By Maila Baje
If you expected the recent by-election results to force the Nepali Congress to sit up and think, well, there has been a spasm of sorts. Except, all the factions have decided to dig in their heels deeper.
The main opposition party has developed an odd capacity for observation. It sees its loss in Kaski-2, the contest most approximating a referendum on the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) government, as a victory, insisting that local dynamics played out there. The Nepali Congress’ victory in Dharan’s mayoral contest, where local issues did predominate, is projected as having national implications.
Where party president Sher Bahadur Deuba sees sabotage, his principal rival Ram Chandra Poudel sees staid stewardship. While the lesser factional chieftains have competing interpretations, they are united in singling out the incompetence of the party president. And the Nepali Congress wonders why fewer and fewer Nepalis are taking the party seriously.
Deuba thinks appeasing Poudel – in full glare of the media – can rejuvenate the party. Poudel still sees rejectionism of the status quo as the roadmap. In the process, the party is rapidly squandering the capital history has bestowed on it.
The Nepali Congress’ current strategy of letting the Nepal Communist Party government dig itself into a deeper hole might have made sense if the main opposition party were less crude in exhibiting its infighting. As the man who headed the party to its worst electoral defeat, Deuba could have taken moral responsibility and resigned as president in 2017. But, then, Deuba was elected by his party convention.
Moreover, there is a point in Deuba’s refusal to succumb to the morality imposed by people who lost in the general election, when he was among the few party leaders who won. Krishna Prasad Sitaula served the party’s purposes in a specific context which does not exist today. The Koirala cousins need to conclude their internecine battles before they can hope to rejuvenate the party. Minor scions like Prakash Man Singh and Bimalendra Nidhi need to do much more than switch camps in the afterglow of family legacy.
If the factionalism is too deep to paper over, then maybe Nepali Congress leaders should stop making public pronouncements on seminal subjects. One day the party is in favor of restoring Nepal’s Hindi identity, the next day it refuses to entertain advocates of that agenda at a key meeting. Soon thereafter general secretary Shashank Koirala comes out loud and clear in favor of revisiting republicanism and federalism as well before claiming the next day that he was misquoted.
If history is what drives the party, why not draw the right lessons. The Nepali Congress cannot out-left the left any better than it can out-flank the right. It is in the right place and at the right time. When it had perceptive leaders, the party firmly stood by constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy in good times as well as bad. It did so not out of personal predilections or prejudices but because it believed it was in the nation’s ultimate interest.
Today, that conviction is maturing among the masses amid a spontaneous appreciation of our collective values, attitudes, needs and expectations. Yet this is the only part of Nepali Congress history the party continues to repudiate.