A late start, perhapsWe will have to wait to see whether Madhav Nepal bounces back or retires in obsolescence.
At almost 70, Madhav Kumar Nepal's contemporaries among the general public would not even consider moving house or treading along unknown paths. It is an age when people generally take retirement—bureaucrats retire much earlier—and live on the credits one has earned for the work one has done in the preceding decades. But as Nepali politicians have almost always shown, there is no retiring from politics. At the end of a long political career, the septuagenarian leader has begun a new journey altogether, having been sick and tired of the vindictive politics of his long-time comrade and nemesis, KP Sharma Oli.
Having served the communist movement in its various avatars for close to 50 years, Madhav Nepal's political odyssey cannot be distanced from the history of the party. But today, he has severed ties with the party and made a final exit. Or, he has been banished from the party that he dedicated himself to for so long, having served as its general secretary for 15 years. This is as tragic as it gets, but his exit is anything but ungraceful. A seasoned leader like him would have been aware of the consequences of betraying a vindictive party comrade like KP Sharma Oli to the extent of orchestrating the fall of his government.
Madhav Nepal has for long been considered a force that could disturb the power balance, but not formidable enough to topple things altogether—inside his party as well as outside. But that changed this summer as he took a firm and principled stand against his own party chief and prime minister when it came to defending democracy. He sided with Pushpa Kamal Dahal and opposition leaders while chastising KP Sharma Oli for his relentless attack on the parliamentary system. He could have safely played second fiddle to Oli so as to secure his position within the party, but he chose to stand up to Oli's demagoguery at crucial points. That was pretty unexpected of a leader who was not very well known for taking bold political positions.
At times, he showed clear signs that he was being enticed by the prospect of becoming prime minister a second time even if that meant siding with opponents rather than supporting his own party chief, but he never failed to claim that he was against Oli's regressive politics. And in doing so, he was able to partly cleanse his image tainted more than a decade and a half ago when he had presented himself before King Gyanendra's durbar as a prime ministerial candidate, claiming that the king's regressive act had been half-rectified.
Now that he has built a new party altogether, with the support of leaders with little mass base, Madhav Kumar Nepal has a difficult task ahead, of proving that he has the political vision and organisational acumen to steer the new party to success. Twenty-five years ago, his party comrades broke away from the CPN-UML only to face a rout in the subsequent elections and return to the party a few years later. Those who refused to return remained vanished from the political scene altogether. We will have to wait to see whether he changes that tradition and bounces back or retires in obsolescence.