By Maila Baje
We don’t know what kind of healing Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba got in Singapore for the unspecified ‘stomach ailment’ that took him there a few weeks ago. But the former prime has undoubtedly come back with more fire in his belly.
Of all the things that could have pushed Deuba’s buttons, the most mundane seems to have set him off. After leading the charge in blocking Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli from addressing parliament, Deuba has taken much time to warn the government and the ruling party of the perils of dissing him so dishonorably.
Admittedly, respect is a primeval human quest that has been validated by current liberal/left thinking and action as an integral part of the dignity of personhood. But, c’mon, it’s not like Deuba has been singled out for insult and humiliation by those in power.
Oli’s government has perfected the art of flouting others. Heck, the prime minister doesn’t listen to most members of his own party. Why should that kind of treatment sting Deuba so much?
Yet it does. After threatening to pull down the Oli government if it persisted with its all-round highhandedness, Deuba actually held an extended meeting with ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’. Of course, both sides were careful not to divulge too much about what was discussed. Clever more than careful, perhaps. By letting our collective imagination run wild, Deuba and Dahal both hope to mount pressure on Oli.
On the shenanigans within the NCP, no one knows what might happen next. We’ve all seen the power-sharing deal between Oli and Dahal that preceded the unification of the Unified Marxist Leninist and Maoist factions. But, then, it’s turned out to be barely worth the paper it is on.
Organizationally, the churning process continues unabated where once diehard Dahal allies are flocking to Oli and vice versa. For now, the accepted wisdom is that Oli could pre-empt Dahal by calling mid-term elections, while Dahal could split the party to gain the premiership.
Amid all this, Deuba’s infuriation could have been exacerbated by the realization that his routes to relevance are dwindling. The Nepali Congress is in such organizational and ideological doldrums that Deuba recognizes he continues to head the party only because his rivals are busier fighting one another than opposing him. With the Rastriya Prajatantra Party now having coopted B.P. Koirala and his national reconciliation agenda, the Nepali Congress will have a harder time figuring out whether to turn left or right.
Ordinarily, the Nepali Congress might have wanted to sit back until the next election and watch the NCP dig itself in a deeper hole. Amid the imponderables Deuba faces within, that course of action has become a big luxury. It would be nice for Deuba personally to get back to being premier. Power and patronage would allow him to consolidate his position in the party. The immediate imperative, however, is to do something – or at least project the perception of such.
Aiding and abetting Dahal’s unsheathed pursuit of the premiership would allow Deuba to regain a part of the initiative. As Dahal expresses helplessness at his party’s inability to identify the murderers of Madan Bhandari before fearing for his own life, he can read the scowls and smirks on Oli’s face. Deuba, for his part, can vent the annoyance and anger that Dahal himself finds expedient not to unleash personally. The former Fierce One wears a calm and collected demeanor while the consummate consensus-builder has more than the grumpiness of, well, a hungry tiger. Who’s dissing whom, really?