Factionalism Gets NC Nowhere
Ritu Raj Subedi
More than seven months elapsed since the Nepali Congress held its 13th general convention. But party president Sher Bahadur Deuba has still been unable to appointed office-bearers, thanks to the deepening factionalism that has marred the party. Deuba had to recruit the office-bearers within two months of the convention. He used to heap same accusation on his predecessor late Sushil Koirala when the latter failed to appoint the heads of various departments during his presidency. It is a case of poacher turned gamekeeper. Now it is the turn of Deuba to take the blame from the rival faction as he was elected the party president in the 13th general convention held in March this year. He piked out of his promise he made before his election to the party’s top post. He had assured that he would not cripple the internal organs of the party as happened under Koirala. But he is repeating the same mistake that late Koirala had committed.
Deuba is indeed on a sticky wicket because he is hemmed in by various groups with vested interest. He has found it quite difficult to manage the ambition of his own aides and leaders of sub-factional groups that catapulted him to the highest party position. There are a number of hopefuls from within his own group, who wanted to grab the coveted posts such as vice-president and general secretary. In addition to this, Deuba has to satisfy the factional leaders such as Khum Bahadur Khadka, Kul Bahadur Gurung and those, who betrayed Ram Chandra Paudel and joined his camp at the eleventh hour of the party’s general convention.
As Deuba has drawn scathing criticisms from anti-establishment faction, he, however, accomplished two important tasks- the holding the convention of Nepal Students Union (NSU) and Nepal Women Association (NWA), two sister wings of the party. More importantly, he has maintained his domination in these organisations. Late Koirala always wimped out of the election of the sister wings for fear of losing grip on their leadership. The Paudel camp that claims to have carried the legacy of Koiralas paid the price for the spineless politics of late Koirala.
With his tactical maneuverings, Deuba got his followers elected in the key posts of these organisations to the chagrin of Poudel camp. The rise of Krishna Prasad Sitaula as an influential factional leader has come as a headache for Poudel because Sitaula’s political emergence occurred under the tutelage of late Girija Prasad Koirala and Sushil Koirala. But, he let down the Koirala camp and collaborated with Deuba, a life-long bête noire of Koirala. When Paudel’s loyalists got a drubbing in the leadership contest of NSU and NWA, the Sitaula faction secured some lucrative posts, an unanticipated development that Poudel found very hard to swallow.
The party’s 13th national convention was supposed to do away with chronic factionalism embedded in the culture of bhagbanda (divide and share). While leading the anti-establishment faction, Deuba always demanded a 40 per cent share in the party and government posts. He had pledged ending the politics of bhagbanda and putting the party on the institutional course while canvassing support from the delegates during the convention. But, he has miserably failed to tame the factionalism politics. This is a reason why the Poudel camp is now claiming 40 per cent share in the party and ministerial berths, a malady that Deuba has himself brought into the party in the past. His failure to take Poudel into confidence will not only erode his credibility and leadership competence but will also intensify factionalism in the party.
Instead of rooting out the vicious groupism, the convention institutionalised four factional groups led by Deuba himself, Poudel, Sitaula and Khadka. These factional overlords are expected to shape the party politics for years to come. A protégé of late GP Koirala, Deuba later revolted against the NC giant after the latter meted out terrible injustice to the party’s founding member Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. Those, who rallied around Kishunji, threw support behind Deuba. He first split the party and then merged his faction into the parent force in a shrewd bid to accumulate power to fight back the Koirala clan. He engineered his dramatic victory to the party’s highest post only after testing a series of humiliating defeats at the hand of Koiralas.
Unlike Deuba, Poudel had not carved out himself into an effectual factional leader. He was blamed for not giving protection to his functionaries, who were forced to shift allegiance frequently with the changing dynamics within the party. But after the demise of Sushil Koirala, Poudel threw himself into the factional politics for his political survival. As he did not represent Koirala’s dynasty by blood, many disaffected cadres refused to lend their support to Poudel during the party convention. His inability to rope in many traditional backers of Koirala dynasty resulted in his stinging loss in the election.
Meanwhile, the rise of Khadka is both sensational and disturbing. A corruption convict, Khadka emerged as a factional leader on the plank of Hinduism. He had entered a tacit quid pro quo with Deuba before declaring his support to the latter. Khadka is allegedly demanding the post of vice president but Deuba is under intense pressure not to award the post to a man, who vehemently opposed the party’s official ideology- secularism and federalism. To the critical masses, Khadka’s rise is a mockery of the values of good governance, fiscal discipline, transparency and democracy.
Festering factional politics chips away at the internal democracy and leads the party to go off the rails. Of late, the NC has lost political compass and forged an illicit alliance with its sworn enemy. Blinded by solipsistic inclination, it has maintained an eerie silence about the embarrassing position of the coalition government. It has become the part of the nation’s series of diplomatic fiascoes. Perhaps damaging factional politics has also hampered it from adopting correct perspective on the pressing national issues.