Tackling Intra-Party Conflict

Dev Raj Dahal

Nepal is a varied society with amazingly rich poly-culture. Each conscious group demands inclusion in power in proportion to its social strength and engages in political struggle. Fair representation and resolution of conflict are vital to keep social amity, political stability and peace. Political parties produce inputs to the polity for the mediation of power differences, set a link between the legislative and executive branches for outputs and achieve common good, the soul of politics and to what Robert Reich calls “a pool of trust built up over generations.” It spurs legitimacy against democracy breakdown.
Nepalis are members of scores of units- family, community, society, business, civil society, political parties and diasporas with parallel duties and enjoy certain rights. But their membership with the state, Nepali citizenship, entitles them with legal status imbued with the power of sovereignty, equality and participation in governance. Nepali parties harbour within their leadership structures three patterns - system conformist, system reformist and system-smashing - seeking drastic transformation. Party, by definition, is a fractionlised entity symbolising certain class of ideology, interest and identity, not like polity and the state, which are inclusive of citizenship and nationality.
Nepal’s constitution spells democratic statute for parties, election of leaders in every five years and inclusive quality. But their deviation from these spirits has bred factionalism abetted by a lack of a common ideological glue to shape shared vision, tussle between aspiring and ruling leaders, flawed basis of official choice and frail inner-party democracy to resolve negation and factional differences by dialogue and compromise. Faction in the party arises when its leaders, masking in dark glasses to satisfy sadistic instinct with conflicting approach to political action, are alienated from each other, loath to admit other’s lawful concerns and leverage full energy for power monopoly as a partner of business and bureaucracy.
They have also emerged from leadership tussle for power, party control, distribute positions to followers, skewed youth, social, economic and geographic representation and legacy of patrimonial leaders despite huge public expectation from the new constitution. This will grow as the constitution opens the scope for both new values of secular, federal, democratic republic and tolerance to their resistance, group-based identity and national identity, socialist-oriented state and free market trend, etc. offering each faction an opportunity to blame the other and clip opportunists in the wing to bargain a deal with the rivals. The entry leaders and cadres en masse from one party to another and regular change of electoral base signify shifting choice of electorates and deinstitutionalisation of Nepali parties. Still, 3 per cent vote requirement of parties to get national status has cut their number.
Nepali political parties of all spectrums- left, right and the centre - have emerged from democratic struggle, residues of regime change, split of legislative groups and social movements. Short of ideals, they have evolved pluralistic and hybrid nature. Owing to the erosion of their founding ideology as a tool of political education they have shared power with all political mix without sprouting common ground, even hailing those leaders bristling enmity to party ideologies. Factions, arising out of the explosion of non-ideological interest groups within the parties, reflect uneven distribution of discontents. Unprincipled factionalism has hobbled them to achieve political goals and rend the faith of public that without an alignment with factional leader they cannot achieve social mobility. Paternalistic imposition of majoritarian decision devoid of merits alienates the minority factions and inspires it to indulge in coalition building with the rival parties, strike bargain or weaken leaders even if they are duly elected by the party convention.
The changing social and economic site of Nepali society entails leaders to reflect all the subcultures of society. It bolsters the support base and gains power for the execution of apt policies to alleviate the burden of scarcity. Mass-based parties habitually embrace the virtue of diversity in relation to each other and adopt undogmatic approach in handling factional problems. It can generate resilience to changing political milieu and enable Nepalis to renegotiate social contract at all levels of society. Tolerance to diversity is the hallmark of civic culture. But democracy suffers when factions in the party, its auxiliary bodies, interest group, NGOs, civil society and business strengthen each other’s leaders, not own party turning it sclerotic.
\The personality-oriented, cadre and mass parties of Nepal think more on vote-maximisation and catch-all strategy to rise to power than shape the nation’s civic culture suitable for democratic stability, justice and peace. This has provided Nepal Peasants and Workers Party a chance to stay in eternal opposition assuming the role of a gadfly. Anti-system parties such as the one, led by Mohan Baidya, dream of replacing the regime by more progressive one. Feeling of being left out, Maoist party, led by Biplab, prefers to finish the unfinished tasks of ‘People’s War’. Samajbadi Party opts for multi-national state while the ruling party wants to switch parliamentary system into presidential one. Many elements within Nepali Congress (NC) favour B.P. Koirala’s vision, others share secular, federal democratic republic, others hobnob with Madhes-based parties in defence of parliamentary polity and still others stand for Rastriya Prajatantra Party’s plea to revisit Hindu state.
These disparate aims inflict unsettling effects on political stability. All are gripped by factions and stoke a zero-sum politics. This has generated tension, rift and fight to finish conflict. It is weakening the efficacy of the party functions in political education, preference aggregation of citizens for public policy, articulation of their interest into political power for decision making, political communication to sustain feedback between leaders and electorates for democratic balance and provide stable governance.
Growth of cultic traits in Nepali parties has fed fissiparous trends- split, reunion and birth of new parties without bridging the group psychology of pre-existing divides. All parties- NC, CPN, RPPs and Madesh-based parties have undergone this painful process. The merger of CPN-UML and Maoists opened the scope for one-party dominance-the Communist Party of Nepal- at the federal, provincial and local levels and the semblance of government stability. But political stability demands a measure of leadership consensus on the party structure, constitution, polity, the state, economy and foreign policy which the use of iron law of contradiction easily defies intra- and inter-party cooperation.
Their strategies for social mobilisation and political integration are: creation of caste, region and ethnic-based auxiliary organisations of Dalits, Madhesis, Janajatis, Aadibasis, Khas-Arya, minorities, etc as a conduit for patronage; incubation of modern organisations of labour, youths, women, students, teachers, civil servants, etc. for strategic action; and fermentation of federations of functional groups such as irrigation, consumers, local bodies, cooperatives, business, lawyers, doctors, engineers, accountants, etc. for the professional side of party life. Parties face friction with them for seeking autonomy from them and engage with similar entities of other parties for cooperation while party leaders fear its cost for party discipline, cohesion and unity of action.
Managing factionalism of Nepali political parties demands several rational initiatives. First, it is the policy coherence among the leaders on public and national interests through what Juergen Habermas calls ”communicative action” based on mutual respect to each other’s rational position on values and issues. Second, focus on the perspective of rival side can help find the common causes. Factionalism is capable of solution if the differences in personality, issues, ideologies and interests are thoughtfully debated, rationally formulated beyond clientilistic group formed around leaders, opinion formation is optimised giving each faction a voice and mutual acceptability on outcome and mutual accountability. The justness of outcome may not be the same for every faction. Third, “critical thinking” culture on leadership, organisation, ideology, policies and programmes to build ‘we’ perspective can reduce cleavages, build understanding on core values and jolt the party out of rifts.
Critical thinking can plough moral voice within the party while fair evaluation of party rank and file can serve as a best antidote to the rise of authoritarian leaders. It provides cadres, local committees, civil society and ordinary voters a chance to build an interface with reformist leaders. Cross-cultural learning of leaders can fertilise their civic virtues prompting them to be governed by rational thinking above the petty interests and parochialism. Fourth, adherence of powerful leaders to constitution, party statute and norms can check leaders from acting arbitrarily, defending corrupts and criminals of their faction and upholding integrity thus controlling factionalism. Sharing power and position within parties can reduce the ferocity of factionalism and grow accommodating approach in bargaining and intra-party coalition building. The dialogue among top party leaders is good but regular formation of all-party committee outside the parliament can reduce its relevance.
In the past, it took decisions without proper consultation with the parties, giving rise to cross-party caucus, lobby and cause groups across social strata and extra-parliamentary social movements where even party leaders took part and expressed solidarity. Fifth, party intellectuals need to ameliorate factionalism by generating new, creative and practical measures to solve it so that the efficacy of parties does not suffer from the crisis of innovation, adaptation and change. It resolves the internal tension between factionalism and democracy and legislate policy change.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues) 

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