Last Sunday, Prime Minister and Nepali Congress president, Girija Prasad Koirala, had his party MPs for high-tea. The same evening, Koirala's competitor and leader-in-waiting Sher Bahadur Deuba invited his loyalists over for dinner. Apparently, ruling party faction-leaders seem to have come to the conclusion that the way to the hearts of parliamentarians is through their stomachs. No wonder, really, as their tribe can stomach almost anything. From chicken-legs to leg-pulling, anything goes. Everything seems fair game in the ruling party these days.
Those who struggled for a multi-party system hadn't quite bargained for this multiple party politics of non-stop partying. When the Nepali Congress parliamentary party enacted the farcical no-confidence motion last week against the leadership of Girija Prasad Koirala, the only ingredient missing was the five-star safe-house for captive MPs pioneered by Bam Dev Gautam in the bad old days of the hung parliament. Otherwise, it was a tiresome replay of the same uncertainty and instability even though we have a lower house where one single party-the Nepali Congress-is in absolute majority. This time round, MPs only jumped the camp-fence instead of party fences. Some consolation.
At a time when everyone is feeling the need for all political forces reaching a consensus over issues of common national interest, the petty infighting in the ruling party is not only distracting, but downright dangerous. Its tragic consequences were seen in the last week of December. When the capital was burning, one group of ruling party MPs was walking to the parliamentary party secretariat to register their no-confidence motion. The other group, presumably, was chalking out plans to counter this challenge to Koirala's leadership. Deuba was baking his separate cake, while Koirala-loyalists were trying to fry their own pakaudas. None were interested in the fire outside the kitchen that had started consuming the whole country.
Prime Minister Koirala, or his challenger Deuba, do not seem to have realised that communal conflict, if not handled properly, will prove to be even more dangerous than the Maoist insurgency. A hill-plains divide puts a question mark over the very survival of Nepal as we know it. The ruling party does not seem to have realised that if there is no kitchen, they can't cook their khichadi, neither together nor separately.
One reason for the lack of cohesion in the ranks of the Nepali Congress could be its ideological confusion. The slogan of democracy, socialism and nationalism has outlived its utility for the party of B.P. Koirala. Nepali Congress, as it stands today, is neither democratic in its functioning nor socialistic by conviction. Its nationalism has degenerated into Panchayat-style chauvinism. The party must find what it stands for. Only then will it be able to maintain its relevance.
On the surface of it, there seems almost nothing in common between faction-leaders Sher Bahadur Deuba and, let's say, Ram Chandra Poudel. Deuba swears by the market, has his eyes on mega-dams and finds nothing wrong in associating himself with the likes of Khum Bahadur Khadka and Bijaya Gachhedar. Poudel, on the other hand, still goes by Gandhi's self-reliance, quotes Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful with stars in his eyes, and tries to maintain a safe distance between himself and Govinda Raj Joshi. The question then is: why are they together in the same party? Bhattarai and Koirala aren't for ever. It is these middle-aged youth leaders who have to learn to chart their own different courses. Like-minded politicians will then get on board, and the country will have something to
We have said it before, and we say it once again, it is time for the Nepali Congress to formally bifurcate instead of wasting all the political energy of the country in fighting each other in the same party. Will that happen any time soon? Don't bet on it, watch this space instead. To be continued, as usual.
Long march to nowhere
The dawning of the hour of the Peace March (Revolutionary) bodes ill for the lazy amongst our leaders and would-be leaders. The call of the hour is walk, walk, and then walk some more-for peace, which we won't see in the near future, and spouting messages of hope we are beginning not to believe in. Why does it take something like the chaos with which we ushered in the new Gregorian millennium to bring our self-righteous many to their feet? And it could be argued that it's fitting punishment that those who either fanned the flames, or did nothing to stop the idiocy, should be made to inhale the dust and carbon monoxide. First we fiddle while the Valley burns, then we go on padayatras weeping crocodile tears. As a species, with stunning regularity, we seem to be prone to missing the forest for the trees. Sanity, change and good governance are a long way off, but not down this road.