The country is watching

  • NC’s decline can be arrested if Deuba changes his course and party members rise to the challenge
- Naresh Koirala

Jun 16, 2017-The Nepali Congress (NC) defined Nepal’s history for the last seven decades. It led the 1950 movement to overthrow the Rana oligarchy; it fought for 30 years against the king’s scuttling of democracy in 1960; it led the coalition during Jana Andolan I in 1990 for the restoration of democracy; and it assumed leadership in reconciliation efforts with the Maoists in 2006 and brought their carnage to an end. 

Its founding leaders set irreproachable standards of honesty and integrity. They inspired people and gained their trust. Their politics were value-driven. Public service was their primary credo.

Fast forward to 2017. The party is stale, confused, intellectually dead and ethically compromised. It has no vision and no coherent long-term economic, domestic and foreign policy.

The flaws

The evidence is abundant. The leaders who wield real power in the NC’s central committee are overwhelmingly old “second generation” leaders, most of whom are unemployable in any profession that demands fresh ideas, skills, integrity and trust.  They block young and talented members’ rise to the top on the grounds of “inadequate experience”, as if one needs to be old to lead. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that the prime minister of Ireland is 38, the president of France is 39 and the prime minister of Canada is 45, and that vision and leadership skills have little to do with age. 

NC leaders come out with conflicting, incoherent messages on the same issue. Consider, for example, the “secular state” versus “Hindu state” debate. The constitution supported by the NC says Nepal is a secular state. Yet, some of the party’s senior leaders are openly promoting the campaign for declaring Nepal a Hindu state.

In the recent local elections in Bharatpur, NC President (and now Prime Minister) Deuba dumped his party’s nominee by directly intervening in favour of the Maoist Centre candidate, the then prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s daughter. Party insiders and their supporters outside find this ad-hoc intervention at once confusing and humiliating.  The growing Deuba-Dahal alliance has added to the conundrum.

The NC is intellectually bankrupt. Except for some policy statements stated in their election manifesto, it has not articulated any of its policy positions, for example, on the growing “Pahad-Madhes” divide, on our relationship with our neighbours, on the party’s shift from a public sector dominant economic policy to the one promoting laissez faire economy. It keeps harping on about “BP’s vision”, but has failed to articulate how that vision is to be realised in the changed context since BP’s death 35 years ago.

A recent statement of the NC’s General Secretary that the judiciary should be “under the control of the government” speaks to the party establishment’s intellectual bankruptcy.

Transparency International has ranked Nepal among the world’s most corrupt countries. NC leaders previously convicted of corruption were among Deuba’s strongest supporters during his bid for party presidency. It is widely believed that party leaders trade parliamentary seats and plum government appointments for money.

Anti-corruption campaigns can backfire on compromised parties. Fighting corruption is therefore not a priority for the NC. Consider the NC’s position in recent corruption cases. It refused to support the impeachment motion against the highly corrupt then-chief of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), but it tried to impeach the highly respected then-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Sushila Karki. The NC did not lend assistance to Dr Govinda KC’s crusade against the “medical mafia” either.

Looking back

To be sure, NC’s decline started when the triumvirate of Ganesh Man Singh, Krishna Prashad Bhattarai and Girija Prashad Koirala, which had guided the party since BP Koirala’s death in 1982, fell apart in the early 1990s.

Under Girija’s watch, the party joined Nepal’s other political parties in the game of the politics of opportunism—making and breaking governments in the pursuit of personal benefits of the leaders and gratification of their oversized ego. Big money, nepotism and vested interest started making inroads into the party. The party lost the claim to moral, ethical and democratic superiority over other parties.

Girija’s single mindedness of purpose, organisational skill, experience and courage mitigated some of his serious faults and helped maintain his clout.

Sushil Koirala, who succeeded him as the party president, lived with high moral standards, uncompromising commitment to democratic norms, and commanded much respect, despite the lack of intellectual heft and political clout.


Coalition of the desperate

Deuba became the party president in 2016, finally realising his long-cherished ambition. Prior to this, he was the prime minister three times and is remembered for masterminding the so-called “Pajero kanda” (often described as institutional bribe to buy parliamentary support), for prematurely dissolving Parliament in 2002 at the king’s behest, for letting local elections lapse and for supporting the king’s authoritarian rule to stay in power. (He was later sacked and imprisoned by the king on corruption charges).

Under Deuba, the NC became even more fractious and directionless than before. Serving the leader’s ego supplanted the party’s public service credo. By acquiescing to Deuba’s wishes, the NC’s central committee members have become complicit in the party’s decline.

Deuba recently cobbled together a coalition of the desperate and is now the prime minister of the country for the fourth time.  Some may characterise it as Deuba’s success, but this is incorrect. Democracy works on the premise that the means is as important as the end. And the means Deuba adopted to get where he is were opportunistic, self-serving and unethical.  The NC under Deuba has lost its soul and its moorings. 

The prime ministership gives Deuba an opportunity to redeem himself and his party. There is still sufficient traditional support for the NC to arrest its fall to oblivion. But this will require Deuba to change his course and the party’s central committee to keep him in check.

Will Deuba change his course? Will the party members rise up from their servitude and save the party from ignominy? The country is watching.

- Koirala is a Canada-based geotechnical consultant

Published: 16-06-2017 07:51

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