Tension brewing in Congress with rival factions ready to sparNeither the Deuba camp nor opponents appear in a mood for compromise before crucial central committee meeting.
Nepali Congress spokesperson Prakash Sharan Mahat on Wednesday claimed that the present ruling coalition has a short life as it is a coming together of opportunistic political forces.
The Congress reaction comes around 10 days after it lost the battle to lead the new government despite being the largest party in the House of Representatives.
On December 25, hours before the deadline for claiming the new government, a tussle broke out between the outgoing Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal over the prime ministership of the soon-to-be-formed government. After Deuba refused to allow Dahal to become prime minister in the first half of the new parliament’s five-year term, the Maoist chief did a political volte-face and joined hands with the CPN-UML to secure the top executive job.
Organising a press meet at the party headquarters, Mahat defended Deuba’s role and criticised Dahal for the last-minute U-turn.
“Deuba is confident, he told us we [Congress] will make a comeback [to power],” Mahat told journalists while communicating his recent conversations with Deuba. Mahat heaped all the blame on Dahal for the breaking down of the Congress-led alliance.
But the Congress rival faction led by senior leader Dr Shekhar Koirala and General Secretary Gagan Thapa is in a confrontational mood and could give a tough time to Deuba. The Koirala-Thapa camp has called for a gathering on Thursday to chart out its future strategy. The party’s parliamentary committee is scheduled to meet Saturday.
The party’s two factions are also set to face each other again at the party’s central working committee, which is scheduled to meet on January 12. Ahead of the meeting, the two sides are holding separate gatherings to chart out their positions. The Koirala-Thapa camp is readying itself to heap all the blame on Deuba for the collapse of the alliance with the Maoist Centre and other parties, which led to the loss of Congress leadership in multiple provinces as well as plum posts like the President and Speaker.
“If the establishment does not realise its mistakes and does not take the responsibility, we will call for a policy convention of the party where we will explain our position to party leaders and cadres,” senior party leader Arjun Narsingh KC said. “If the policy convention does not incorporate our ‘dissident voice’, we will be forced to demand a special convention.”
But leaders close to Deuba said he is confident that the current government will not last long and Congress will soon return to power.
KC and other leaders of the dissident faction said they had enough information that the Maoist Centre chair was quitting the Congress-led alliance and joining hands with the UML, just so he could become prime minister.
“But instead of listening to us, Deuba continued to rely on a small coterie of loyalists, and the party lost out on power-sharing at the centre and provinces,” KC said.
On the one hand, Deuba and his loyalists are trying to convince others that the current coalition is temporary and the Dahal-led government’s days are numbered. On the other hand, the opposition faction will not be easily convinced by the establishment and will seek clear answers from Deuba.
“The party organisation is in shambles,” a leader in the Deuba camp said. “There is no regard for party rules, various party departments remain empty, and a state of chaos has ensued after the party lost the chance to lead new governments at the centre and provinces. Either Deuba has to compromise this time with the Shekhar-Thapa camp or he will have a tough time ahead.”
Party general secretary Thapa said on Wednesday that Deuba should table a proposal to activate the party’s various departments that are awaiting appointment of office bearers. As per the charter, Nepali Congress has a provision of constituting 28 different departments. “Let’s end the ad-hoc arrangements in the party’s various sister organisations by electing new leaderships before the meeting of the party’s central working committee,” Thapa said. “And let’s also fill the vacant positions in party departments.”
Both the establishment and dissident factions are busy preparing for the central working committee meeting, which is just a week away.
“There is no way Deuba can escape from the current mess. To keep the party united, either he has to realise his mistakes or make peace with the dissidents,” KC said. “Since the Nepali Congress is a democratic party, each cadre has the right to demand the resignation of the party president. But, there is still room for compromise if Deuba realises his mistakes.”
The Deuba faction, meanwhile, appears least bothered about the threats by the dissidents. Instead of reaching out to the rival faction, Deuba is now believed to be orchestrating a plot to topple the Dahal-led government.
“I don’t see any serious confrontation inside the party and there is little chance of a head-on collision,” said Min Bishwakarma, a Deuba confidant. “We are closely following the functioning of the government as well as the ruling alliance.”
Bishwakarma went on, “We doubt this coalition will last more than six months. This alliance was a coming together of vested interests and some opportunistic leaders. After six months, it will be our turn to lead.”