Despite call for changes in Nepali Congress, old guard clings on to powerWith six months to go for the general convention, alliances are being built, but younger leaders are not ready to take over.
With the old guard in the Nepali Congress refusing to let go of its position and the youth ranks not strong enough to challenge them, the grand old party of Nepali politics still seems to be finding its feet to make itself relevant again.
With six months to go for the general convention, which is to choose a new leadership, several senior leaders have thrown their hats in the ring and are trying to forge alliances to ensure their win.
“On the one hand, the number of candidates is increasing and alliances are being built,” said Puranjan Acharya, a long time Nepali Congress watcher. “On the other, the new generation has failed to claim the new leadership.”
Party leaders and political commentators say old faces, who have expressed their intent to contest for the party presidency, seem to be fighting for their personal legacies, and not for changes in terms of organisation, and political ideology or to enthuse fresh ideas into the party.
So far besides the incumbent Sher Bahadur Deuba, 74, senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel,, 75, vice president Bimalendra Nidhi,63, general secretary Shashanka Koirala, 61, Krishna Prasad Situala, 71, Shekhar Koirala,69, and Prakash Man Singh,64 have expressed their intent to fight for the leadership.
Two more leaders, Ram Sharan Mahat,69, and Arjun Nar Singh KC, 72, have also expressed their desire to contest.
Following the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Left Alliance during the 2017 general elections, in which the party won 23 seats of 165 in the first-past-the-post system and 40 of the 110 seats in the proportional representation system, leaders have been calling for a fundamental change in the way the party is run.
“Principle is the important, not the leader. Institutions are important, systems are important. So we need change in the party. We have to inject fresh momentum in the party. So we have to rethink our policy related to economic, social and economic agenda and ending corruption should be the priority,” said Ajun Narsingh KC.
Freshness can only come into the party if the Nepali Congress gets rid of the present leadership, said Acharya.
“I see a lot of suffocation inside the party,” he told the Post.
One hope is the youth to take over, but that looks far-fetched, he said.
If youth leaders come up with a consensus and form a team, then youth leader Gagan Thapa has also expressed his intent to contest the elections.
“But our generation is confused. It's a question of capability and self- confidence to lead the party and the nation. We youths have no clear-cut mission and vision,” said Nabindra Raj Joshi, a youth leader. “Therefore like in the past, we will continue to remain in the shadows of the older generation.”
For the older leaders, this is the last chance for them to land the top job in the party as they will be unable to fight the next leadership election due to the unwritten understanding that those above 70 will not seek leadership roles.
They are therefore forging up alliances. At present, Deuba is on one side and on the other his challengers. But Deuba’s position has become shaky with long-time ally Bimalendra Nidhi joining the fray.
Nidhi, Deuba’s trusted lieutenant in the party, was appointed vice president for his support during the last general convention held in March 2016.
“I have made my position clear to Deuba that I will contest because he promised me last time that he would support me,” Nidhi told the Post. “I can’t wait as next time, a new generation will come up to claim the leadership.”
All eyes are on how the Deuba-Nidhi alliance plays out.
One party leader told the Post if Nidhi decides to go against Deuba, he will pose a serious challenge to him and Deuba may not get elected for a second term.
“Nidhi’s decision to fight for the presidency is important because he holds a strong vote bank for Deuba in Tarai,” said Joshi. “If Nidhi contests, it will be a big loss for Deuba. On the other hand if Deuba is reluctant to support Nidhi, then Nidhi himself will reach out to others.”
Nidhi has already sent feelers to other influential leaders in the party. “I have expressed my desire to contest the elections to other top leaders,” Nidhi told the Post.
It's not a question of legacy, serving as the President of Nepal Student Union to the party's vice president, I am capable of bringing change so I am determined to fight for arty president, said Nidhi.
Sources inside the party said that attempts are also underway to create different alliances. This would include a compromise between the two Koiralas and then between the Koiralas, Nidhi and Singh.
While Shaskhank is BP Koirala’s son, Shekhar is his cousin. Singh is the son of Ganesh Man Singh and Nidhi of Mahendra Narayan Nidhi. All three were first generation leaders of the Nepali Congress.
Another possible alliance that is being touted is one that will field a leader below 70 (such Nidhi, Singh or Koirala) as president and someone from the youth ranks like Gagan Thapa, Pradeep Poudel or Bishwa Prakash Sharma as general secretary.
Poudel, Deuba’s bete noire, and his camp has half a dozen aspirants and they are quietly following developments in the Deuba and Nidhi camps.
Attempts are also underway to send Deuba and Poudel into retirement and bring in a new leadership on the basis of consensus or to set the stage for a fight between a limited number of candidates.
Many party leaders think that like previous elections, this time too the vote for the party president will go into the second round if no one gets a clear majority in the first and the candidates with wider support base will fight the second round—probably Deuba and someone else.
The party needs an overhaul in its organisational structure, leadership and ideology to cope with new emerging challenges, said Acharya.
“It needs a leader who is vocal, articulate, well-versed and has a clear-cut vision on domestic and international issues. The Nepali Congress represents historical legacies and family relationships, but it is now in dire need of change,” said Acharya, the NC watcher.