Nepali Congress In Doldrums: Narayan Upadhyay

The controversies related to active party membership has lately rocked the boat of the nation's largest party, the Nepali Congress, which is all set to hold its 13th general convention from March 3. Another important aspect of the upcoming general convention is that it will elect a new executive body of the party, which terms itself as the first and foremost political entity that puts high priority on democratic values, norms and spirit. In fact, this is the party that has played a significant role in heralding democracy in the nation and has still been playing a role of a democratic watchdog.

Active membership row

Despite being an important entity in Nepali politics, the party is now facing some challenges as the day of its general convention draws closer. The issues of active membership have not yet been settled fully. The party workers of some districts like Solukhumbu, Rautahat and Dolpa are protesting against the party's failure to grant many of them active membership, which would have enabled them to take part in the general convention and also cast votes for the leaders of their choice.

The failure in granting membership to these protesting party workers has stemmed from a deep lying problem in the party. The rising factionalism and groupism among the party ranks and files have given rise to many more problems. For a democracy loving layman, it is depressing to see the members of a democratic party being divided sharply into several groups. The leaders of the different factions are now ready to throw their candidacy in the upcoming party election which will elect the top party leadership along with the party's apex decision-making central working committee.

Top leaders like Sher Bahadur Deuba, Ram Chandra Paudel, and lately, the incumbent president Sushil Koirala, have stated that they would vie for the top party post during the general convention. There are other leaders like Arjun Narsing KC and Prakash Man Singh, who too have some interest in it. There are leaders who want to contest the election for other important posts of the party such as vice president and general secretaries.

If the latest statements of the senior leaders are any indication, it is certain that almost all the party posts would witness a tough contest among the party leaders. Deuba and Koirala will contest for the president's post this time around too because the establishment side does not want to suffer any jolt in the election. If Paudel and Koirala contest for the same post against Deuba, it would weaken the position of both the leaders as the establishment votes would be divided, much to the delight of the Deuba faction. 

Though the Koirala-Paudel faction enjoys a slightly upper hand in the coming election, the Deuba-led group is certainly counting on the changed political scenario of the nation to its benefit. The party is not in the government now, and the Koirala faction lacks the support that would have come had the faction been heading the government. The battle between the two factions will, therefore, be fought on equal terms. The Deuba group is counting on the swing-vote or crossover votes from members of the establishment side.

There are many unhappy members in both the factions, who may cross the party line to cast their vote to the rival group. It appears that the number of dissatisfied members in the Koirala group has increased of late. Leaders like Krishna Prasad Sitaula and KC, members of the Koirala group, are now said to be willing to join the Deuba faction in return for key party posts to them. There are other leaders who are now involved in selling their allegiance for the sake of major party posts.

Competition and contest for the posts are a normal phenomenon for the party. The deepening rivalry among the top party leaders, however, has not augured well for the overall image of the party and the nation's politics as a whole. It now appears that the top leaders have forgotten the major issues besetting the nation and are now more occupied with the upcoming party election, which will decide the fate of the different factions and their leaders.

In fact, the Nepali Congress, the largest party in the parliament, has not been able to take a leading role in negotiating the problems of the nation of late. Many in the nation believe that owing to its lackluster response to the present crisis, political as well as other crises have protracted. After quitting the government following the promulgation of the new constitution, the party's time has been consumed by its general convention and has failed to play a crucial role as the largest party to resolve the Terai protests and Indian blockade.

People are seen chiding all the political parties for their miseries and sufferings. The NC could have played a stronger role to address the deteriorating situation, which would have had a positive impact on the party's image. But senior and lower rung leaders remained highly indifferent to the crises as they kept themselves busy with the upcoming general convention and thus missed a good opportunity to restore the bruised image of the party.

Clearly, the Congress could not play an effective role in ending the crippling crises, despite finding some support from the agitating Madhesi parties, which had earlier stated that they would like to talk with the Congress, the main opposition, for settling their issues rather than sitting with the government, the UML and UCPN-Maoist, for the talks. The Congress failed in taking the agitating parties into confidence to put a quick end to the protracting crises.

For many Congress supporters, it was sad to see many of its ministers fail to make a quick response to the Indian blockade, which was imposed during the final days of the Koirala-led government. While the leaders of the UML and UCPN-Maoist were quick to criticise India for imposing the blockade with a political motive, the then NC ministers stopped short of terming the Indian move as a blockade, thus drawing widespread flak.

The NC convention is indeed being held amidst deepening factionalism among the party leaders and rising criticism for its failure to give an exit to the national crises. As the party election draws closer, the schism in the party would become more glaring because both the sides are likely to make last ditch efforts to defeat the rivals by hook or by crook. This rivalry, however, will leave a negative impact on the overall image and prestige of the party. For a party that has waged several struggles for restoring and protecting democratic values in the nation's polity, the rising factionalism and differences among its ranks and files are, therefore, not a good sign.

Be prudent

It would be a prudent move for the party leaders if they could bury their hatchet once the party concludes the much-awaited general convention and elects its apex decision-making body. The apex body in due time should appoint able party workers in the right places at the right time. The leaders should be able to give the party a fresh lease of life by injecting ideas that would go in line with the new set up of the nation. It is the time to rethink about the party's overall structure, and every party worker should make contribution to make the oldest democratic party a responsible political entity for the nation and its people.

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