General secretaries plan Congress revolt. Will they succeed?Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma are reportedly considering radical options for the party’s transformation.
The recent victories of the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) in Tanahun and Chitwan by-elections have shaken the traditional parties including the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre), to the core.
Among the three, the Congress has been the hardest hit as one of its upcoming leaders, the economist Swarnim Wagle, defected to the RSP right ahead of the elections and defeated the ruling coalition’s common candidate from Congress with a huge margin in what was a Congress stronghold. The Tanahun parliamentary seat had become vacant after Congress leader Ramchandra Paudel was elected President of the country.
The Congress had assigned its two general secretaries and popular leaders, Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma, to campaign for the party candidate in Tanahun, but even their charm failed to influence the voters.
Thapa and Sharma are seen as torchbearers of reform in the party, although they have so far failed to change its traditional and centralised decision-making style.
The two are reportedly working on a new strategy to revitalise the grand old party, said leaders close to them. But other leaders in the party say that’s easier said than done.
On May 7, Thapa even tweeted a statement of apparent frustration indicating that he was losing patience with the way the party was being run as well as with its decision-making process.
If so, are Thapa and Sharma preparing for a revolt in the party? If yes, what kind will it be?
“They have some issues with party President Sher Bahadur Deuba,” said senior Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala, who, along with Thapa, leads the dissident faction in the party. “Today, I met Thapa, asked about his recent social media posts and discussed the way forward.”
Earlier, there were rumours in the party that even Koirala and Thapa were drifting apart on multiple issues. Thapa was reportedly unhappy after Koirala picked ministerial nominees from the party faction without consulting him. They also differ on other internal party matters, say leaders of the faction.
But Koirala dismisses such speculations.
“We have no issues between us,” said Koirala. “I was in a rush for a foreign trip, so could not consult Thapa on ministerial appointments. That was my mistake.”
Thapa and Sharma have reportedly told leaders close to them that they will go to any extent for the party’s purification, and could even resign as general secretaries if party chief Deuba continues to ignore their concerns.
In the recently concluded meeting of the party’s office-bearers, the conversations between Thapa, Sharma and Deuba were rather unpleasant, one Congress office-bearer said.
“Both Thapa and Sharma are extremely disappointed with Deuba. Sharma even told the party chief that he was ready to quit if Deuba feels uncomfortable working with him,” said the office-bearer.
The roadmap for party transformation does not appear easy for Thapa and Sharma. “Reforming the party is not going to be easy, but I think it is possible,” political analyst Bishnu Sapkota said.
“It will depend on how boldly and honestly they can work. And they will face many adversaries from even within their own camp. Leaders like Dhanraj Gurung, Chandra Bhandari and others are also in the Koirala Thapa camp, for example. Other parties including the UML and the RSP will also try to discredit the two, who are seen as a major threat,” said Sapkota.
But will Deuba respond to the call for the party’s transformation?
Thapa, Sharma and some others in the Congress are planning to call for a policy convention to discuss the party’s ideology, principles and organisation.
According to a Congress leader close to Thapa and Sharma, the two leaders will then try to transform the policy convention into a special convention, which can even oust the current party leaders. “That may sound like a far-fetched idea, but the two general secretaries are indeed exploring such radical options,” said the leader.
There is a sense of suffocation among Congress supporters and a sizeable number of its members, which in turn creates a ground for revolt, adds Sapkota.
“Thapa and Sharma appear to be the only hopes among those who want reforms in the party to channel their sense of collective frustration and transform the organisation. If they take the lead, they will get support from a large group of the party’s supporters,” said Sapkota, who advised Thapa and Sharma to come out with a white paper spelling out what Deuba must do within a month of given time.
There is another group of leaders in the Nepali Congress that is suspicious of Thapa and Sharma though.
“Why do they compromise so much in the party’s vital meetings, be they of the central working committee, office bearers or central work execution committee?” said Nain Singh Mahar, a leader close to Deuba. “They instead take to social media to vent their frustrations.”
Sapkota said that if Deuba does not budge, the duo should resign from their party positions and make a fresh appeal among the larger Congress support base. “They should then clearly communicate how they are taking radical steps to transform the party.”
But Mahar says there is no escaping the fact that Thapa and Sharma led the party’s election campaign in Chitwan and Tanahun, two places the Congress badly lost. “They are now trying to divert public attention from their own failure,” he said.
“If they are serious about reforming the party, the general secretary duo should clearly put forward their agendas and roadmaps in internal party meetings,” Mahar said. “The only caveat is: what they propose should do justice to the entire party, not just their faction.”
Dilli Subedi, a provincial parliamentarian in the Gandaki Province from the Congress who is considered close to Thapa, said the two general secretaries are currently mapping out a strategy “to transform” the party.
“They will tell the general public about what they did in the past 17 months, how they were isolated and cornered in the party and share other concerns,” Subedi said. “This is a kind of a revolt against the Congress leadership and a new journey towards the party’s purification.”