Lead from the frontDeuba should stay firm on commitment to federalism, republicanism, secularism
Among the 25 members of the Nepali Congress (NC) elected to the party’s central working committee (CWC) through the open category, 14 are from party President Sher Bahadur Deuba’s panel. This is a major victory for the Deuba faction. It is also somewhat surprising.
In the earlier election to the party’s top three office-bearers, Deuba had managed to win the position of president, but the two other positions—that of general secretary and treasurer—were won by members of the so-called ‘establishment faction’. This had given rise to speculation that Deuba would now have to deal extensively with members of his rival faction while taking decisions. The fact that he has an outright majority among the CWC members elected through the open category means that the party chief will be more secure in his power than had been thought initially.
The recent elections to the NC’s leadership demonstrated that the party is by far the most democratic party in Nepal, at least when it comes to its internal procedures. The entire process of selecting a new leadership included a large-scale process that reached deep into the grassroots level.
However, what is equally striking is that despite the large-scale and democratic nature of the exercise, the vast majority of people elected to the CWC are old and familiar faces who have been in power for a very long time. The results are particularly disconcerting when one considers that the list of the 25 new CWC members is non-inclusive. There are only two Janajatis and one Madhesi on the list. Further, the only woman on the list is Sujata Koirala. It is hard not to avoid the conclusion that she belongs to none other than the Koirala family. What the elections thus demonstrated was that the old ties of patronage and loyalty are so deeply entrenched within the NC that even a large-scale election process cannot shake them.
It is also worrisome that some of the people elected to the most crucial positions hold views that are widely discredited and constitutionally invalidated. The new General Secretary Shashank Koirala, for example, has demonstrated particular political ineptness in speaking openly in favour of the monarchy and restoring the Hindu state. Khum Bahadur Khadka similarly has supported campaigns to restore the Hindu state. It is striking that Khadka won such large numbers of votes despite being a discredited figure who has served a jail term on corruption charges. Deuba should now tell them in no uncertain terms that they should refrain from making such public pronouncements.
The new party president should make it clear that speaking in favour of the monarchy or a Hindu state is unconstitutional, and responsible members of the party should abide by the official position of the party, as well as by the constitution.
On numerous occasions in the past, Deuba has demonstrated a degree of flexibility to accommodate dissenting voices within the party and outside (including in negotiations with the then underground Maoists). He has also, unfortunately, on occasions let political expediency take precedence over core political principles.
At the outset of his new innings as a party leader, we urge the NC president to stand firm on core principles codified in the new constitution, instead of compromising on them. Pandering to a constituency within the party will only let the largest political party, and in extension the national polity, drift to ideological confusion.