NC In Doldrums
Ritu Raj Subedi
The Nepali Congress (NC) often boastfully defines its ideology and policy in three catchwords - nationality, democracy and socialism. Is the grand old party really true to these political mottos to date? This is a moot question that needs a critical inquiry to diagnose its current debacle. Originally, it was a centrist party with many ‘Left’ elements influencing its programmes and activities. It retained these ideals till the demise of its founding leader BP Koirala. But since his passing away, it seems to be neglecting the essence of these defining principles. The party has lost its political compass so much so that it has neither remained nationalist nor socialist these days. Its democratic credentials also suffered significantly as the country has entered a crucial phase of reconstruction following the three-tier elections.
Critics always pull the NC pieces over its poor nationalistic stand from the outset. Three prime ministers from Koirala dynasty – Matrika Prasad Koirala, BP Koirala and Girija Prasad Koirala - have been accused of ‘selling’ Nepal’s three big rivers – Koshi, Gandaki and Mahakali - to India during their respective tenure. The agreements have given India an upper hand when it comes to taking benefits from these rivers. Despite this blunder, BP Koirala had shown sparks of nationalism time and again as he went on dealing with two titans of Asia - Indian prime minister Jawarlal Nehru and China’s supreme leader Chairman Mao. BP strongly defied Nehru’s hegemonic remarks intended to keep Nepal under India’s security umbrella, forcing the latter to retract his statements. Likewise, he did not compromise on the national interest during his negotiations on the ownership of Sagaramatha (Mt Everest) with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao. It was widely suspected that Nehru and King Mahendra had a tacit understanding to hijack democracy in Nepal. Nehru was jealous of BP’s popularity as a leader of international socialist movement. He was a good friend of German statesman and Chancellor Billy Brandt. The then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev described him as a bright youth from Asia, and approached him to seek his support for the former’s proposal of appointing three Secretary Generals in the UN. BP was not a biddable leader, who would suck up to foreign powers.
At the same time, BP’s growing political height was a sore point for King Mahendra at home. In an illegal marriage of Indian hegemony and domestic feudalism, Nepal’s fledgling democracy was nipped in the bud. Nonetheless, it is also equally true that King Mahendra later pursued more independent foreign and economic policies with the support of China. This writer is making references to BP’s audacious past to look into NC’s ignominious present. Today the NC barely bears BP’s patriotic line of thought. If so, it would have strongly opposed the cruel Indian blockade imposed on Nepal following the promulgation of new constitution in 2015. Quite the contrary, the NC-led government told the international community that there was no blockade in Nepal at all. When it wouldn’t say boo to a goose, why should the voters reward it for its cowardliness? Ironically, it is not any NC stalwart but CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli, who carried the torch of BP’s nationalistic legacy to establish himself as the towering figure of contemporary Nepali politics. Like BP, he defended the national interest and sovereignty as the nation was hit hard by the blockade in the wake of devastating earthquake.
With the restoration of democracy in 1990, the NC-led government allegedly ripped independent and balanced foreign policies and made the nation India-locked by increasing its economic dependency on the southern neighbour by more than 70 per cent. As India stopped supplying fuels to Nepal, the country’s economy was brought to its knees. Where was ‘socialism’ that promotes self-reliant economy and public enterprises to cater basic services to the citizens? It was dumped under the neo-liberal policy that the post-1990 NC-led government vigorously followed and applied to the detriment of national capital and economy. Many of the industries, built by socialist nations, were sold at dirt-cheap prices with the citizens forced to seek their fortune in the foreign labour markets.
Party founding leader Ganeshman Singh had quit the party for lack of inner-party democracy. Saintly leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai severed ties with it after it gave up its long-held principles and identity, and succumbed to the Maoist agenda that alienated it from its core constituency. Of late, its behaviour hardly matches with the basic norms of parliamentary democracy that it has been advocating since its establishment. Its incumbent president and former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is criticised for discrediting democracy as he became the executive head of the country for four times. Even the rival faction of NC derides him for three reasons - he split the party to fulfill his personal interest, handed over ‘democracy’ to the king on the silver platter and finally passed the reins of power to the communists. By forging an unnatural alliance with the radical Maoists in the local elections and taking a series of missteps to meet irrational objectives during his premiership, Deuba hastened the downfall of the party in the election. Even after being rejected by the people in the provincial and federal polls, he made a number of populist decisions in the capacity of caretaker PM only to be ridiculed by the public. This overshadowed his positive role in conducting the two-level elections in line with the roadmap of national charter. This prompted Purnjan Acharya, an old NC loyalist and analyst, to publish a critical write-up headlined – ‘Let’s Save the NC from Deuba.”
Under Deuba, the NC suffered the most humiliating electoral defeat in its history. It lost not only the federal election but will also be out of power in newly created seven provinces. In his 4-page statement, his rival Ram Chandra Paudel waded into Deuba for the stinging loss. He accused him of weakening the party by cultivating factionalism within party organisation. According to him, it was not just the Left Alliance of two big communist groups that led to the party’s defeat but the incompetence of leadership was largely responsible for disaster. Paudel blew a fuse as Deuba refused to own up the poll rout. This has triggered a nasty infighting within the party. It is highly intriguing to see how it will redeem itself and be able to live up to its slogans of nationalism, democracy and socialism.