Nepal’s multi-party coalition cabinet that has three deputy prime ministers has of late become a vexed issue for Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
He has not been able to define the seniority of the Dy PMs, and as it became an issue between the individuals concerned, Dahal left for China on an official visit without declaring who would officiate as Prime Minister in his absence, a break with convention and practice followed all these years.
Given the number of years as a minister in different regimes and his second stint as the PM’s deputy, Kamal Thapa, chairman of the pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), is perceived as the senior most of the deputy prime ministers. But Dahal stopped short of anointing him as the ‘officiating Prime Minister’ as Bimalendra Nidhi, the deputy PM in charge of Home Affairs, staked his claim arguing that he represented `the largest party in the cabinet ‘.
Nidhi is also believed to have said that the pro-monarchist and pro-Hindtuva Thapa was not acceptable to him if he were to chair the cabinet meeting, implying that he would rather quit than serve under him. For the other deputy PM Krishna Bahadur Mahara, protocol is a non-issue as he belongs to Dahal’s Maoist Party, although protocol division places him above Nidhi.
Given Dahal’s compulsion to have the numerical strength in Parliament, he has to retain both the Nepali Congress – Nidhi’s party — as well as the RPP headed by Thapa. His options are therefore limited: either he had to follow convention or use his discretion in the matter. He did nothing allowing the issue to become an embarrassment for all concerned. On Wednesday morning, when Dahal and his wife Sita Devi returned home and briefly spent time at the VVIP room in the Tribhuvan International Airport, there was no sitting arrangement as per protocol. “How could we do that when the Prime Minister himself chose not to?” asked an official. As it happened, Thapa managed to sit next to the Prime Minister, leaving Mahara and Nidhi to find other seats.