Deuba’s six months as Congress chief: Success in polls but party left in disarrayParty yet to form several committees and departments while many central committee positions are still vacant. Insiders say leadership failed to adhere to party charter.
Next week, Sher Bahadur Deuba will complete six months of his re-election as Nepali Congress president.
By defeating Shekhar Koirala in the race, Deuba managed to assert control over the party. He, however, has yet to appoint the treasurer and remaining members in the 168-strong Central Working Committee (CWC). The party is yet to form 28 various departments. According to Section 60 of the party charter, all departments, committees, and other entities of the party should be formed within six months from the general convention.
After dilly dallying for months, the Congress held its 14th general convention on December 10 in Kathmandu. The convention took place five months after Deuba’s election as prime minister.
The party had said it would hold a separate ‘policy convention’ within six months to discuss policy related issues as the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic was still there in December. But there are no preparations as such for the policy convention.
After the May 13 local polls, the country is set to hold general and provincial elections, but the party has yet to form the Parliamentary Committee that is responsible for distributing tickets.
“Yes, there are too many issues to be addressed,” said Koirala, the senior leader who lost to Deuba. “The party president has not been able to allot time for the party because he has been busy with government functioning. Then there were local elections also.”
One of the major issues that has kept Deuba extremely busy is the current coalition also, which stands on a shaky ground.
In a recent interaction with the Post, Deuba had admitted that running a coalition is not easy.
“When running a party is quite difficult, running a coalition of course is difficult,” Deuba said on June 4.
On Thursday, the local election evaluation and monitoring committee of the party led by Paradip Poudel submitted a report on the party’s electoral performance to Deuba and claimed that the party has become the largest party.
The report says the Congress has won 329 out of 752 municipalities (188 mayors and 141 rural municipality chiefs). In 300 municipalities, the party has won 190 deputy mayors and 110 vice-chairs, according to the report. Congress has so far won 1,665 ward chairpersons.
“There were differences over whether to forge an electoral alliance with other ruling partners,” said Poudel. “There were instances of betrayal that hampered poll performance.”
A leader close to Deuba said local poll results have boosted the party president’s confidence.
“But on the party organisation front, there are several lapses. Several appointments inside the party are yet to be made even six months after the general convention,” said the leader.
Out of the 168 members in the Central Working Committee, Deuba needs to appoint 21 members. On January 28, Deuba had formed a 37-member central work execution committee but it is short of nine members.
Before the local elections, Deuba had assigned much of the work to two party general secretaries, Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma, according the leader close to Deuba
“Similarly, party vice-president Purna Bahadur Khadka was also helping Deuba in various party works,” the leader said. “But after the local elections there was the budget presentation. That’s why our party activities have stalled.”
Insiders and observers say Deuba must devote time to the party so that the party departments and committees are formed at the earliest. The Congress last year had met with a lot of criticism for failing to follow democratic processes, as it was struggling to hold its general convention, even facing the risk of getting invalidated. The party finally held its convention in December, with claims that the convention process had already started in the September first week with the elections at the lower level.
“It is understandable that the party president is busy because he is also the prime minister. But we are in a crucial period. And failure to give full shape to committees and form departments will do harm to the party,” said Koirala. “If the party president cannot devote time to the party, he should delegate power to others to carry out day-to-day party affairs.”
Some Nepali Congress leaders said that after the general convention, Deuba had assured that he would adhere to the party’s statute and run the party as per the spirit of the charter. But in the last six months, he has failed to live up to his words, according to them.
“I have been drawing the attention of the leadership to party affairs. But it looks like no one has time for the party,” said Gururaj Ghimire, former president of the Nepal Students’ Union, a sister wing of the Nepali Congress. “The issue of respecting and adhering to the party’s charter has been raised seriously. Should our party be run like this, in an ad hoc manner? Why is our leadership playing with the future of the party's sister and youth wings?”
According to Ghimire, winning elections alone is not enough for a party and the leadership should also focus on bringing in discipline in the party.
“We must understand that the general public and voters are far more informed about politics these days and they also study closely how good a party is in promoting internal democracy and how strictly it adheres to the charter,” said Ghimire.
Some Congress leaders said that this is not the first time the party is being run on an ad-hoc basis. After Deuba was elected party president in May 2016 from the 13th general convention, for several years the party's student wings were in a state of limbo and several party departments were not formed. Just ahead of the 14th general convention, Deuba filled the party’s departments in order to attract crucial votes.
Geja Sharma Wagle, who writes political commentaries, said that Deuba’s six months as party president has been a mixed bag of successes and failures.
“The two general secretaries should play a proactive role to strengthen the party and party organisations,” said Wagle. “As declared by the party, it should hold the policy convention to chart out its strategy.”
Since the Congress has emerged as the largest party from the local elections, according to Wagle, Deuba might think that he has become successful and the policy he was advocating for has been established.
“In terms of party organisation, both general secretaries should pay adequate attention to the remaining tasks that include giving full shape to various committees and convening the policy convention as soon as possible, because two more elections are approaching fast,” he said.
According to Wagle, the youth leaders must take the lead to reinvigorate the party.
Some Congress leaders say instead of feeling smug over its wins in local elections, it should objectively review the poll results and focus on charting out strategies for the upcoming polls, for which the party committees and departments must get full shape.
Deuba, however, has not taken any initiatives.
“Some issues that need to be discussed inside the party have been delayed. But the immediate priority is to give full shape to party committees and departments,” said Thapa, a general secretary. “We are going to discuss all these issues with the party president next week. A Central Working Committee meeting will be called soon to take necessary decisions.”