The Rastriya Prajatantra Party (the party of former Panchas), characterised by frequent splits and reunions, seems headed for another, on the heels of the recent breakup triggered by its former chieftain Surya Bahadur Thapa. A small party with less than a dozen seats in the dissolved House of Representatives, it hurriedly provided a group identity for politicos of the erstwhile partyless system when they suddenly discovered they were going to be left high and dry in post-1990 Nepal. The party leadership now seems to be in the mood to get tough with dissidents — spearheaded by the sacked vice-chairman Padma Sundar Lawoti — who are organising a ‘special general convention’ (Jan. 10-11) with a view to dislodging Pashupati Shumsher Rana from party chairmanship.

But the RPP has hardly been better in the last three years contrary to the expectations of some that things might improve after Rana’s election to the top slot. The party’s decision to permit its district committees to decide, depending on the local conditions, whether or not to take part in the Feb. 8 local polls is the latest proof of uninspiring leadership. Now the leadership wants to flex its muscle, and it has already served notices on six RPP people in the present Council of Ministers. It has also prohibited RPP members at any level from participating in ‘this illegal and unjustifiable special convention’, warning that any non-compliance would mean automatic forfeiture of party membership.

This dispute apart, the RPP’s biggest weakness has been its failure to develop and then display the basic features of a consequential political party. At a time when the country seems to be moving fast in the direction of far-reaching political changes, the RPP’s viability as a political party, even by existing standards, is under the scanner. The changing times demand that the party must undergo an overhaul, including its philosophy. But its leaders still behave in the same old ways of rank individual opportunism. A party which remains confused at this critical juncture of history can hardly expect to emerge as a major force in days to come, though its leaders have often claimed to make the RPP a ‘democratic alternative’ to the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. Its only distinction during the period of fractured parliament was that it came to power, way out of proportion to its size and importance, chiefly because of the rivalry between the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. Even if the RPP were to avoid a natural demise, it is likely to be rendered irrelevant, unless it succeeds in reinventing itself.