Nepali Times
State Of The State
Party time for the PM


Now that Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has finalised the country's budget, he must pay attention to the other conditionalities of bilateral and multilateral donors and lenders. And on top of that particular agenda is getting rid of the deadwood in his cabinet. The wood there is not just dead, it is rotten.

The London meet of donors and loaners gave Deuba an unequivocal message: shape up, or ship out. Some important cabinet names were specifically dropped. It is not difficult to figure out whose names were openly censured, but you can tell because they have gone awfully quiet lately.

Here is an opportunity that Deuba must not miss. After the London meet, he has a valid reason to drop some of these hot potatoes. A lame-duck partyless prime minister waiting for the decision of the Supreme Court doesn't need three dozen ministers to run the day-to-day administration of the country. A caretaker government has to be manageable to fully follow the directives of the election commission. The smaller the cabinet, the smaller the chances that election codes will be transgressed. There is no conceivable justification for Deuba to carry the millstone of discredited politicos round his neck.

There are certain political compulsions too that must make Deuba reconsider the size and the composition of his cabinet. Though his status is still technically partyless, the prime minister's party is not yet a hard reality. If Deuba is to further his aim of undermining the Nepali Congress lead by Girija Prasad Koirala, he must institutionalise his political outfit. He needs his senior cabinet colleagues more at his New Baneswor office than in Singha Darbar. The country and the multi-party democracy too would benefit by proper functioning of the prime minister's party.

To institutionalise Deuba's new political set up, an old warhorse like Chiranjibi Wagle is an invaluable asset. The prime minister's decision to keep Wagle as his deputy at his party office is a wise one. But he must release Wagle from the responsibility of running the Public Works Ministry so that his vice-chairman can fully concentrate on his primary task of building a new political party capable of facing elections.

Putting Khum Bahdur Khadka as the secretary general of his new political outfit is another shrewd move. Khadka's practical skills are legendary, and he can put them to better use in a set up where his methods are allowed full play. Devendra Raj Kandel would perhaps be a more appropriate person to keep the morale of the security forces high as the minister of state in-charge of the Home Ministry. Kandel is the person who made the notorious remark: "bring along the severed heads of Maoists and take the reward in the same bag."

Bijay Gachhedar is waging a lone battle against what he perceives as the "Koirala tyranny" in Sunsari. As the deputy secretary general of the Deuba party, he has to keep himself free from the open feuds with the secretary at the Water Resources Ministry. In any case, the government can't take any policy decisions at this moment; and Gachhedar's departure from the ministry will not affect the government in any way.

With Panchayat-trained journalists at the helms of government-run media, there is no need for a competent person like Jaya Prakash Gupta at the Ministry of Information and Communication. His talents can definitely be better utilised in countering the campaign of Koirala-led congress. There is no reason why Gupta shouldn't temporarily leave Singha Darbar and make Rajbiraj his base to further the political aims of his leader.
Sharat Singh Bhandari's organisational talents are formidable, and could be put to better use for the election campaign in Sindhuli, Dhanusha and Mahottari than in the Ministry of Heatlh.

Another thing that Deuba must do to strengthen his party is fire his army of back-door and front-door advisers. They should be asked to go the grassroots and canvass support for their boss. All the advice that Deuba needs he can have from his wife. Similarly, congenital losers at national elections like Pradeep Giri, Prakash Man Singh, Badri Narayan Basnet and Bimalendra Nidhi need to be given tasks more appropriate to their skills. These die-hard dissenters are liabilities for any political party, and it would do Deuba a world of good if they joined the Koirala Congress.

Building a political party from a scratch is no joke. It is more challenging than being in a government that is barred by the election commission from taking any major decisions. Deuba's side-kicks would therefore be more useful to him in the districts than in Kathmandu. Being in the districts would also send a strong message to the security forces that the civil politicians are not chicken, and that this is a party that cares for the welfare of the rest of the country and not just Kathmandu. These fellows have stayed in Singha Darbar for far too long, they badly need to feel the pulse of the people. Shedding the cabinet flab would also please Nepal's donors and loaners.

For far too long, Deuba has come across as being insecure and afraid of being toppled from within, now it is time to lead the pack. After all, he is now the chairperson of a political party that has to face the impending local elections even if the court reinstates the house. The American Embassy has stopped referring to the Deuba-led party as Nepali Congress and started calling it the "prime minister's party" instead. But hanging on to the coattails of the international community can only take him this far. The rest Deuba has to do himself.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)