Has Deuba grown too powerful for NC’s own good?

Pratik Ghimire

Pratik Ghimire

Has Deuba grown too powerful for NC’s own good?

Despite series of political blunders, Deuba continues to reign supreme in the party while his rivals seem getting weaker by the day

Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba had already made up his mind to offer the party’s vote of confidence to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in Parliament on Tuesday. 

Since he holds a strong command in the NC, he was confident that the rival leaders inside the party would toe his line. Earlier in the day, Deuba called for the party’s meeting to take a formal decision on the issue. At least five senior leaders had opposed Deuba’s plan to give Dahal the trust vote. They were in favor of the party playing the role of an opposition. 

But Deuba was adamant on his decision. The disagreeing leaders registered a note of dissent, but the NC leader prevailed. Deuba’s recent victory in the parliamentary party leader election has made him even stronger. 

Deuba’s position was particularly emboldened after senior Ram Chandra Poudel, his former rival, backed him. Shekhar Koirala, Deuba’s only rival in the party, too, has also been taking a soft approach, because he is busy preventing the emergence of youth leaders like Gagan Kumar Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma. On the vote of confidence issue too, Koirala supported Deuba’s move.

While Deuba may be powerful, he has still not reached the level of being above reproach. Within the party, his leadership is facing criticism for being the cause for the breakdown in the five-party electoral alliance, which relegated the party to the opposition. 

Party leaders have been demanding a meeting of the Central Committee to discuss the debacle, but Deuba has been postponing the imminent showdown. Initially, the meeting was called for Jan 6 which was later postponed to Jan 12 and to Jan 29. It is clear that Deuba wants to hold the CWC meeting once the criticism subsides.

At the CWC meeting, there will be the inexorable question of why the party leadership failed to keep the electoral alliance of the five parties intact. While Deuba has not spoken a single word since the debacle, opinions are building up within the party, which could be divided into three parts. 

First comes from the Deuba camp itself, which conveniently takes off the blame from the party leadership and shifts it to the entire party. Deuba’s core supporters are of the view that there was intra-party consensus that as the largest party in parliament, the NC should get both prime ministerial and presidential posts.

A leader close to Deuba told ApEx that even the leaders from the rival camp, including Koirala and Thapa, had taken a firm stance that the party should get both positions.  “The party leadership took the advice and took its position with the other parties, which led to the breakdown in the alliance,” said the leader.

Prakash Sharan Mahat, another leader from the Deuba camp, is also not willing to point the finger at the party president. “We have to investigate what caused this failure, but laying the blame squarely on the party president will not solve the problem,” he added.

A second school of thought is that the party leadership must admit to the failure and move on by putting a united front. For them, staying united is more important than ever. “Continuous blame-game will only weaken the party,” said CWC member Nain Singh Mahar. “The upcoming Central Working Committee meeting should give a message of unity, not of division.”

Thirdly, there are those who want Deuba to step down on moral grounds. Leaders like Gururaj Ghimire have already called for Deuba’s resignation. After the five-party alliance broke down, and the CPN (Maoist) went on to form a coalition government with the CPN-UML and other fringe parties, Ghimire said that Deuba had lost the moral ground to lead the party. He also called for a special convention of the party to elect a new leadership. There are chances that NC general secretary duo Thapa and Sharma could also demand Deuba’s resignation and call for a special convention at the CWC meeting.

But with divergent opinions within the party, chances of such convention taking place are slim. Even inside the rival camp led by Koirala, the leaders are not on the same page. Koirala in particular is not in the mood of taking a confrontational approach with Deuba. He has called for a long-overdue policy convention of the party instead. With the opinions divided regarding the breakdown of the five-party electoral alliance, the heat will definitely be on Deuba when he faces the party leaders next week.

But Deuba is not the kind of leader to fess up to his failure. He has been in a similar situation before. In 2017, when the NC faced an unprecedented electoral drubbing under his leadership, Deuba faced the firing squad and came out alive. Then, too, there were calls for his resignation.

The fact is Deuba is too powerful. His rivals in the party know this very well. Despite the major electoral loss in 2017 and the post-election fiasco this year, it is nearly impossible to remove him. The rival leaders do not have the right and the resources to rally the support of two-thirds members of the party to unseat Deuba. By postponing the CWC meeting, Deuba has bought himself the time to prepare himself.

He has already started the homework on how to neutralize his detractors. Deuba knows that even some of his supporters could upbraid him for not making the effort to keep the five-party electoral alliance together. To temper the critical views, one leader said Deuba has been meeting his core supporters and instructing them to speak in his favor at CWC meetings. The NC president wants to show that it was not him, but the CPN (Maoist Center) leader and new Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who committed the betrayal and broke the alliance.