Saving the tree BP plantedThe elections are over. The communist alliance decimated the Nepali Congress (NC) led by Sher Bahadur Deuba. The NC suffered its worst electoral defeat ever.
The elections are over. The communist alliance decimated the Nepali Congress (NC) led by Sher Bahadur Deuba. The NC suffered its worst electoral defeat ever. The grand old party which, to date, had played a leading role in every stage of Nepal’s democratic development is now near oblivion. A NC supporter lamented in a recent Facebook posting: “I hope the tree BP planted is not completely uprooted by the current brand of Congressis”.
What happened? Where does the NC go from here?
What happened? “The communist alliance did it” is the easy answer. Many NC supporters accept this explanation. The alliance was indeed a formidable force, but this alone does not explain NC’s electoral rout. To ascribe the loss wholly to the
alliance is to overlook the NC’s own very serious problems and to ensure the party is caste out forever into the wasteland of political insignificance.
The NC’s infighting and hopelessly incompetent leadership has as much to do with the disaster as the force of the communist alliance. The NC went into the election ill prepared and with its own alliances of last resort. It had no qualms in joining hands with any one, from the rightwing Hindu nationalist, monarchist, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, to Naya Shakti, a fringe party established by a disgruntled Maoist. There was no thought given to defining a cohesive political framework to create a common agenda or ideological congruence apart from the rallying cry of “Vote for NC or lose democracy”. That this strategy failed should surprise no one.
The party’s claim as the only bearer of the mantle of democracy had little credence given its performance over the last ten years. The NC was complicit with other parties in politicising and thus weakening the nation’s public institutions, the true sentinels of any democracy. Its “democratic socialist” credentials became a total sham given its enthusiastic promotion of neoliberal economics.
The party was equally two-faced on other issues of direct concern to the
people. It denied support to the impeachment of the hopelessly corrupt chief of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, but tried to impeach the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court because she would not endorse Deuba’s nominee for the Inspector General of Police.
Deuba’s political expediency of buying off fringe parties by offering them Cabinet posts to prop up his government took on a whole new level of absurdity when the size of his Cabinet reached 64 members. This egregiously inflated Cabinet attracted criticism even from the Election Commission.
The unethical decisions and insensitivity to public opinion continued until a couple months before the election. An individual, who was barred from running in the election due to his conviction for corruption, was on the committee for nominating the party’s election candidates. The choice of the candidates generated significant disaffection within the NC rank and file. A number of candidates were allocated to constituencies where they had no roots. It was like planting trees on barren ground.
The NC leaders believed their party’s past glory would ensure people’s vote regardless of their performance. They had no sense that the attendant hubris in such an attitude is both offensive and insulting. No one likes to be taken for granted.
Time to reset
All in all, the NC went to the polls with its reputation as a bulwark of democracy in tatters; with no new vision to take the nation forward; with its traditional voters disillusioned by its highly opportunistic alliances and unethical decision making; with increasing dominance of the corrupt in the party; and, most importantly, with nothing to distinguish it from the other parties. The blind indifference of the party leaders to people’s sensitivity added to the malaise.
Little wonder ordinary voters saw no difference between the NC and the communists and decided to gamble with the alliance, who offered something every Nepali has craved for decades—political stability.
Where from here? The NC is not a cadre-based party. Its voters include members of families with ties to the party since its inception and the network they built over the years. The inspiration of personal integrity and value-based politics of its founding leaders expanded its support base during the Panchayat era. Kathmandu elites genuinely concerned with communism’s authoritarian character helped augment the base.
The result of the election shows the NC must expand the base if it is to defeat the communist alliance. The expansion will require the NC demonstrating through action that it is bound by unshakable principles of public service and high ethical standards. Staying consistently at the top in democratic politics is hard. BP’s tree will not be rejuvenated in the absence of fresh ideas and a long-term vision.
The responsibility to keep the party inspired and activated with new ideas lies with the party’s leadership. Fresh ideas require new leaders. Deuba should immediately resign and open doors to a new generation of leaders. The NC needs to restructure so that competence rather than short term political opportunism is recognised and promoted.
The communist alliance won, fair and square. The responsibility to preserve our democracy and usher Nepal into economic prosperity is now on their shoulders. The nation is waiting—and watching.
- Koirala is a geotechnical engineer in Canada