Opposition the best optionBy staying away from power, NC has the opportunity to resolve internal issues and regain its lost glory
The recent election results have clearly shown that the people wish to see the Nepali Congress (NC) out of power. Now, in the face of this defeat, the NC is actively trying to break the left alliance by proposing that Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the CPN (Maoist Centre) lead the new government.
NC is losing its traditional vote bank consisting of the more elderly population who had their imaginations captured by the charisma of BP Koirala, and the sacrifice and dedication of leaders like Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Ganesh Man Singh. Now, the party’s fate undoubtedly rests on the voting behaviour of the millennials and those who are just newly emerging as the voter population.
This population, on who the NC’s fate now relies, grew up seeing the post-1990 NC institutionalise factionalism and nepotism and show no regard to democratic culture in the party. To this generation, politics is notorious for being a “dirty” game and this notoriety is mostly attributed to the NC as it has led the highest number of governments to date. Therefore, the NC has the task of setting right the wrongs it institutionalised in the past and transforming its tainted image.
As the opposition and away from power, the NC has now been provided with an opportune moment to self-reflect, to mend internal rifts and to convey a message that it is dedicated to transforming its ways. But if it decides to continue to pursue power by manipulating external political actors, the image of the NC will deteriorate even further.
Moves that backfire
People clearly voted in favour of political stability by voting for the left alliance, whose electoral campaign was based around the advent of a stable government. So if the NC tries to cling to power, it will only harm their image further as the NC’s manoeuvres will be construed as a betrayal that goes against the interests of the nation. With the NC as the opposition, the stability of government is guaranteed, because this will ensure that the government is led by the left alliance. If the NC creates political instability at this crucial period when the country has to implement the new constitution and finally has an opportunity to focus on the development agenda, it will cost the NC dearly when it goes to the polls next time.
Another thing made obvious by the elections is the fact that the people wish for KP Oli to be the Prime Minister. Nepalis have always harboured strong sentiments against the Indian encroachment of Nepali sovereignty. So when the Indian blockade crippled the nation and Oli stood firm and failed to bow down to Indian pressure, he captured the imagination of the Nepali people. His resolute attitude against our southern neighbour was bold and entirely new, and so Oli, for many, became the leader that Nepal had not seen in a long time. When he was forced to step down after the Maoist Centre (MC) withdrew its support and formed an alliance with the NC, Nepalis reluctantly let go of his premiership. The NC’s credibility will suffer tremendously if it persists in ploys to keep the UML out of government.
Thirdly, an alliance with the MC would only cause the NC’s ideological credibility to further deteriorate, especially considering that it has already been criticised for departing from BP Koirala’s socialism. The electoral alliance between the MC and the NC in the local polls received widespread criticism of being an “unholy alliance”. Indeed, this ideological compromise by the NC certainly cost the party in the national elections.
Mending internal problems
The NC has good reasons to remain outside of government this term and attend to its long side-lined, serious internal problems.
Factionalism fuelled by a power tussle best defines the NC post-1990. This period saw Girija Prasad Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba ravage the party’s foundations to the point where it was divided into two in 2002. And the strangling roots of nepotism grew with Girija Prasad Koirala’s desire to see his daughter rise to the party’s top and took a firm grip with Deuba’s determination to secure a position for his wife in the party. It’s no secret that meritocracy and dedication have been side-lined in favour of factionalism and nepotism when it comes to designating positions in party and government.
Without a doubt, the NC has long ceased to be one party in spirit. As the opposition, the NC now has time to mend these cleavages of conflict.
The NC was so engaged in its own internal wrangling that it missed several opportunities to pursue noteworthy developmental agendas and political changes after coming to power in 1990. With no substantial achievements to show from its times in power, the NC repeatedly falls back on its questionable image as the protector of democracy in Nepal, calling on people to vote for the NC if they wish to retain democracy. But democratic polity certainly should not be an end as the NC seems to portray. It should be a means through which other things can be achieved—equality, opportunities, prosperity, and general contentment. The NC needs to clearly define and communicate to the people how it will use democracy to achieve collective welfare.
The issue of youth leadership is another pressing matter that the party needs to address. Having kept silence about the defeat in the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system, the NC leadership was quick to note that the proportional results are on par with the UML and therefore hinted that its popular support is still as strong as before. It used this to counter the youth leaders demands that the party helm be transferred to the younger generation following the electoral defeat.
But regardless of what the NC leadership says, the comparative discrepancy in the FPTP and proportional results do indeed suggest that people have lost hope in party leaders, though they still have faith in the party. Hence, indicating that is time for party leaders to step aside and give a chance to fresh, young leadership. If the party leaders do step aside, it will be a much appreciated move and herald the beginning of a commendable political culture.
Assuming the role of the opposition and embarking on an inward journey will help the NC reap immense returns in terms of strengthening the party. This will evoke inspiration and hope among today’s younger generation, just as the NC did during its genesis, and the grand old party can once again reclaim lost glory.
Gautam writes on contemporary social and cultural issues