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Thapa and Sharma face backlash at CWC meeting

Thapa and Sharma face backlash at CWC meeting

The ongoing Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting of the ruling Nepali Congress underpins the fact that the grand old party is a deeply divided house. The party is not even one when it comes to the issue of investigating and prosecuting corruption scandals involving their own leaders. 

The CWC gathering also showed that its president, Sher Bahadur Deuba, for better or worse, remains a force to reckon with in the party, and that the general secretary duo, Gagan Kumar Thapa and Bishwa Parkash Sharma, are not as popular as one believes them to be—not at least among the CWC members.  

Remember the situation of the ruling Nepali Congress before the oft-deferred CWC? Scores of leaders including Thapa and Sharma were critical of Deuba for running the party like a hegemon, without a care for party statute or internal democracy. 

Thapa even contested and lost the Parliamentary Party leader election against Deuba. Other leaders in the NC meanwhile talked about convening the special general convention to replace Deuba.  

At the time it seemed that the Congress president had fallen out of favor, especially after he failed to give continuity to the electoral alliance forged with the CPN (Maoist Center) immediately after the general elections of November last year (the alliance did get continuity eventually after a short-lived ruling partnership between the CPN-UML and Maoists). Deuba took even more battering from his party colleagues following the by-election outcome in Tanahun-1, which was won by Swarnim Wagle of the Rastriya Swatantra Party. Wagle, a former Congress member, had only just quit his old party expressing displeasure with Deuba and his coterie. His electoral victory was resounding and that too in the traditional political base of the NC.    

Many Congress leaders and members demanded answers from Deuba. They wanted a meeting of the CWC, which had not been held for nearly a year even though the party statute requires it to be convened every two months. 

Meanwhile Deuba remained unfazed and continued to maintain silence, even when the fake Bhutanese refugee scandal broke out, which led to the arrest of his close confidant and former home minister, Bal Krishna Khand.    

When Deuba finally agreed to call the CWC meeting, many had expected that he would face harsh criticisms from the leaders for his wilful leadership. There was a litany of complaints against the NC president, ranging from taking unilateral decisions on party as well as national affairs to failing to fix the date of policy convention and not appointing the chiefs of party departments. 

But the CWC meeting saw a different—and unexpected—scenario. It was Thapa and Sharma who got the thrashing for airing the party’s dirty laundry in public. Ironically, the meeting was live streamed for the first time in the party’s history.

The two general secretaries were reprimanded for ruining the party’s image with their call for a leadership change. Several CWC members even excoriated Thapa and Sharma for supporting Khand’s arrest in the refugee scam. The majority of the CWC members are of the view that Khand should be protected and that he must not be suspended from the party. 

What transpired at the CWC meeting is a serious blow to Thapa, who is preparing to fight for party presidency in the next general convention. It is apparent that his party colleagues are not ready to back him.

Despite being popular at the cadre level, Thapa does not have a strong sway among central members of the party.

Senior leader Shekhar Koirala, another party leadership hopeful, remained largely silent throughout what could be dubbed as the trial of Thapa and Sharma. The scion of NC founding leader BP Koirala is said to be maintaining a distance from Thapa to win Deuba’s support in the party leadership race.

As a general secretary, Thapa presented a political document at the meeting, which also faced criticisms from several CWC members. Arzoo Rana Deuba termed the document as a “wish list of non-governmental organizations” that offers no clear direction to the party or the country.

Dozens of CWC members appreciated Deuba’s leadership. Surendra Pandey blamed Thapa and Sharma of spreading negativity against the party president. If Deuba sinks, he warned, both general secretaries and the party will sink.  

Leader Mohan Basnet, also the health minister, criticized Thapa and Sharma for trying to widen the factional rift in the party. 

Ahead of the CWC meeting, the two general secretaries had convened a meeting of district presidents which was boycotted by Deuba and his supporters

Another key agenda of Thapa and Sharma was fighting the next general elections alone, without forming any electoral alliance. Thapa had even suggested leaving the current coalition if the government fails to deliver on its promises.  

But the issue too did not get much support from the CWC members.  

Leader Badri Panday said as the elections are still four years away, there is no need to take any decisions on electoral alliance. 

According to CWC member Bhishma Raj Angdembe, the meeting indicates that the popularity graphs of both general secretaries are going down, while the graph of Deuba is going up. 

After listening to the largely unfavorable views of the CWC members for days, it was time for Thapa and Sharma to speak on Monday. Both of them appeared somewhat defensive. They even softened their positions on several issues. 

Regarding the issue of electoral alliance, Thapa said he was in favor of continuing the current alliance with the Maoist Center until the next general elections. On the issue of leadership change too, Thapa seemed flexible, saying that he wanted to promote internal democracy and the culture of healthy debate inside the party. 

He added that the Nepali citizens were increasingly growing despondent with the current political state of affairs, and that it was upon the Congress party to lead them out of this situation. But first, Thapa told the CWC meeting, the Nepali Congress party should put its house in order.

Sharma reiterated that the NC needs a deep retrospection in order to find its footing to lead the country.