President Paudel and his VeepHoping the best for Ram, Ram.
The election of Ram Chandra Paudel to the august office of the country’s presidency will be memorable for a number of reasons. And that is without taking into account the glee that never left his face after his nomination as the ruling coalition’s candidate, and even more so after his election. Paudel has always seemed to have a sunny disposition by nature in contrast to, say, the permanent look of seeming irritation that clouds Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visage. But to see him visibly so happy at having managed to cap his long innings in politics as our new President has been quite a sight to behold.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the dramatic reversal in the fortunes of the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. Universally vilified for having rebuffed Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s prime ministerial ambition and pushed him into the arms of the UML while also being written off as being relegated to the political wilderness for years, Sher Bahadur Deuba has willy-nilly pulled off a masterstroke. Not only is the Nepali Congress back in power and in a commanding position, Deuba has also managed to kick upstairs the willing Paudel, who for years had posed the main challenge for control over the party.
KP Sharma Oli, on the other hand, has been left licking his wounds. From all accounts, he overplayed his hand in assuming that Prachanda, as the leader of a declining party with an almost insignificant presence in Parliament, would handily play the required part in Oli’s puppet show. He appears not to have counted on Prachanda’s having learnt a lesson or two from the concentration of all state power in Oli’s hands, as was the case after the 2017 election and the clean sweep by the post-facto hastily crafted Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Not especially with Prachanda having been at the receiving end of both insulting digs and deeds from Oli over the years.
With the outgoing President, Bidya Devi Bhandari, having played the docile handmaiden to every machination of Oli’s as prime minister and thereafter, the idea of most of the consequential state offices being held by someone from the UML proved anathema to the other parties. It also provided a good excuse for the latter to band together regardless of their true intentions. The UML has gone to town forecasting that the current ruling alliance is doomed to failure. The disparate coalition does appear unwieldy and could easily collapse under its own weight. Given the pace of developments of the last few weeks, not to mention the past history of our politicians, we know anything is possible, but the unassailable fact remains that Ram Chandra Paudel is here to stay for the next five years.
Giving Paudel company as vice-president will be his namesake, Ram Sahaya Prasad Yadav. The story of a vice-president of the United States calling his office not “worth a pitcher of warm spit” is well known. That came from someone with a constitutionally defined role as the presiding office of the US Senate while also serving under an executive president. One can only imagine how frustrating the role of our own vice-president can be—only a stand-in for the ceremonial President when absent or dead but never automatically elevated to the higher office.
The first of the lot, Parmanand Jha, is quite emphatic that the position is a useless one. He actually goes on to claim that it was created by the political parties for no good reason. As a former Supreme Court justice, Jha should know better that the office of the head of state can never be vacant, and hence provision has to be made for someone to step in should any eventuality arise. One can quite sympathise with him though, especially having persevered for seven long years at a job that people plainly desire but begin to detest once they get it.
One can only hope Vice-president Yadav has a much more enjoyable experience. I guess I speak for many readers when I admit I did not know much about Yadav until he was named the parliamentary party leader by Upendra Yadav, the Janata Samajbadi Party supremo, after the recent general election. And the more one learns about him, one cannot but warm up to him.
Yadav seems and sounds like a politician from a bygone era—with a firm commitment to a vocation chosen somewhat later in life. Till the move to his official residence, he had been living in rented flat that was as bare as any habitable residence can be. Devoid even of a bed, he had lain his mattress on the floor and shared a room with one of his sons. That was how he had been living for a decade and a half while walking to Parliament and his party office and using public transport when needed.
One of his party colleagues said, “He is a gentle and honest leader. It is difficult to find someone like him in the world of politics today. People like him don’t enter politics and even if they do, they do not last long.”
He does have his share of detractors. As a former colleague of his put it, “He is Upendra Yadav’s yes man. He got this opportunity [to become vice-president] since he never questions Upendra.”
The Veep’s wife
Be that as it may, Yadav’s will be a calming presence in the tumble of national politics. And, to remind him of his roots will be his wife, Champa Devi Yadav, who has decided she will continue to tend to her animals back home in Kalaiya in Bara district instead of living the life of pomp as the second lady of the country.
The vice-presidential spouse had to be nearly coerced into coming to Kathmandu for the oath-taking ceremony of her husband. Within days though she was back in Kalaiya managing her affairs. Her concerns are both endearing and sobering: she has a two-room house being built and that needed supervision; then there are the calf, goats and farming to take care of.
She apparently did not go to Kathmandu even once when her husband was serving as a minister in Deuba’s last cabinet. In fact, with her livestock and farming, it was she who had been supporting not only the vice-president’s political career but also funding her children’s studies. No wonder the trappings of a high life were no match for Champa Devi Yadav’s steely determination expressed thus, “The vice-presidency is not forever. I have to come back here after five years. If I enjoy life among my cattle and my farm work, why should I stay there [in Kathmandu]?”
This type of homespun wisdom is rare generally but more so in Nepali politics. One can only hope the best for her and her husband.