strategy of letting the Communist Party of Nepal government dig itself into a deeper hole might have made sense if the main opposition party were less crude in exhibiting its infighting. As the man who headed the party to its worst electoral defeat, Deuba could have taken moral responsibility and resigned as president. But, then, Deuba was elected by his party convention.
Moreover, morality cannot be imposed by people who lost the general election on Deuba, who won. Krishna Prasad Sitaula served the party’s purposes in a specific context which does not exist today. The Koirala cousins need to conclude their internecine battles before they can hope to rejuvenate the party. Minor scions like Prakash Man Singh and Bimalendra Nidhi need to do much more than switch camps if they want to be taken seriously.
If the factionalism is too deep to paper over, then maybe Nepali Congress leaders should stop making public pronouncements on seminal subjects. One day the party is in favor of restoring Nepal’s Hindi identity, the next day it refuses to entertain advocates of that agenda at a key meeting. Soon thereafter general secretary Shashank Koirala comes out loud and clear in favor of revisiting republicanism and federalism as well before claiming the next day that he was misquoted.
And speaking of the Koiralas, the Nepali Congress can’t figure out which boat they want to ride on, Bishweswar Prasad’s or Girija Prasad’s. At least the Oli-Dahal duo seem to have some method to their madness.

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