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Unlikely Allies In Nepal’s Realignment Race

Unlikely Allies In Nepal’s Realignment Race

By Madan P. Khanal

As the Maoists prepare to name their representatives to the interim government and parliament, forces marginalized after the collapse of King Gyanendra’s regime in April are stirring into action. How much a realignment of non-communist forces outside the ambit of the two Nepali Congress factions can influence the emerging political order remains unclear.

Moves to bring royalists under one umbrella were set off by the resignation of Rastriya Prajatantra Party (Thapa) president Kamal Thapa, home minister in King Gyanendra’s regime. With veteran Rabindra Nath Sharma having taken over the leadership, there is a prospect of further realignment on the right.

The party of another royalist minister, Keshar Bahadur Bista, seems set to merge with the Rastriya Janashakti Party of former prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa. Sharma and Thapa are not only allies but share close friends across the southern border. Therefore, a Sharma-Thapa alliance – if not outright merger – might not be out of the question.

The ongoing race becomes interesting when one considers another unlikely player. The CPN-UML is hedging its bets. General secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal has said his party would not participate in a new interim government only to face “humiliation”. Other UML leaders have barely concealed their disdain at the way Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist supremo Prachanda have been trying to elbow out their party.

With the Maoists on board, the communists should have been the driving force in the emerging order. As the principal communist faction, the UML must have at least theoretically entertained the idea of staking a claim to lead the interim government. There is little doubt that the job would go to anyone other than Koirala.

But Prachanda’s urgency in naming the ailing octogenarian was bound to have been felt by the UML as another effort at marginalization. Accepting the Maoists as an equal partner in the interim parliament must have been difficult enough for the UML. (Both communist groups get 73 seats each.) Surely, it does not want to be blamed for derailing the peace process. At the same time, UML leaders look too full to keep on swallowing their pride for too long.

Thing have been complicated by the factionalism around Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bamdev Gautam, K.P. Oli and Jhal Nath Khanal. If frustrated cadres continue flowing into Maoist ranks, the UML leaders know they would be left hanging dry. Yet they are no fools when it comes to making their point.

Madhav Nepal probably nurses a grudge against King Gyanendra for systematically refusing to give him the top job when the palace reigned supreme. Yet he fortified the palace by claiming royal regression as having been partially corrected before joining the palace-appointed Sher Bahadur Deuba government in 2004. That was more to spite Koirala, who reneged on his promise to back Nepal as the opposition’s consensus candidate for premier.

When the iron hand of the palace struck the following year, Madhav Nepal was the politician that ended up the longest in detention. Much would depend on whether Madhav Nepal’s resentments against Koirala and Prachanda have taken precedence over those against the palace. Could a wounded UML move closer to the palace to checkmate the Nepali Congress and the Maoists’ quest to monopolize power?

This is not as unlikely as it may sound because of the track record of the UML – at least in its earlier incarnation. Surya Bahadur Thapa, as prime minister in 1980, is accused of having rigged the referendum in favor of the Panchayat system. The less told story is that of the role of the Marxist-Leninists – the UML’s forerunners. The most influential communist faction then, the ML organized an “active boycott” of the referendum.

What that really meant was that ML supporters voted for retaining the Panchayat system. Not to please the palace but to prevent arch anti-communist B.P. Koirala’s Nepali Congress from monopolizing a triumphant multiparty camp.


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