The Rise, Fall, And Complacency Of Sher Bahadur Deuba

Sher Bahadur Deuba began in the Nepali Congress’ (NC) student wing. An activist from the backward region of Far West Nepal, he was a committed democracy activist. But like most NC leaders who waged a brave struggle till 1990, his degeneration was rapid and swift after the restoration of democracy.

He first became PM in the mid-1990s. This was when the Maoist war started. In his 2nd term as PM, he initiated peace talks with the Maoists but they launched a surprise attack, making him turn belligerent.  Palace-military complex backed by the US, dissolved parliament. But soon enough, the King dismissed Deuba as ‘incompetent’. Deuba suffered the disgrace of being reappointed as PM and being sacked for the second time.

So in Deuba’s first term, war started; in the second, it intensified and Deuba destroyed the only democratic institution; in the third, the King took over. Deuba and Delhi have also had a delicate dance over the years. He has felt that India did not do enough for him in the past. Deuba told aides that he signed the Mahakali Agreement with India at great political risk, but India still backed the Koiralas instead of him. Deuba also felt that he merged back with NC due to the Indian promise that he would be Koirala’s successor, but Delhi backed Sushil Koirala.

Deuba and Delhi finally made up a few years ago. India backed him fully in the NC party convention and helped him become President in 2016. Delhi also mediated the power-sharing pact between Deuba-Prachanda, making the latter PM for 9 months, and guaranteeing to Deuba he would take over. The Indian script – of supporting his takeover of the party, getting Oli out, enabling an NC-Maoist pact and getting Deuba to power – has played out.

Deuba’s core aim should be broadening Constitution ownership, and then holding elections. But it is unlikely this will be his focus. Deuba’s past terms show he is only interested in resource accumulation and has little appetite for policy detail and political reform. He was among the worst Nepali Prime Ministers in the post-90s era, and expectations of the Nepali people should be quite low from him.

Delhi is smiling because its objective of keeping Oli out and bringing NC back to power is fulfilled, but it should have no expectations. Deuba may offer a few projects, but unless India consistently pressures him to work for an inclusive Nepal, he will pay no attention to the issue. And finally, Deuba will only further reinforce the big problem – the Nepali state will remain a rentier state of a section of the Khas Arya elite.


This opinion piece is a compilation of Hindustan Times’ Associate Editor, Prashant Jha’s tweets.

Jha’s entire tweet thread here: