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Congress conundrum

Congress conundrum

Lack of experience is one reason behind the failure of the Nepali Congress to play the role of an effective opposition. Nepali Con­gress leader Gagan Thapa admitted as much (See Interview). In fact, in over 28 years since the 1990 democratic change, the Congress has been in power for nearly 20, barring brief spells of active monarchy and short-lived CPN-UML-led governments.

Governments in Nepal changed after an average of nine months until the formation of the second Oli gov­ernment in February 2018. Congress or communists, the opposition is just not used to waiting patiently for the government to serve out its five-year term, which is primarily why no post-1990 government could survive for long. No surprise that Congress leaders are getting antsy after less than a year in the opposition’s bench; they have already had enough of the Oli government.

But they have no other option. Yes, they could align with the rightist forces campaigning for the restoration of the Hindu state and possibly even the monarchy, and there is growing pressure for them to do so from the grassroots. In the most unlikely scenario, with the help of these rightist forces, and possible support of one of our two big neighbors, they could conceivably engineer a divide in the ruling Nepal Communist Party. But such short-termism will backfire.

True, the government of KP Sharma Oli has failed to meet public expectation, and some of its actions have betrayed its ambivalence about democratic free­doms. But then, as Gagan Thapa suggested, the Con­gress should also learn to play the role of a responsi­ble opposition. In fact, all its moves appear reactive. After Dr Govinda KC sat down for yet another hunger strike, it wanted the government to fulfil his demands. But couldn’t it have raised a strong voice in the par­liament against tinkering with the Medical Education Bill before Dr KC started his 16th fast-unto-death? The same pattern—initial apathy followed by righ­teous anger—marked its handling of other high-profile national cases like Nirmala Pant and the grand corrup­tion in the national flag-carrier.

For the democratic system to work its major political actors have to be adept at playing the roles of both the government and the opposition. As interna­tional experience shows, if a government can serve out its full term, the one after it is also likely to. Meantime, why doesn’t the Nepali Congress work on strengthen­ing its organization and putting its leadership under greater scrutiny?