Congress, the party that stood for democracy, attempts to control its own membersParty members say use of restrictive measures by the leadership to stifle opinions is cause for concern
Article 27 of the proposed new party regulation on discipline and code of conduct bars the party leaders from any statement, posts or publication “that would harm the reputation of the party, its principle and ideology.”
This is the first time the Nepali Congress has proposed such restrictive and controlled provisions in the name of discipline and code of conduct.
The new provisions, believed to have been introduced at the behest of party President Sher Bahadur Deuba, have not gone down well with many leaders, who say the restrictive measures are unbecoming of a party that prides in being the torchbearer of democratic values.
“We are the champions of democracy; we always stood for freedom of expression and we believe in unity in diversity,” said Arjun Narsingh KC, a central member. “These provisions are nothing but an attempt to control party leaders and keep the opponents within the party in size. This is unacceptable.”
Nepali Congress leaders have been struggling to set their house in order since their massive defeat in the 2017 elections.
Deuba, who refused to step down as the party chief despite the poll drubbing, has consistently dismissed calls to hold the party’s general convention, irking other factions in the party no end.
“The establishment faction [Deuba group] is trying to terrorise party leaders and cadres in the name of discipline,” said KC. “These proposals are against the party’s charter and established norms and values of a democratic party.”
The party, however, has a sizeable number of leaders who are for imposing new measures to “control the leaders”.
“A Congress leader should never oppose or go against the party’s ideology and policy,” said Bishwa Prakash Sharma, the party spokesperson. “Nepali Congress’s stated ideology is nationality, democracy and socialism. No Congress leader or cadre can go against it or express their opinions against it.”
Within the Congress party, the new provisions have created quite an uproar also because its leaders had warned, during the election campaigns, of authoritarianism if communists were voted to power. Party leaders say imposing such restrictive measures on opinion is tantamount to authoritarianism within the party.
“This proposal has not come overnight,” said Gagan Thapa, also a central member. “Earlier such restrictive measures were issued verbally, now they have come in a written form. It’s a cause for concern.”
A few months ago, angry over his criticism, Deuba had asked senior leader Shekhar Koirala to shut up.
According to Congress leaders, the new regulation is introduced at the initiative of General Secretary Purna Bahadur Khadka and Ramesh Lekhak, a central member. Both are considered to have close relations with Deuba.
Pradip Poudel, a member of the task force that prepared the new regulation, said he was not aware of such restrictive measures during the drafting process. The task force was led by Lekhak.
“Such restrictive measures were not discussed in the meetings,” Poudel told the Post. “On disciplinary measures and code of conduct, party leaders were still holding discussions.”
According to KC and Poudel, the Nepali Congress has never in its history tried to impose any restriction on party leaders’ freedom of expression.
“When we believed in constitutional monarchy, no one faced action when some party leaders started a debate against the monarchy and in favour of republicanism,” said KC. “The Congress always debated the party’s ideology and principle but it never imposed such restrictions.”
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