In Machiavellian tradition, politicos communicate with each other in circumspect ways to avoid making commitments. One-to-one conversation is the most reliable means of receiving information, passing instructions and maintaining relationships. The main advantage of the process is that it keeps everyone else guessing. Should the need arise to deny an exchange, the version of the more powerful person stays.
The use of go-betweens during informal exchanges is also very common. This is the preferred method of reconciliation between feuding factions. Contacts help in laying groundwork for summits that then formalize understandings reached through intermediaries. Distortion is an inherent risk. The advantage is that when anything goes wrong, it is convenient for both parties to blame their messengers.
Even though Sushil Koirala is a much senior politician and an elected president of Nepali Congress (NC), Sher Bahadur Deuba probably considers himself to be his equal—if not superior—simply because he is a former Prime Minister. In bureaucratic culture of Kathmandu, retired public officials pin protocol statuses to their lapels when not displaying it on their headgears. After the aristocratic hierarchy, where the son-in-law of a Rana-Shah family has an edge over the cousin of the Koirala clan, public posts held now or in the past is the second most significant marker of one’s social standing.
Koirala and Deuba are not amicable enough with each other to exchange notes about political realities of either their party or the country. The likes of Krishna Prasad Sitaula and Bimalendra Nidhi often do the spadework on their behalf. The Barhabise gathering of district unit chiefs of NC could have been a forum for the two warring leaders to put their differences aside—it would be too much to expect easy resolution of factional feuds dating back decades—and chart out a common course acceptable to all. It appears that the communication broke down and the party remains stuck in the rut.
FRUSTRATIONS AND FLUSTER
By all accounts, the opportunity that comes with every crisis went unrecognised and the Barhabise meet was wasted in drinking, dining, whining and repeating inanities. Since sharing berths in the Madhav Nepal cabinet, the NC has acquired distinctive traits of CPN-UML. Akin to vacillation endemic to every decision emanating from Balkhu Palace, pronouncements of NC too have begun to reek of ambiguity, beguilement, caginess and equivocation.
There is nothing in the Barhabise ‘declaration’ to energize its own party members, let alone lift the spirits of the downcast population. The country is in a deep constitutional and political mess, but all that the irresolute district chiefs want to prioritise is that the grand old party declare a candidate for the post of premier as if President Ram Baran Yadav was impatiently waiting to oust the legitimate incumbent of Baluwatar!
The jamboree of NC district chiefs proved the enduring relevance of Grucho Marx grouch: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” No wonder, Gagan Thapa sighed through the social media that the conclave in Sindhupalchok had deepened his despair even more.
Gagan is a post-1990 politician. He is not one among NC cadres that have grown up with the belief that theirs was the party of default for all democrats. Back in the 1990s, such an assumption did not sound as preposterous as it does now. For nearly three decades, ‘democrat’ had indeed been a euphemism to signify supporters and sympathisers of the proscribed parliamentary party even as communists called themselves progressives and monarchists claimed being nationalists.
During the general elections of 1991, the NC was so sanguine about its lead that its strategists did not even feel the need to update the manifesto of the 1950s. Results reinforced its self-perception of being a mass-based party. The organization was ignored, cadres were treated shabbily and election commitments were given short shift. The party in government began to pretend as if it was the party of the government. The mid-term elections in 1994 did shake the confidence of some top-notch leaders, but consequent political instability failed to force them to mend their ways.
HOPES AND DESPAIR
In hindsight, it appears astounding that NC could not even recognize reasons behind its degeneration. The Tarai-Madhesh has always been its home ground. The challenge of mainstreaming Madheshis through proactive policies was ignored. The democratic notion of nationality began to decompose into fascistic nationalism. Socialism became a sneer word when the social elite, backed by the zeitgeist of free-market fundamentalism, embraced the consumerist credo of flaunting its wealth.
The Maoist vanguard cleverly manipulated discontents simmering beneath the surface. They fanned the fire of disappointment of the marginalized. The derision heaped upon the parliamentary system by the traditional elite was magnified. In its vengefulness, the royal-military clique wanted to destabilise the democratic order. Maoists posed as their instruments. The bureaucratic old guard despised its upstart political masters. Naivety had made the newly free media act like megaphones of Maoist propaganda.
Why trust a political party that has no faith in constitution through an elected CA and merely echoes the Indian establishment that polls be held for a new parliament?
Geopolitical interests of Nepal’s land and sky neighbours had begun to collide, necessitating the emergence of domestic pawns of all kinds. There is hardly anything new in the ‘revelations’ of Prof. SD Muni or ‘disclosures’ of Shyam Sharan: They have merely validated what had been the talk of the town all along. The NC leadership failed to come up with a credible strategy to deal with these exigencies.
Populist agenda and charismatic leadership are qualifying features of a mass-based party. The NC had none when Maoists were banging at the doors of Kathmandu valley and the royalist military had stopped pretending that it was capable of protecting anything other than its own barracks. That was when Girija Prasad Koirala chanced upon two simple words: Peace and Democracy. The rest is, as the cliché goes, history, and so became the relevance of NC. Once he succeeded in holding Constituent Assembly elections, GP tried to rejuvenate his party by harping upon the necessity of consensus and constitution, but his flock was too dispirited by then to respond to his tune.
No matter how hard propagandists try, they cannot make the allegation stick that democratically elected Maoist representatives are enemies of peace and constitution. The accusation begins to sound even more hollow when one looks at the kind of desperate company NC honchos keep these days: Messrs Madhav Nepal, KP Oli, Mohan Baidya, Mohan Bikram Singh and Chitra Bahadaur KC are not too well known for their commitments to fairness and justice.
Though not ideologically deceased yet, the NC has certainly become diseased to the core where nobody believes in anything anymore. Then why should the country trust a party that has no faith in promulgating the constitution through an elected Constituent Assembly and merely echoes the desire of the Indian establishment that the polls be held for a new parliament? The NC has only whimpers for an answer.
Ethno-linguistic identities are realities of the contemporary world. Federalism would be the form of governance in future. Inclusion and participation are ways of building a state-nation, not merely of managing diversities. A leader is said to be a dealer of hope. The tragedy of these times is that the fear-stricken NC leadership cannot even convincingly convey the message to the masses that the glory days of the party lie ahead, not behind. Consequently, the party wastes its energies in fighting imaginary enemies within its own ranks.
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