I haven’t come this far just because my father was a big leaderThe 13th General Convention (GC) of the Nepali Congress (NC) is scheduled to start on Thursday, March 3, where the party’s new leadership will be elected.
The 13th General Convention (GC) of the Nepali Congress (NC) is scheduled to start on Thursday, March 3, where the party’s new leadership will be elected. While the fractious internal landscape has been on focus, there is very little discussion on how the Grand Old Party would be positioned ideologically given that Nepal has now become a federal republic. Some in the party argue that the party’s core ideology of democratic socialism still holds relevance, while others, especially the youth, see the need to redefine the party’s guiding principles. Kamal Dev Bhattarai and John Narayan Parajuli spoke to Prakash Man Singh, former Deputy Prime Minister, current General Secretary of the NC and son of a party elder late Ganesh Man Singh, about the lack of focus on ideas in the GC, his vision for the new party leadership and his view on the Madhes issue.
The upcoming GC is significant as it is the first one being held after the promulgation of the constitution. In what ways do you expect it to be different from the previous ones?
At present, a federal, democratic, republican and inclusive constitution which was promulgated under the premiership of the late Sushil Koirala is in place, while our previous GCs were held under a unitary, centralised system of governance. In our quest to institutionalise federalism, we want to refine the NC’s charter in accordance with the new constitution. Also, we are holding this GC in the absence of a sitting party president, which
also makes the context different. So the convention is of interest not only to Nepalis but to the international community as well. It is being held at a historic moment and we are taking it as an opportunity to convey our messages and policies.
Has the election for new leadership overshadowed other aspects of the GC, which are equally, if not more, important?
The media is partly responsible for such a perception, that the party is mostly focusing on the election aspect. What we cannot afford to forget is that the NC is a party that was established in 2003 BS (1947). It carries a democratic ideology, which it has been true to even under adverse circumstances such as when an elected government was removed by a coup in 2017 BS (1960). Its members have sacrificed much for its ideals. So it is a time-tested party that is known for its politics of principles. It was also under a government led by this party that the present constitution was promulgated. So the future policies of the party are definitely important for us in this convention.
There seems to be little focus on the visions of the leaders. What solutions do you bring to the table to address the contending viewpoints and focus?
The basic principles of all the leaders remain the same. But it is true that the NC’s role will be different in the changed context.
Unemployment rate is high; the country’s environment is not conducive even for those who want to work. The youths—ones with brains as well as brawn—are compelled to go abroad for work. The NC’s new task is to create an environment to retain these youths in the country. The party’s new focus will be on programmes and policies that promote economic growth by judiciously utilising the country’s resources. BP’s idea of democratic socialism does not mean distributing poverty; it means distributing prosperity.
Are you running for party presidency? There are those who say it’s not time yet for you to vie for the top job.
There are those who claim that I have come this far because I am the son of a big leader. But there were many others who were children of big leaders and who had entered politics. How many of them could continue? Whether one remains relevant in politics depends on one’s performance, capacity, evolution and courage.
When (former king) Gyanendra seized absolute power and established a kangaroo court, everybody was terrified. I was the one who spoke against it and refused to cooperate with it. I was dragged and put under solitary confinement, but I remained true to my principles. I passed through trying times and came out victorious.
I have also worked from the grassroots up. I did not enter politics after having established another career. I was born and raised in Kathmandu where I worked as a cadre for the party’s student wing. I have endured physical punishment and done manual labour—everything that an ordinary cadre does. Later, I became a district president and the party’s vice-president. Now I am the elected general secretary. So with all these experiences, I think I now qualify for the post of party president, and my claim has not come early. It is natural and justified.
Have you decided on your team members who will be the top officer bearers in the party?
We are discussing it. Some may say it is late, but there have been cases in the past where the teams were finalised only a few days before the GC. We are trying to build the most effective team possible. I believe a team under my leadership will produce the best results. If you look at past records, I drew a large number of votes even when I stood for the party’s Central Working Committee. Even in the last GC, I got four more votes as the general secretary than did Sushil Koirala as the president. And my margin of victory was bigger than Koirala’s. Votes are a good measure of one’s popularity.
How many teams do you expect the establishment faction to have?
We have been focusing all our efforts on coming up with one strong and efficient team. My claim is that a team that I will lead will garner the most votes. I am well prepared to run for the president. After the 12th GC, I have been to all districts except Darchula. I have travelled across the country, met many party cadres and am easily accessible.
The provision to include additional office bearers in the party has caused some controversy. What is your take on it?
We have formed a Committee to amend the party’s charter, which will look into this provision. It will present a report to the party’s Central Working Committee soon. The party’s active membership has increased from around 300,000 in the last GC to about 700,000 now. Some say that having some additional posts could be a pragmatic move. Many NC leaders are senior to leaders from other parties in terms of experience but not in terms of posts.
My view is a bit different. We are holding our GC after five-and-a-half years. We are responsible for a smooth GC. We should not spoil it by inserting unnecessary debates into it. If the Amendment Committee recommends something based on consensus, it should be adopted. What cannot be agreed through consensus should be dealt with after the GC.
I do not think any drastic changes are necessary in the party. A few small changes that an effective leadership can provide will take the party much ahead. The weakness is in the implementation of the existing policies.
The implementation of the constitution, particularly in relation to the Madhesi issue, is a major challenge facing the nation. How do you think this challenge should be addressed?
The NC has walked the talk. It promulgated the constitution. Moreover, what is special about the constitution is that except territorial integrity and people’s sovereignty, almost everything else can be amended. And it is not merely a theoretical provision; we have shown it in practice.
While Sushil Koirala was still the prime minister, an amendment bill was passed in Parliament. Even after that, despite failing health, Koirala took the initiative to bring the Madhesi Morcha leaders on board to address remaining grievances about federal demarcation.
So the NC is keen on addressing valid demands of the agitating parties, amending the constitution through a democratic process, implementing the constitution, and based on that providing stability and prosperity to the nation.
There are speculations that the NC will try to form a government under its leadership after the GC.
Right now we are focusing on organising the GC successfully.
We will talk about forming a government after the completion of the GC.