The old party’s new testNC continues to disappoint those who like to see it act up as a robust opposition
Since performing poorly in the election last year, the Nepali Congress has been a party in disarray. It has been unable to reform its party structure to enable the rise of young talent. And it has not been able to play the role of a strong opposition either, much to the disappointment of those who want to see the main opposition put a powerful government on a constant vigil. Rather, the NC seems deeply insecure about its current position and its ability to challenge a government that has over a two-third majority in parliament.
In recent days, a few stirrings within the party have appeared. NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba has spoken up against what he thinks is the government’s attempt to impose “communist authoritarianism” and said that his party will soon launch protests. Members of the NC affiliated National Students Union (NSU) have actually held protests against the recent price hikes and the release of Balkrishna Dhungel, the erstwhile Maoist member convicted for a war-era murder.
Despite the NC’s attempt at bravado, its efforts will not succeed unless it attempts far-reaching changes and reach out to the population and represent their interests. So far all the steps that it has taken appear opportunistic—geared only against the government rather than in favour of the issues they claim to be fighting for. For example, the protesters in Tanahun may have spoken against Dhungel’s release, but they can hardly been said to be in favour of broader human rights issues or transitional justice. In fact, no Nepali Congress leader has ever spoken out in a principled way about the need to conclude the transitional justice process in a way that fulfills the needs of victims and upholds legal norms.
Similarly, the NC speaks repeatedly about a “communist dictatorship,” but it has failed to articulate a positive vision about the characteristics of democracy in Nepal and what it stands for. In fact, on matters of policy, the NC has not been able to demonstrate that it is different from the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) at all.
If the NC wishes to rehabilitate itself in time for the next election, things will have to change. It will have to play the role of a constructive opposition, one that genuinely speaks out in favour of those sections of the population whose concerns are unheeded by the government. It is clear that there are wide ranges of issues the NC leaders can focus on: conflict victims in search of justice and reparations, people who are being evicted from their homes due to the state’s massive development schemes, minorities of various kinds who feel that the government is only taking into account the needs of the majority. Furthermore, the NC has to be seen to be taking a principled stance in favour of Nepal’s democratic institutions by standing up against excessive politicization and the curbing of civil liberties. Only by efforts of this kind will the NC be able to rebuild trust among the population.
The party of BP has to reinvent its wheels and quickly too.