Sher Bahadur Deuba espies an opportunity to hang on to his Nepali Congress Presidency. Even better, he reckons he might be the next prime minister. KP Oli’s dissolution of the federal lower house has been a blessing in disguise for the 74-year-old, four-time prime minister. In normal course, Deuba would be under intense pressure to promptly hold the party’s much-delayed general convention, its supreme decision-making body that also picks its leader. He has already been party president for five years, a year over the original mandate, thanks to the covid pandemic.
By all accounts, Deuba’s four years as president have been a failure. The party under his leadership was trounced in the 2017 general elections. Since the formation of the communist government, his voice as the leader of the main opposition has also been very weak. Hounded by his critics, and perhaps aware that he might not win party presidency from the general convention floor again, Deuba has looked to pack party committees with cronies and has repeatedly postponed the convention.
Now the party’s Central Working Committee has proposed to hold the convention on August 23-26, in around six months’ time. But it’s easier said than done, with the fate of the dissolved house still hanging in the balance as the Supreme Court hears the case. If the house is restored, there will be an immediate prospect of Deuba becoming prime minister, in which case he will again seek to buy influence in the party. If the house is not restored, the Congress party will be in on election-mode, which in turn will result in as yet unpredictable circumstances that Deuba can use to his advantage.
Again, for the Nepali Congress, the problem is not so much the country’s current state of flux as the power-centric mindset of its top leaders, especially Deuba. The incumbent NC president has been ready to bend rules and subvert internal democracy to hang on. So far the intra-party opposition to Deuba has been weak, again due to other political leaders’ own calculations on distribution of power and privileges. Entirely missing is any kind of ideological discussion on the party’s future course. Given such petty and self-serving calculations inside the main opposition party, it is hard to see how a future Congress government will be any better than the current, much-reviled one under the divided NCP.