‘I contested parliamentary party leadership to keep Congress alive’Nepali Congress General Secretary Gagan Thapa on Congress politics and the larger polity.
Gagan Thapa, a general secretary of the Nepali Congress, lost the election for the parliamentary party leader to party president Sher Bahadur Deuba. Touted as a new-generation leader, Thapa represents the party’s rival faction. Purushottam Poudel of the Post talked to Thapa on Congress politics and the larger polity.
If we look back at the Congress parliamentary party leadership elections since 1999, you had the lowest vote count among the losing candidates. How would you react to it?
If we merely look at this parliamentary party election from the perspective of the percentage of votes I received, we will draw wrong conclusions. The majority of people today wish to see established political parties' leaders replaced. Even if a vote were to be held on the issue, I think nine out of 10 people would call for a generational shift in major parties' leadership.
Due to a change in party leadership, Nepal's most conservative party, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, received a certain level of popular support in the just-concluded elections. The party which only had one directly-elected lawmaker in the previous parliament now has five directly-elected lawmakers and has added nine proportional representation seats. Many may have thought a new party could address their problems better. But they also expect existing parties to do better, if their leadership passes on to the younger generation.
New parties emerged during this election as traditional parties failed to meet voters' expectations. If we look back at the local elections in May, we can see the voters also supported independent candidates. If we consider ourselves representatives of people's aspirations, people today aspire to change the leadership of the old parties. I chose to contest for the same reason. A party that cannot represent people's voice is a dead party. I fought to keep my party alive even though I knew that I would lose. The party might not have conducted the election for the parliamentary party leadership had I not come forward, as happened in the case of other major parties.
Then why didn’t the majority of your party's elected lawmakers respect the will of the general people?
People's dissatisfaction with the old parties' leadership appears to have contributed to the rise of the new parties. I also thought other Congress MPs would understand this, just as I was beginning to comprehend the growing demand for a change in leadership. In the meantime, many MPs had gotten messages from their voters, urging them to support leadership change in the party prior to the election of our parliamentary party leadership.
My fellow MPs deny that the public wanted to see a change in our leadership. If it was only my desire to establish myself as the leader of the party, my fellow MPs would not have received the message from their voters to stand for change. Many of the party's leaders still hesitate to accept me as their general secretary. If I had only wanted to be a party leader, I would not have received the backing of as many leaders in the parliamentary party election. My stand was for a change in the party’s leadership.
You claimed that there would be no election for the parliamentary party leader. But from your panel, Shekhar Koirala, too, was ready to fight against party president Deuba and you had to convince him.
The position within the party was so favourable to Sher Bahadur Deuba following the November 20 election results, it was obvious that running against him in the parliamentary party would be tantamount to a loss. Some of our friends were saying that power-sharing with the party president would be a more beneficial alternative. These suggestions came with good intent. President Deuba had also pushed for consensus and promised to embrace all party leaders and rule the party in unison.
I knew that a number of MPs were in his favour. He was winning the election. I knew that as well. However, to represent the aspirations of the people, I thought the election of parliamentary party leadership could not be skipped. It is not a question of whether Shekhar Koirala would have contested; rather, had one person left the battlefield, an environment would have been created to choose a leader by consensus.
Will Gagan Thapa be the patron of the MPs who trusted him in the election of the parliamentary party leadership? Or will Shekhar Koirala and Gagan Thapa jointly take charge?
Shekhar Koirala is my leader, if it is a question of whether there is a separate group within the party. He was regarded as a leader by all, and we all followed his directions. We like-minded people came together under his leadership. At the party convention, I supported him, and in the election for parliamentary party leader, he was my proposer. We will jointly work on behalf of the parliamentarians who stand by our side. Now I am not in a mood to look at everything from the perspective of the election. We voted in secret, so how can I know who voted for me? I have 40 friends who say that they voted for me, but I only got 25 votes. Therefore, I'll work to lead the 40 MPs who say they supported me.
Coming to the November 20 elections, there were accusations that you were running this time as a representative of certain interest groups. Is that true?
I outright reject such accusations. I have been elected as a parliamentarian three times through direct election. While being directly elected for the third time, I won in all the booths in my constituency for the very first time. Had I been confined to an interest group, I would not have had such an overwhelming vote in my favour. Yes, the voters did perceive me as a member of the establishment, which is why I had to work harder this time to portray myself as someone outside it.
You recently said that foreign forces should not determine our internal policy. How do you assess the impact of such forces in Nepal’s domestic politics?
I think it's inappropriate for our foreign allies to base their friendship with us on who wins the election and forms the next government. We compete among ourselves in the elections. I believe our internal affairs should not be impacted by the debate on the new political map, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, or our relations with China. When deciding on the internal political policy in Nepal, the subject of international relations shouldn't matter so much.
How do you view the proactiveness of foreign powers after the November polls? Some diplomatic representatives also met you recently. What was their concern?
I have never met with a representative of the diplomatic community behind closed doors, and I never will. But I don't think I should avoid meeting with the ambassadors of major countries. If the ambassador of India, China, or the United States wants to meet with me, I would certainly meet them.
Are you justifying the proactiveness of the diplomatic communities when a country is in the process of forming a new government?
The ambassadors or representatives of any powerful country will try to be active here to build a government beneficial to them, if we cannot convince them that our policies won't change regardless of who controls the government. They search for a person who can advance their interests. As a result, even during the party convention, powerful nations might try to create an environment comfortable for their preferred candidates. They could also interfere in the election of parliamentary party leaders.
Are you suggesting there was some kind of foreign meddling in the recent election of your parliamentary party leader?
I am not saying that there was foreign interference in the election of our parliamentary party leadership. All I am saying is that if we give them room to play, they will definitely come and see how they can protect their interests. To stop these things, we need to take the powerful nations into confidence and make them feel that our fundamental policies will not alter, irrespective of who leads the government.