Nepali Congress in turmoil as alliance politics chafes scores of local leadersInsiders say leaders and cadres in lower committees deprived of their right to speak up.
On Wednesday, senior Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala issued a statement and charged party president Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is also the Prime Minister, with “assassinating the politics” of several Congress leaders and cadres by misusing the party and state mechanisms.
Koirala stated that there is a conspiracy to assassinate the political careers of many people by abusing party machinery and engaging in various fraudulent issues.
“The saddest thing is that there have been planned attempts to end the political careers of many of our friends because they disagree with us," he said.
Koirala’s strongly-worded statement was directed at Deuba, who according to the faction led by Koirala, has taken a totally unilateral decision while distributing tickets for the local elections scheduled for May 13.
A similar kind of anger and frustration was expressed by the party leader and former president of Nepal Students’ Union Gururaj Ghimire, accusing the party leadership of imposing decisions from the centre and totally sidelining the party’s provincial committees that were authorised to distribute tickets for mayor and deputy mayor posts in metropolitan cities.
Strong voices against the party establishment’s decision to stick to the coalition and field candidates under an understanding with the partners have emerged in the Nepali Congress, in an indication that everything is not hunky dory in the party.
Deuba has maintained a strong position that the Congress should fight the local polls and two upcoming elections under an alliance, especially with the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the CPN (Unified Socialist).
But dissenting Congress leaders wonder at whose expense Deuba is appeasing the two communist forces.
Party leaders say there are dozens of examples where candidates were imposed from the centre, instead of giving party district committees and provincial committees the right to make decisions on candidate selection.
As per the Nepali Congress charter, the party’s central parliamentary committee distributes tickets for the metropolitan and sub-metropolitan cities. The provincial assembly committee is authorised to distribute tickets for the post of mayors and deputy mayors in municipalities and district party committees are tasked with selecting the candidates for rural municipalities.
But the central parliamentary board had entrusted Deuba with the task of deciding the candidates.
Now several Congress leaders are questioning what basis and criteria the party adopted while selecting candidates for the local bodies as there is frustration among local leaders across the country.
In several areas, local leaders have decided to file candidacies going against the party’s decision to follow the criteria set by the five-party electoral alliance.
A central member said the way Karna Malla of Dadeldhura was expelled, the way several leaders are rebelling against the leadership’s decision and the way the party has decided to forcefully forge alliances with other parties from the centre are indications that a storm is brewing in the Congress party.
The situation in many districts has turned worse, according to the member.
On Wednesday, Deuba sent Home Minister Bal Krishna Khad to Chitwan to settle the disputes inside the party after local party leaders announced that they cannot support Renu Dahal, the ruling alliance’s mayoral candidate for Bharatpur Metropolitan City from the CPN (Maoist Centre).
Some Congress leaders said they thought that the party leadership will distribute tickets as per the party charter even after deciding to fight elections under an alliance with coalition partners. But that could not happen, according to them.
“There is a clear provision in our party charter about who selects election candidates,” said Pradip Poudel, a central member. “Those who have access to party leadership have been given the opportunity. We thought the party would make a proper system for selecting candidates. We also thought the party leadership would bring a change to the way candidates are selected. But we were wrong. The candidate selection process has become worse than before.”
Historically, the Nepali Congress has been divided into two camps. Factionalism started particularly in 1991 after then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala removed six ministers from his Cabinet because they were from the rival camp led by the party’s founding leaders Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Ganeshman Singh.
After Girija Prasad Koirala took full control of the party, Deuba revolted and split the party to form the Nepali Congress (Democratic) in 2002. But the two Congress parties merged in 2007.
Now Deuba is the establishment side, with the other faction led by Shekhar Koirala.
Min Bishawkarma, a leader close to Deuba, said that due to the alliance with other partners, the Congress had to compromise in half of the local bodies and split the posts.
“Had we been contesting in all 753 units on our own, such disputes would not have arisen,” Bishwakarma told the Post..
On Wednesday, top leaders of the five coalition partners issued a circular asking all those who have filed candidacies against the alliance’s official candidates to withdraw from the electoral race.
But most of the rebel candidates challenging alliance candidates are from the Nepali Congress.
“We knew that there would be disputes and some rebel candidates would file nominations as thousands of our party leaders and cadres are left with no option than to surrender before the coalition’s decision,” said Bishwakarma. “This is naturally not a wise decision but we have to accept it and we should move on. Otherwise there would be a greater chance that we will be defeated.”
As many as 31,000 Congress leaders and cadres have registered their candidacies in 753 local units—six metropolitan cities, 11 sub-metropolitan cities, 276 (urban) municipalities, and 460 rural municipalities.
A total of 35,221 representatives will be elected for 753 local units from the upcoming elections.
Some influential leaders in the Congress have been trying to mollify dissatisfied members and assuage their concerns.
“Let’s respect the party’s decision for now; we know there is a long list of injustices [meted upon party workers],” party’s General Secretary Gagan Thapa said at a function in Kathmandu on Wednesday. “I will take it to the place where the decision is made to compensate for those injustices.”
Thapa admitted that several party leaders and cadres have faced injustice.
“But there was no alternative to respecting the party’s decision. When the party takes a decision, we have to adhere to it, otherwise it would be difficult for us to move forward,” said Thapa. “But we will definitely take note of the injustices done in the candidates selection process.”
Political experts and observers who have closely followed recent developments surrounding local elections and coalition politics say candidates selection process became highly centralized in all political parties but the issue has become bigger in the Congress.
“This is the result of the erosion of the party system. The Congress distributed tickets from Baluwatar,” said Lokraj Baral, a former professor of political science at the Tribhuvan University. “The leadership should learn a lesson. The Congress may have to pay a price for destroying the party system.”