Bipin Adhikari
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Nepali Congress under Koirala: The Great Betrayal

Bipin Adhikari, October, 2007

Betrayal , as a form of deception or dismissal of prior political commitment, is not uncommon in politics anywhere. However, the fact that Prime Minister G. P. Koirala, with 65 years of active politics, is capable to do it is something that comes not just as a surprise to the activists and voters of Nepali Congress, but also as a shame.

As a reform-oriented centrist party, the Nepali Congress has been on the frontline of politics and democratization since it was established in 1947. From the beginning it enjoys the support of the modest, democratic and non-communist voters of this country. They nurtured this party through decades for its commitment to soft politics and institutions based on Westminster model, the principle of national reconciliation as the strategy of Nepal's independence and survival, and representative democracy.

Shift in Policies
Now there is a new edition of G. P. Koirala, which has challenged these ideals without allowing discussions – and without any working strategy and national direction. He has taken for granted that what he decides is the decision of the nation.

This is not all. Koirala has also cajoled this country - already deeply wounded for its faith in representative institutions – by upholding that those parties who think differently should not have access to the Parliament, and should have practically no opportunity to contest the constituent assembly elections. He has made sure that people who differ with him within the Congress have no voice in the public. In all these betrayals, and maneuverings to 'republicanise' Nepal by hooks or crooks, who knows it more than Prime Minister Koirala himself how outrageously treacherous he has proved to this otherwise proud democracy and a country of profoundly nationalist people. Since he approved the India-initiated 12-point understanding in New Delhi last year, Prime Minister Koirala has ignored the agenda of the Nepali Congress. He has also fully stopped the line of communication with the rank-and-file of the Congress.

Two important Decisions
Recently, Prime Minister Koirala took two important decisions: firstly, he reunited the Nepali Congress Party that had been living with the agonies of vertical split since the last five years, supposedly making it as strong as it was during the last general elections (if not more); and secondly, he changed his party having faith in constitutional monarchy and Westminster model of democracy into a republican party with no sustainable agenda for transformation – finally conceding to the Indian demand that monarchy has already served its purpose, and it must go.

The remarks of Koirala until a few months before about national reconciliation, or the policy of Nepali Congress that pleaded tradition with modernity as the basis to defend democracy and protect national independence, has at once become out of context to him. As a consequence, the party which has been re-united at the leadership level has lost its bases of power at the voters' level. They still believe in constitutional monarchy, a democratic system based on devolution of power to the local people, and a unitary and strong Nepal. Needless to say, at a time when the Party needs its voters overwhelmingly in the impending constituent assembly elections-- especially against extremists and communal elements-- Prime Minister Koirala has thrown them into the mire of confusion, lies and extremist propaganda. Strangely enough, he thinks the Congress will come back to power – without its voters, because the goodwill that the Congress has lost will be compensated by the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum – a new outfit supposedly going to be his new partner in the forthcoming elections. Of course, Koirala is building on wrong premises.

Subtleties of Monarchy
Twenty-eight years before, in 1979, when t he Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, had fled his country following months of violent protests against his regime, many democrats and liberals thought that the roadblock to democracy has finally been set aside. In fact, just as G. P. Koirala betrayed King Gyanendra and most of the commoners of Nepal, Dr Shapur Bahktiar, the man who Shah Pahlavi had appointed as Prime Minister just one month before he fled, too had disingenuously forced him to leave the country.

The person, who the increasing number of violent clashes between security forces and anti-Shah demonstrators established in power, was Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini. With the support of the liberals and commies, very much like the support of the imperfect 'loktantrabadis' of Nepal to the Maoists, Khomeini finally came to assert control over the course leading to a revolutionary Islamic Council to replace what he called the "illegal government" of Iran. Whatever little democracy the Iranians had during the period of Shah has become a dream for the people since then. After all, democracy is a process not a product, and no Khomeini can ensure it – whether he creates a constitution through his religious decree, or a constituent assembly under the shadow of bloodhounds and separatists.

Communist Invasion
The pressures on Prime Minister Koirala are understandable. He is just like "a parrot in a cage." But emerging from the difficulties that a country has been plunged into is possible only when the best interest of the nation stands out as the core issue of the national agenda.

When the bases of power are not the voters, whether G. P. Koirala or Babarak Karmal - the Russia nominated President for communist Afghanistan, the effect on the nation is bound to be catastrophic. A leading Afghan Marxist, Karmal lost not only his country but also the prospect of democracy for a long time when he became Russian puppet ruler after the Russian invasion in 1979. The Karmal government, even with the aid of nearly 110,000 Soviet troops, air power and large scale ground offensives was not able to deal with resistance forces. His famed charisma had failed him, for few Afghans wanted to work with the puppet of a foreign power. In fact, Afghans quickly dubbed Karmal as "Shah Shuja the Second," a reference to an Afghan puppet of the British in the 19th century.

Again, who knows it more than Koirala, how the 'Lhendups' of the Kingdom of Sikkim brought 'gallons' of democracy in the country and washed away all traces of its nationhood from the history. Unfortunately, the poor Chogyal didn't even have a standing army to defend its people when the country was being overrun by the renegades and foreign invaders advising him.

Chassis of National Reconciliation
It is against the background of annexation of Sikkim that Late B. P. Koirala had appealed to the nation in 1976 that "in the history of each country, an hour arrives when its people stake their lives to defend the integrity and independence of their motherland. We do feel that such an hour has come in Nepal. .. Our personal safety is of little consequence in the face of the danger threatening the very existence of our country." Nepali Congress needs to be reminded again: "The people of Nepal have a twofold responsibility - achievement of democracy and defense of national integrity. If, however, we consider one of the two responsibilities as our only task, we would be one sided and commit a grave blunder." And if we lay stress on the achievement of democracy alone, we may not effectively participate in resolving the national crisis." For these obvious reasons, late B. P. Koirala had maintained that his neck is joined with the neck of the King; and if one of them is killed, the other will not survive for this very reason. Time might have changed, but not the context. Surprisingly, a few Congressmen have come up, here and there, in recent days, who have been arguing that B. P. has become out of context; and the policy of national reconciliation has already lost its roots. Unfortunately, at that level of simplicity, it just does not work.

Foundations of a centrist party
To remain stronger, every political party has to respond to its constituencies, and try to build on their aspiration. Even a fool knows that republicanism is a Maoist slogan. They mean it; and they have certain use for it. Among the democrats, federalism is the slogan of some disgruntled people, who want more participation in the political system, but have little ideas of how the system might work. It requires serious work and sustainable strategies, which none of them have ever been able to bring before the public. Maoists again have their own strategic threads on it, which must be checked for absurdities. The voters of the Nepali Congress can buy religious freedom (at the most protection of all religions, or equal distance with all of them); but it will not be able to digest ten types of community laws. They might throw their weight on devolution of power to the locals; but they will not accept a situation where ethnic ego runs over the representative institutions, and the indivisibility of the nation. Getting from here to there is a matter of routine planning and building institutions, not heroics, and certainly not the extra-ordinary merry-go-around that Prime Minister Koirala is made to think of in the changes he is implementing.

There should not be any shyness in upholding that the Constitution of 1990 remains the best reflection of the democratic model of the Nepali Congress – historically as well as a modern device. It faced external assaults and internal manipulation because of its strengths and inherent capacity to check abuse of power and protect national interests. It did not get enough opportunity to grow on. The agenda of improvement in it, especially the desires of the ethnic communities for greater identity and participation, and similar other reforms could be brought in for serious discussion and decision making. Yet, structures and procedures alone, without structures that create political stability, guiding principles and values, can not give self-momentum or resilience to a party in the face of assault. It is here that the Nepali Congress has to dispense with populism and stand taller than the rest of the parties which do not have issues to bind all the people together. Like the mortar between the bricks of a building, it is the shared values of an institution which bind the structures together, which make them strong and resilient, and which give them a collective identity greater than the sum of their parts. This alone allows them to develop an autonomous vision and sense of purpose. As a leading party of the country, it is the responsibility of the Nepali Congress not to compromise on the chassis that holds all the people together.

Another crucial issue that the Congress should take to the people is the most urgent task of devising national security strategy. Such a strategy should outline the nature of the threat that confronts this country today explaining priorities, and describing the strategy it needs to adopt to counter these threats. But as all know, this country lives in an increasingly interconnected, complex and often dangerous design. Congress needs to get its starting point right, and it should entail a correct understanding of the problems and threats that Nepal has to be up against. This country is facing all these troubles, political or terroristic, because of its geographical location.The threat is definitely strategic. No one can guarantee that another Maoist War will not break out here again. The approach must be to make it extremely difficult for unconstitutional and proxy forces to carry out their evil deeds while at the same time, be well prepared and ready to deal with the repercussions if such a force does emerge. Of course, safeguarding the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the state is the central pillar of a security policy. But t here can be no greater role, no more important obligation for a government, than the protection and safety of its citizens. What purpose a constituent assembly will serve if the people who have the right to vote do not have the protection from fear. To make sure that the political system of this country works, the Nepali Congress will have to prepare ourselves both operationally and psychologically to deal with threats that may hit the country – including those it cannot even anticipate now.

Euphorias come to an end
But the fear for the Nepalese people is that it is coming to an end with irreparable loss to the nation. A functioning democracy has gone for long. Indeed, what has been marvelously achieved by 'loktantra' is the pulling down of a Constitution which for the first time in the history declared that sovereignty of Nepal vests in the Nepalese people; introduced a functioning Westminster model of parliamentary democracy in the country; legalized the operations of the political parties, guaranteed adult franchise and basic human rights to all; ensured the power of the independent judiciary to judge over the issues of constitutionality; and preserved the national interests by means of several constitutional institutions and procedures.

Unfortunately, a well functioning system of the check and balance has been replaced with the concept of the "sovereignty of eight parties" in the framework of the Interim Constitution, which looks like a manifesto of a totalitarian regime. It does not have any concept of participation and inclusiveness. Again the rule by law that those who do not buy its formulations, or claim their right to dissent with the constitutional carnage of the nation, are not to be allowed within the interim mechanisms make farce of what has been defined as the transition regime.

Indeed Prime Minister Koirala, who is already in a very vulnerable age, has left nothing for his posterity. The revolution has really been successful under his leadership. It has turned the country into debris – physical, moral, intellectual, and historical – without giving a ray of hope for the future. Everything old – from the physical infrastructure of this poor country to the most ancient of its national institutions have been pulled down. The demographic change that Koirala and his Company have brought in Nepal by distributing citizenship to all willing Indians still has to show its teeth. While all institutions are in limbo, and civil, judicial and military bureaucracies are out of touch with the Prime Minister, there are decisions after decisions under the pressures of sometime Maoists, and sometime Goits and Jwala Singhs. After these eighteen months, Koirala no longer needs the blessings of either the common people, the seven parties of heroic ambitions, or of the erratic King, who appointed him to right the wrong measures that he had applied to diffuse the crisis.

Democracy needs to be worked out with sustainable political strategies. The problem of institutionalization of democracy and empowerment of the people goes far beyond the issue of the elections to the constituent assembly and drawing up of a new constitution acceptable to all. If some opinion makers think everything will be fine after the ongoing movement achieve these milestones, or the King is dethroned, or the Maoists are mainstreamed and power is handed over to the legitimate representatives of the people, they are not objective, and if the history of the world is any evidence, revolutions have frequently been successful to destroy the status quo, but not always to create and sustain a viable alternative regime. The later issue demands proper planning and clearly thought out strategies. An extremist culture based on violent parameters is, therefore, never helpful.

It is very unlikely for the Nepali Congress to establish itself in terms of its newly acquired rhetorics. It could still be saved if it goes to the people with the policies that they want to hear from them. These policies are no doubt the historical parameters of the Nepali Congress. For that to happen, Prime Minister Koirala has to reestablish the line of communication with the rank and file of his party, and think in terms of what his voters want from him.
[Adhikari is a lawyer and can be reached at ]

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