Can the Nepali Congress hold its 14th general convention on the scheduled 19-22 Feb 2021 dates in the middle of a pandemic? Perhaps not. And can the Grand Old Party elect a young leadership? This is even more doubtful. The young leadership referred to here is not just in terms of their age but also in terms of their ideas. As Nepali Congress gears up for the convention, vying for party president will once again be the incumbent, Sher Bahadur Deuba (73), his chief rival Ram Chandra Poudel (75), and/or an aging scion of the Koirala family. Most of the voting public has little appetite for the first two and very limited appetite for the third.
It is a common consensus, both in and outside the Nepali Congress, that the party leadership must go to a third-generation leader like Gagan Thapa or Biswa Prakash Sharma if the party is to be electorally competitive against the Nepal Communist Party. The likes of Deuba and Poudel, we are sorry to say, just don’t inspire hope. They have been repeatedly tested and found wanting. Deuba is standing for president again, despite his party’s 2017 electoral drubbing. Poudel, meanwhile, thinks he “deserves” to lead the party once.
This, we hear, will be the last time one of the old leaders is elected, and the subsequent general conventions will be contested strictly between third-generation leaders. But can Nepali Congress afford to wait for five more years? What will be the cost to the party of conceding consecutive national elections to the communists? In the current state of constant political flux in the country, five years is a long time.
The old leaders claim to have repeatedly ‘sacrificed’ their comforts for the cause of democracy and say they still have a lot to contribute to the country. Unfortunately, that is not how the voting public sees things. If they really cared about the democratic system they helped establish, they would know that periodic churning of political leadership is vital for its health. The best they could do right now is leave the scene for the third-generation leaders. These new-generation leaders, meanwhile, could conceivably turf out the old brigade if they could present a more united front. Yet they are as badly divided between different factions as their older colleagues. This again leaves the fate of Nepali Congress as an electoral force contingent on the performance (or lack thereof) of its communist opponents. This is no winning strategy.