Power play Triangular tussle plunges the nation into chaos

Jan Sharma

Sher Bahadur Deuba plunged the country into a new spiral of chaos and uncertainties by recommending first the dissolution of the House of Representatives to seek fresh mandate, and subsequently postponement of the elections by over a year for security reasons. That was in October, when the King dismissed him and indefinitely postponed the parliamentary polls.Many, including Deuba’s close friends and confidants, had serious doubts at that time whether Deuba had acted on his own free will for the simple reason that it was uncharacteristic of the Thakuri hailing from Dadeldhura. It would perhaps be quite sometime for the whole truth to be known. But a memoir of a former minister does take a closer look at the developments leading to Deuba’s fall.

“The responsible leaders of the political parties played very dirty games against the democratic values before the King ultimately dismissed the Deuba government,” writes Jayaprakash Ananda Gupta in his memoir Akhtiyar ko Thuna: Mero Samjhana. “Nepal has a long history of democracy being injured when the monarchy took advantage of the mutual bickering among the political parties. Democracy was injured once again.”Gupta, who served as information minister for Deuba, penned the book in prison while he was investigated for corruption charges. He regrets empowering the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority without having realised that it could also be used as an effective tool to silence political dissent. But most significant is the light he throws on Deuba’s ouster.There had never been doubt that no one honestly wanted the parliamentary polls. But everyone in the power tussle wanted to make sure that they won and everyone else lost. Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress had, in fact, urged King Gyanendra to activate Article 127 to name “anyone but Deuba” as the Prime Minister. Madhav Kumar Nepal of the CPN-UML had endorsed this view.

Three dramas were being enacted simultaneously, claims Gupta. First, Koirala and Nepal had requested the King that they would accept anyone as the Prime Minister only if Deuba was fired for failing to have elections held as scheduled. Second, Koirala got Nepal’s support and informal endorsement as the future Prime Minister. Third, Deuba had also won Nepal on his side by offering the CPN-UML key portfolios in the would be Deuba-led coalition.Each expected to gain politically. Koirala was assured of Deuba’s ouster. Nepal wanted the Nepali Congress to split. Deuba was confident that Nepal was on his side. Nepal’s role is interesting. Is it not the same Brahmin from Rautahat who once told Parliament: “The King should not tolerate a useless Prime Minister (like Deuba). The country will cease to exist if the King remains a mere spectator. The King must dismiss such a Prime Minister.” The triangular tussle, Gupta argues, was precisely what the palace was waiting for. The King surprised them all in October 2002.

Gupta refers to two important visitors from the south - former Indian diplomats Maharaj Krishna Rasgotra and K V Rajan — shortly before Deuba’s fall. They separately met Deuba but suggested the same thing: it would be foolish to go ahead with the elections with a divided Nepali Congress as it would mean an outright victory for the CPN-UML and an obvious ambarrassment to New Delhi. In a television interview, Rasgotra welcomed the Royal intervention of October 4, saying the postponement of the polls was precisely what he had “suggested” to the King during his October 3 audience.When Gupta persisted to know the reasons for his abrupt decision to put off the polls, Deuba had explained him that this was the wish of the King, who told the Prime Minister that there could not be elections in the middle of the bloodshed and when the political parties themselves were opposed to it. Khum Bahadur Khadka, then home minister, insisted that polls should go ahead, it did not matter even in a single constituency. In fact, Khagka had briefed Deuba on October 2 that he was cladestinely working on “an understanding” with the Maoists to have a cease-fire declared on October 6 to allow the first phase of elections to proceed.

The Cabinet met on October 1 and twice on October 2 in a gap of two hours. It turned out to be the last Cabinet meetings for Deuba, deciding to recommend the King to “use Article 127 in removing constitutional obstacles in postponing the elections” by over a year as they were not feasible on November 13 as initially scheduled. Deuba wanted the recommendation to reach the Royal Palace by 3:00 in the afternoon at the latest.Before acting on the Cabinet decision, the King had asked Deuba to resign, reassuring him of reappointment. This was the third time the King had asked Deuba to resign (first time before Deuba left on a trip to Europe and the second during Crown Princess Himani’s birthday party). Gupta quotes the King as having told Deuba: “PM, either you take my advice or you will be surprised.”There is no doubt Gupta is a prolific writer. However, he is basically relying on his memorywithout reference to any of the previous notes, if he had any. Yet the book is indeed a sad commentary on how Nepal is governed by politicians jockeying only for power.