Congress camp puts pressure on Deuba, saying he failed in governance and partyLeaders from rival faction worry he is acting more like a chief of the five-party coalition than party president.
On Thursday and Friday, the Shekhar Koirala camp in the Nepali Congress held a meeting and deliberated the working style and performance of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is also the party president.
The meeting came at a time when Deuba is about to complete his one year in office as prime minister. He was re-elected the party president six months ago.
Koirala, who lost to Deuba in the election for party president during the Congress general convention last December, represents a rival camp in the party.
During two days of deliberation, the Koirala camp, whose heavyweights include party General Secretary Gagan Thapa, came down heavily against Deuba and concluded that he has failed both as prime minister and party president.
According to the leaders participating in the meeting, Prime Minister Deuba has failed to fix the country’s economy and address the grievances of the people and their issues of livelihood. Deuba has been accused of promoting policy corruption and failing to lead foreign policy in a constructive manner.
A Congress member said a majority of leaders were of the view that Deuba has been working like a leader of the coalition rather than the party's president.
The meeting also decided to put pressure on Deuba to listen to and address the grievances of thousands of party leaders and cadres.
The Koirala camp also urged Deuba to honour the over 40 percent votes that Koirala had secured in the 14th general convention.
But does Deuba take the pressure from the rival camp seriously? Or will it have any impact on him?
Some Congress insiders say an internal assessment of Deuba’s performance as government and party head was necessary and the leadership needs to be held to account. According to them, the rival camp will continue to assess Deuba’s performance.
Ram Chandra Poudel, a senior leader, said those who are now accusing Deuba of failure must understand that the situation has arisen because they did not seek his alternative.
“Had they sought an alternative to Deuba as party president, we would not have faced this situation,” said Poudel. “So first of all, these leaders who are ganging up against Deuba should apologise that it was their mistake to create an environment for Deuba’s victory.”
Poudel was one of the aspirants for the party chief role.
After Koirala and Prakash Man Singh refused to back down on their stand to run for the party president, the Poudel-Koirala camp split. Poudel kept himself out of the entire election process. Koirala and Singh contested against Deuba.
Poudel is now leading a political mechanism of five ruling parties formed to to assist the government.
“It’s them who ensured Deuba’s victory. So how serious are they now when they are accusing him of failure?” said Poudel. “I do not think so because they do not know the exact crisis and problems inside the Congress.”
Factionalism is not a new thing in the Nepali Congress. It has a long history of internal conflicts and groupism. Deuba had in September 2002 even left the party after differences with the late Girija Prasad Koirala and formed the Nepali Congress (Democratic). He, however, returned to the mother party in September, 2007. Since then, there is a 60-40 power structure in the Congress. Once dissident, Deuba now leads the establishment side in the party.
Shekhar Koirala and Gagan Thapa represent the rival camp.
Though the Koirala camp has not publicly stated the objective behind holding its gathering, a leader said it was aimed at ensuring an honourable seat-sharing arrangement inside the party for the upcoming federal and provincial elections.
“Since Deuba paid little attention to party members while distributing tickets during the local elections, largely because he was appeasing the coalition partners, we now want to build pressure on him,” said a Congress leader requesting anonymity. “Else, Deuba is likely to leave the Koirala-Thapa camp members high and dry during the upcoming polls as well.”
According to the leader, Deuba must be accommodative when it comes to party members.
“We waited for six months but the party president did not make any moves to fix the issues plaguing the party,” said Gururaj Ghimire, a leader of the rival camp.
Other top leaders of the party, like former vice-president Bimalendra Nidhi, who also stood against Deuba, were silent at the Koirala-Thapa camp meeting.
Three former general secretaries—Shashank Koirala, Krishna Prasad Sitaula and Singh—too have not spoken about the allegations levelled by the Koirala-Thapa camp.
Sitaula seems to be supportive of Deuba, but there is no clarity on Nidhi, Shashank and Singh, according to the leader.
As per the party charter and using his authority as the Congress president, Deuba has to pick the party’s treasurer, give full shape to the Central Working Committee (CWC), and form various party departments.
Deuba has yet to give a complete shape to the 168-strong CWC. Also, the party has not formed 28 departments. According to Section 60 of the Congress charter, all departments, committees, and other entities of the party should be formed within six months from the general convention. During the 14th general convention, the party leadership had agreed to hold a policy convention within six months, but no steps have been taken to that effect.
Deuba needs to appoint 21 CWC members. On January 28, he formed a 37-member central work execution committee but it is also short of nine members.
Ten sister organisations of the party are waiting to hold their general conventions.
“Given the performance of the government and his failure to adhere to the party charter, Deuba’s work is not satisfactory. He never discussed with party members before making appointments to various government positions. After his election, he assured that he would accommodate all friends in the party but in practical terms, he kept on alienating us,” said Ghimire. “And if the party president fails to address our grievances and concerns, it could prove to be costly for him.”
Another Congress leader who claimed to be not picking sides said if the rival camp really wants to put pressure on Deuba, it needs to rally all senior leaders against him.
“Deuba is not going to pay attention to such gatherings and messages coming out of such meetings,” the leader said. “He is a master politician. He is a man who does not easily budge.”
Leaders close to Deuba defended the prime minister, saying that he had assumed the position last year when the country’s situation was critical.
Ramesh Lekhak said that Deuba as prime minister and party president has been successful despite taking charge of the government when the political and other situations were not good following KP Sharma Oli’s constant attacks on the constitution and the political system when the latter led the country.
“To safeguard the constitution and bring national politics and the entire political system back on track, we formed the alliance. We corrected the wrongs of the Oli government,” said Lekhak. “Since the prime minister was busy in local polls and cementing the coalition, there have been delays in forming the party’s departments and giving the CWC its full shape. The pending works will be completed soon.”