Oped

NC’s electoral setback

  • All party members need to introspect to figure out what went wrong and where
- Arjun Narasingha KC

Jan 2, 2018-

The Nepali Congress (NC) has been received well by both pre- and post-1990 generations. The older generations cared about the party because it was founded and championed by the late BP Koirala who commanded immense popularity in contemporary politics not only in Nepal but also in the South Asian region due to his personal integrity and value-based politics.

Post-1990 generations loved the NC after having seen the contribution of the late Ganesh Man Singh who made the 1990 revolution a success but declined to accept any position, neither of the prime minister nor of the party president. The presence of leaders with symbolic personality like the late KP Bhattarai, GP Koirala, Ram Narayan Mishra, Mahendra Narayan Nidhi, Bal Bahadur Rai, Yogendra Man Serchan, Sheikh Idris, Ram Hari Joshi, Jagannath Acharya, CK Prasai, Bhim Bahadur Tamang and so on beautified the NC with their acceptance, organisational capabilities and behavioural approach as they took politics as a way of life, culture, virtue of simplicity and conviction geared towards sacrifice. This is what the NC was all about in the minds of most people so far.

It could be because of this image that the NC garnered a majority in the 1991 and 1999 parliamentary polls and emerged as the largest party in the second Constituent Assembly elections held in 2013. However, it was pushed to a distant third in the first-past-the-post elections. With the direct and proportional votes combined, it has been placed second. The NC has never ever performed so poorly in its history. What caused the people to not lend their support to NC candidates in the direct elections but give an almost equal number of votes to the NC and the CPN-UML under the proportional representation system? This is a serious question, and its answer needs to be sought seriously.

What went wrong?

The most cherished goal of people everywhere is to improve their standard of living with an inherent urge to survive and develop. It is more compelling for Nepal’s disadvantaged people to desperately seek a path to the prosperity they see happening around the globe. Being moved by this thought, the late BP Koirala long ago championed democratic socialism—the middle ground between laissez-faire capitalism and the one party-run communism—at a time when experts around the world were suggesting a bouquet of ‘isms’ ranging from free-market absolutism (the least government is the best government) to complete communism (excessive and irrational control of the state and the government operating a collectivised economic order).

Nepal’s economy is worth not even Rs2.6 trillion, of which 52 percent is supposed to have gone to the richest 10 percent of the population, and a meagre 11 percent to the bottom 40 percent of the population. Nepal’s problem is thus both poverty and inequality. Most economists agree that Nepal’s general poverty and increasingly growing inequality are the outcomes of policies and institutions that care solely about how to boost the GNP at the cost of who would make it grow. With the dawn of parliamentary democracy in 1990, the NC ruled the country for most of the time, and championed a free market economy paying no heed to find the right balance between discipline of the market and generosity of the welfare state. We kept reciting the late BP Koirala’s ideals, but acted just the opposite.

We failed to realise that Nepal’s poverty emanates from the flawed economic policies that concentrate most of the productive assets and resources among a few which impede resource-lacking people to emerge as entrepreneurs. Neither did we bother to establish a fair society with an equitable resource sharing process, nor did we stop relegating resource sharing issues to the background. As a result, the poor could hardly get a level playing field to actualise their productivity enhancing roles. And thereby hangs a tale. This is where we have failed badly.

Value intercepts

Values influence both the head and the heart, and produce ‘cool heads’ and ‘warm hearts’ like the late BP Koirala and the late Ganesh Man Singh who really used to keep dreaming for the people. BP Koirala’s compassion to elevate people’s economic status at least to the middle income level and Ganesh Man Singh’s repeated warnings to his colleagues not to lose their ideological moorings in the musical chair of power, and not to follow the capitalistic footprints while preaching socialistic rhetoric, is full proof of their submission to establishing a fair and just society. Where does the present NC’s value intercept ‘how down to get down’ bottom line lies?

The swollen Cabinets formed over and over again to accommodate fringe parties to lengthen the life of the government was something people never expected, and it was widely criticised. The failure to appoint key party office bearers and form 42 departments at the central level even two years after the party’s general convention, where we would have involved thousands of senior cadres from different walks of life all over the country, and heavy concentration on lucrative high-stakes appointments made the general people sceptical about the NC-led government.

People’s normative expectations and the NC’s actions

A coterie comprised of a few ‘henchmen’ mostly handled the ticket distribution task for candidates, having been engaged in ‘quid pro quo’ deals. Some of the most deserving people and dynamic youths got sidelined for no reason. Especially at the time of selecting candidates for the proportional representation election, neither was the parliamentary board taken into confidence nor was the party’s constitutional process followed. It was merely limited within the coterie for sharing of candidates.

The NC leaders at the helm—by which I mean all the members of the central working committee (CWC)—accepted any decision imposed by the coterie without any reasoning and scepticism. Those who tried to resist, did it just lukewarmly. We offered outsiders an opportunity to call us a ‘crowd of undemocratic democrats’— experts in compromising internal democracy for vested interests.

The decision to nominate some controversial persons to the post of ambassador and inspector general of police, and an impeachment motion against the chief justice, served as exemplary issues for the opposition to raise while electioneering. Conscious voters, especially in the urban concentrations, voted the NC out for its refusal to lend support to the impeachment of the indicted CIAA chief and its all-out attempt to impeach the chief justice. We severely failed to cherish the ideals of a democratic society and adhere to the party constitution and democratic norms and values in the party’s functioning. And this has cost the NC dear.

Way ahead

Politics, as our cultural ethics says is the supreme policy to govern all policies. Nothing will improve until politics remains the same—‘the conduct of public affairs for private advantage’. Should we follow this truth, we need to make a thorough introspection of how people look at us. Paulo Freire, a famous development educator of all time, once said, “To speak a true word is to transform the world.” A situation of people believing in the party but not its leaders is what has occurred at the moment. Let us learn from the people, and believe that democracy means leaders setting their sails having followed the direction of the wind set by the people.

I caution all NC activists not to lose morale, but act boldly to make the NC bounce back. Frustrations, disappointments, agitations, counter-agitations and blame games will not bring the NC back on track. This does not, however, mean that the culprits including the saboteurs—the infamous renegades of the election—need to be spared. What the NC’s rank and file, and especially the office bearers and all of us CWC members having different responsibilities, need to do now is engage in quiet introspection concentrating on ‘what went wrong and how and why’. Such soul searching is the need of the hour for every one of us.

KC is a member of the Central Working Committee, Nepali Congress

Published: 02-01-2018 08:00

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