How do you assess the role of Nepali Congress as the main opposition party?
Nepali Congress is the oldest party around. But more than that, it has contributed and sacrificed a lot to emancipate people from autocratic regimes and establish democracy. It has played a vital role in ensuring freedom of speech and expression and creating a pluralistic society. It led the democratic movement of 1950 that brought changes in the social, political and cultural spheres. Even today, Nepali people have great affection for the party.
Now we see some weaknesses in party leadership. It has failed to make some crucial decisions. If the Congress is weak now, it’s only because of the leadership, not its policy and programs, in which it is far ahead of others. Even the communist parties tread on its footsteps to build their rhetoric of social and political change. But having failed to act per public expectation, time has come for a revamp of party organization.
What in your view makes Sher Bahadur Deuba a weak leader?
Certainly, he has some weaknesses. But we have to look back at the party’s recent history. Veteran leaders Girija Prasad Koirala, Ganesh Man Singh, and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai also had weaknesses. Deuba is no exception. If the party operates in a democratic way and its organization is robust, the weakness of a single person doesn’t make much difference.
The new generation does not have to accept all decisions of party leadership. Deuba-led NC has failed to meet the expectations of both the people and the party members. Deuba has made several mistakes as the party leader. He never tried to correct those mistakes even when he got multiple chances to do so. That is why dissatisfaction has piled up against him. Deuba has publicly confessed to his mistakes on different occasions. But he keeps repeating them. Now he is not in a position to answer his critics. Party leaders and cadres loved him and gave him many opportunities. But he split the party. As president, he has failed to deliver.
But Deuba is still mighty powerful in the party. Why?
The party president of Nepali Congress has traditionally been strong. Even if two-thirds central working committee members and district cadres stand against him, the party president will still be powerful. In the past, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai ran the party his own way. Members sat in protest against Girija Prasad Koirala in front of his residence, but he was still a powerful president. Cadres showed him black flags on several occasions. Compared to them, Deuba appears weak.
If he is weak, why has no serious challenger emerged against Deuba?
Just listen to the speeches of other top leaders. They talk about the past, they discuss the current situation, and they criticize the government. But they can’t come up with any plan for the future. They don’t have a vision to claim party leadership. There is no policy-related discussion in the party. Even party cadres do nothing more than make rounds of top leaders’ homes hoping to bag lucrative appointments. Top leaders look at the fawning cadres and think their public base is secure.
So isn’t there anyone to replace Deuba in the Nepali Congress?
One thing is sure: the NC cadres want to see leadership change. But change does not mean change of an individual. Changing certain leaders alone cannot bring fresh hope to the party. Similarly, change should not be based on age alone. There should be transformational changes in different areas. Even now, no member has opposed Deuba’s leadership in terms of policy and programs.
There are discussions only from the angle that if a certain person gets leadership, he can bring about dynamic changes. Till now, no one has officially announced their candidacy for party president. Instead of new faces, people expect a concrete vision for the party. Even the contenders to Deuba’s post do not have a new vision or policy to revamp the party. Cadres are looking for a new vision, not only a new face.
Why is there always a dispute over the holding of the NC General Convention?
The party’s General Convention should be held within the stipulated timeframe. In the case of Nepali Congress, there is a tendency of deferring General Convention on various pretexts. The communist parties held their conventions even during the Panchayat era when they were outlawed.
But the NC did not hold a single convention at that time. Even after that, party president has always tried to avoid convention to stay in power. Such a tendency is evident in the NC sister organizations as well. The president wants to defer convention to strengthen his position. In case of crisis and difficult situations, the party statute allows extension of the president’s term. But this liberal policy has often been misused.
What are the chances of anti-Deuba camps banding together to defeat him in the upcoming convention?
It would be too early to say anything about it. There is still a lot of time before the convention. Even the leaders loyal to Deuba may later abandon him. Considering the sentiments of the cadres, Deuba’s aides may ask him not to run for party president again. His long-supporters may be telling him that time is not in his favor.
Who could be Deuba’s successor from his own camp?
Right now, I cannot say anything about any individual. It is also possible that Deuba himself declares he would not run for presidency. The current camp may not remain intact. History shows that leaders tend to switch camps. For instance, after 1990, Deuba supported Girija Prasad Koirala for a long time. Deuba became home minister and ultimately prime minister with Koirala’s support. But Deuba later challenged Koirala for party presidency.
Should senior leaders like Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel retire from active politics, as some have suggested, and clear the ground for new faces?
Many have suggested that they retire. I do not think that they should give up politics entirely. But it would be better if they confine themselves to the roles of party guardians. They can still have some in energizing party organizations. If they play such a role, it could bring some novelty to the party.
Is it possible that the upcoming convention will hand over leadership to the younger generation?
I do not think a new generation means just a new face or young age. New vision and direction are needed. Change only on the basis of age does not make much sense. Even Deuba’s election as party president was taken as a handover of party leadership to new generation and there was huge expectation from him. He became president supposedly representing the party’s young voice. Now, see, the new generation is totally disappointed by Deuba.
What explains the persistent rifts within the Nepali Congress since the 1990 political change?
Not only Nepali Congress, other parties have a similar problem. Only the appearance of such rifts differs from party to party. Lack of discipline is a major weakness in the NC.