Bibeksheel Sajha leaders regroup, in comeback bidAs the party opens its general convention, Samikchya Baskota, Milan Pandey, and Prakash Chandra Pariyar are eyeing party chair.
Bibeksheel Sajha Party had once created a buzz in major cities of Nepal, claiming to be the flagbearer of alternative politics. It had garnered support of large sections of youths mainly in urban areas.
But, over time, the wave waned. Once a ray of hope for alternative politics has until now undergone numerous ups and downs in the form of factionalisation, disputes and divisions.
The party is, nevertheless, now trying to wake up, expand and strengthen—and prove itself as an alternative political movement, if the fresh commitments of its leaders are to be believed.
As its members remained busy in the party’s first general convention taking place in Kathmandu, most of the leaders The Kathmandu Post talked to gave similar statements. They said: “We are back.”
“The major goal of organising the general convention is to make a reentry into the political battleground as a strong political force and establish a new mainstream of alternative power. It is a message that the Bibeksheel Sajha Party has now rejuvenated itself as it did in 2017,” said party chair Samikchya Baskota.
Prakash Chandra Pariyar, party’s spokesperson expresses optimism about the party’s prospect as he sees a huge space for alternative politics in the country. “We are now establishing this organisation as the main centre of alternative politics.”
To recall, the 2022 election, however, was a nightmare for the party. The party had the worst poll performance. It showed the tide has completely turned since the 2017 elections, in which the party had created a buzz at least in the Bagmati province.
At the time, Bibeksheel and Sajha were two different parties, both advocating alternative politics, mainly different from what is practiced by the traditional political forces such as the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML, the CPN (Maoist Center) and Madhes-based parties. While the traditional forces were heavily guided by political agendas and movements, Bibeksheel and Sajha leaders stressed governance and delivery issues.
A large section of youths, professionals, experts and those from civil society backgrounds were impressed by the idea of alternative politics. But they were divided in two parties—Bibeksheel and Sajha.
In 2017 local elections, Sajha Party fielded former government secretary and urban planner Kishore Thapa as its candidate for Kathmandu mayor while Bibeksheel fielded Ranju Darshana for the same post.
Both of them performed fairly well as Darshana and Thapa secured 23,439 and 18,492 votes, respectively, although they couldn’t win the elections.
Realising the potential of and public support for alternative politics as shown by the polls, the two newly formed parties unified to form the Bibeksheel Sajha Party on July 26, 2017. The Ujjwal Thapa-led Bibeksheel Nepali and the Sajha Party led by journalist-turned politician Rabindra Mishra joined hands to form the Bibeksheel Sajha Party. The unified party leaders had claimed to be vocal advocates of reforms, development and good governance.
The party has, since then, witnessed repeated splits and mergers.
It went through a split on January 11, 2019, when the faction led by Ujjwal Thapa including Ranju Darshana, Milan Pandey and Biraj Bhakta Shrestha, among others, registered Bibeksheel Nepali Dal at the Election Commission.
The Sajha Party led by Rabindra Mishra and Bibeksheel Nepali led by Milan Pandey again merged on December 9, 2020, to form the Bibeksheel Sajha Party.
Later, Mishra, who had left his job as a BBC Nepali journalist to make a foray into politics, headed the Bibeksheel Sajha Party. But problems surfaced after Mishra began deviating from the party’s stated principles.
Mishra as party president and Pandey as coordinator were jointly leading the party. But later disputes started growing between the two leaders after Pandey accused Mishra of deviating from the party’s official line. Mishra, meanwhile, demanded that the party should review its political line as he advocated restoration of constitutional monarchy.
On July 26, 2021, when Mishra at a party meeting proposed a referendum on secularism and abolition of federalism, it riled up many of his party patrons. After that, the party went through internal conflicts, turmoil, and eventually a split. Mishra and his confidants have now joined the right-wing Rastriya Prajatantra Party.
Bibeksheel leaders accuse Mishra of betraying the party’s principles and causing its downfall.
“Our then chief leader betrayed us. It was a major blow to our campaign,” said Milan Pandey, a leader who has just rejoined the party. One of the founding leaders of the Bibeksheel Party, Pandey fought November elections as an independent candidate due to his differences with party leadership. He lost.
On Friday, Pandey was seen actively working at the inauguration of the party’s general convention.
Its influential leaders during its early days including Ranju Darshana and Keshav Dahal have also returned to the party. Darshana fought the November polls as an independent candidate and lost.
“The party has officially disowned Mishra’s political proposal, so we have returned to the party. We aim to bring together all founding leaders and move ahead with a progressive agenda,” said Pandey.
The party’s current chair Samikchya Baskota said as old friends have returned, they will collaborate to make the party a strong alternative political force.
In December 2021, the majority faction in the party led by Mishra had ousted Pandey (the coordinator of Bibeksheel Sajha Party) and his supporters from the party. Later a group of leaders including Sharad Raj Pathak joined the Rastriya Prajatantra Party along with Mishra.
Some of the founding leaders of the party such as Pukar Bam Malla and Biraj Bhakta Shrestha, however, contested the November elections on Rastriya Swatantra Party’s symbol.
Party leaders said they have learned big lessons from their past, and the party’s ups and downs over the last five years. “We have learned from our mistakes, and will not repeat them,” Baskota said. Various other leaders echoed her.
“We lacked ideological clarity, which led to factionalisation. We will take democratic republic and secularism as our guiding principle and work with focus on development, good governance and social justice,” Pariyar said.
Their failure to expand and strengthen party organisation across the country was their major fault, say leaders.
“We will hold provincial conventions soon after this general convention,” added Pariyar.
According to party insiders, Samikchya Baskota, Prakash Chandra Pariyar and Milan Pandey are the contestants for party chair, who will be elected through the ongoing general convention.
Political analyst Pitambar Bhandari says ideological clarity is key for any party’s survival. “We have seen many political parties in the last 15 years. To make a party, its leaders should have crystal clear political ideologies and a strong will to implement them,” he said.
For Jhalak Subedi, another political analyst, Bibeksheel Sajha Party has comparatively honest leaders. Yet, there are challenges galore for the party, according to him.
According to Bhandari, the new Rastriya Swatantra Party, which also espouses alternative politics, had and has many challenges despite becoming a national party in its first attempt at elections. “But the Bibeksheel Sajha does not have that status and power, so it has a rugged road ahead.”