Nepali Congress In The Throes

Dr. Narad Bharadwaj 

The news of Nepali Congress convening its Mahasamiti meeting for next month has created a new sensation among the entire party rank and file which has been in a state of shock since the unprecedented electoral debacle of last December. The convening of the Mahasamiti meeting carries weight as it paves the way for electing new party leadership capable of tackling the enormous challenges the party confronts today.

The incumbent president of the Nepali Congress Sher Bahadur Deuba has been under enormous pressure for some months because of general realisation among the party hierarchies that Nepali Congress’s ignominious free fall is due to Deuba’s inefficient leadership. There are ever bitter voices of opposition from all echelons of party organisations about Deuba’s ineptitude and his increasing greed for power and his desire to monopolise its resources for personal benefits.
Senior leaders of Nepali Congress Ram Chandra Paudel has been raising voices against Deuba’s tendency to ignore the principles of power sharing and his tendency to emerge as a lone hero in the party. But he has been powerless to compel Deuba to change his ways owing to his poor political power base and relative dearth of resources for intra-party mobilisation. Deuba is found to have the tendency to use his majority status to suppress dissenting voices in a brutal manner. Though Ram Chandra Poudel is one of the most senior leaders who has undergone suffering and sacrifices for the party for more than four decades, Deuba has never publicly appreciated him nor has thought of shifting shoulder with him to revitalise the grand old party founded by legendary leader BP Koirala.
Deuba has never felt any scruples to mortify his comrades-in-arms for the satisfaction of his hubris. This is the reason why he is finding many senior leaders rallying against him. Deuba is fully aware of the rising graph of his unpopularity and isolation. However, he does not appear ready to hand over the mantle of party leadership without fighting a last ditch battle. He also knows that Mahasamiti meeting is going to present him with a hostile turf. That is why he is dithering and dilly-dallying in calling it within its mid-September dead line.
Now the question is - will Deuba find some ways to dodge the Mahasamiti conundrum just like he has survived all attempts of his detractors to waylay him? In view of the way the inner party power equation is evolving, it appears that Deuba has a tough time ahead. His authoritarian way of clutching at the leadership position without delivering anything has evaporated his charisma and has earned him enemies from even the most unlikely camps.
Before, Deuba’s strength emanated from the support he enjoyed at different levels of leadership factions vying for footholds on the plank of power. Prakash Man Singh and Dr Prakash Sharan Mahat was with him, Deuba also factored in Koirala triumvirate and Krishna Prasad Sitaula was with him despite occasional drift he exhibited. This gave Deuba an unchallenged advantage and power to spurn the feeble challenge from Ram Chandra Poudel, who appeared to be the only leader in the Nepali Congress who tried to tackle political issues and the questions of leadership from an ideological plane.
In addition to the above factors, there is an undercurrent being propelled by some promising youth leaders, the most prominent of them being Gagan Thapa, Chandra Bhandari, Ramhari Khatiwada, Badri Pandey and Dhan Raj Gurung. These youths appear to be the future hope for this party. There is another notable youth leader Bishwa Prakash Sharma but he appears to have suffered considerable dent in his fame by aligning with Deuba camp.
The youth leaders are the only hope for the Nepali Congress in that they are popular, well educated, possess theoretical understanding which is necessary to underpin their party’s philosophical standpoint. Nepali Congress has always projected itself as a social democratic party putting forward BP Koirala as their ideological beacon.
The local committees of this party are led by people who lack ideological clarity, philosophical orientation and organisational zeal. After crushing defeat in the federal and local elections, the youth leaders have become more vociferous in their demand for revamping the party mechanism to enable it to weather the onslaught of powerful left opposition.
Deuba reached the pinnacle of power by successfully working out the equation of internal power dynamics. He was neither a good organiser nor an appealing orator. Now good oratory has become an important and indispensable mark of virtue for any political leader wishing not to be crowded out. In this sense Deuba is finding himself pushed to ever more awkward position especially, when radiant young leaders are stepping forward aspiring to be at the helm with the hope of revitalising the party which was on the crest of political flux for more than three decades.
Deuba still holds majority in the Central Committee. However, he has maintained his hold in party organisation with an iron fist. Many qualified, educated, dedicated, sacrificing and promising second generation leaders of the party like Baladev Majgaiya, Pradip Giri, Mana Mohan Bhattarai and Narahari Acharya have been pushed to the limbo. Firebrand youth leaders who possess verve and vision have been left without any role in the party organisations at the central and local levels.
It is in this background that the voice for convening the Mahasamiti meeting has found resonance among the rank and file of the party and the party workers from the central to the local level are converging to a consensus view that the top leadership of the Nepali Congress needs a change of hand.
Of late, the top leaders of this party appear restless and in turmoil. Some are revealing their alignment while others are calculating the cost and benefit of throwing down their allegiance to either of the competing groups. The Nepali Congress is in some sort of polemical transition with the dominant tenor of discourse going against Deuba.
Deuba’s position appeared unassailable so long as its General Secretary Shashanka Koirala was with him. His support had helped Deuba to beat off the challenges from his detractors in the previous National Congress of the party which elected him president. However, his attitude of burning his boat after crossing the river has left him in more and more inhospitable political environment, vulnerable and isolated.

Graceful exit
To invoke a metaphor of an aging monarch of yesteryears, Deuba has but two choices. He can either abdicate honourably in favour of some credible young shoulder capable of carrying forward his legacy or wait helplessly to see his power slip through his hand. It is up to him whether he wants to make the Mahasamiti meeting as an opportunity for a graceful exit or a way to disgrace and oblivion.

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