Kathmandu: Many believe the Nepali Congress, the oldest democratic party of Nepal, is stuck in between a lack of vision and lack of vibrant leadership. As the party is struggling with a leadership crisis, incumbent leaders are struggling to perpetuate their hold onto power. Like other political parties, Nepali Congress has failed to present a new agenda and vision of national development among cadres and the public.
Analysts and commentators have repeatedly debated the leadership issue. They argue that NC has also failed to bring alternative agendas to bring the public into confidence and to create hopes. Political analyst Puranjan Acharya said that the new leadership to come in the political party with conventional systems such as NC will also be traditional. That is a major drawback. CK Lal, eminent columnist and political commentator, for his part, said “Nepali Congress has failed to come out with any alternative agendas. Nepali Congress has toed the same agenda as that of the ruling party. It has failed to go to the people with a new agenda.”
Nepali Congress is now gearing up for the 14th General Convention scheduled from September 1-4. Prominent leaders are making efforts to build alliances and garner support to vie for the party’s top post. The questions are: Will the General Convention elect new leadership that can bring new hopes among its cadres and the general public? Or will the same leadership without any commitment to the change agenda emerge?
What is happening?
As the Convention date is nearing, top Congress leaders seem to be working extra hours to form alliances to contest for the post of president. It is worth noting that old alliances in the party are changing and new ones are evolving.
Many presidential hopefuls have appeared on the scene, while several second-generation leaders are in intense deliberations to challenge the old-generation leaders this time. On the other hand, the old generation leaders are in no mood to transfer the leadership to the new ones easily.
The incumbent president Sher Bahadur Deuba has already declared candidacy for the post and, as such, he is wooing and convincing other leaders and cadres to support him.
Ram Chandra Poudel has also staked a claim to serve as a president for ‘a year’. The leaders who used to be close confidants of the two–Deuba and Poudel–are themselves lobbying for the presidency. Bimalendra Nidhi, a leader said to be from the Deuba faction, has declared his candidacy for president. Nidhi, Dr Shashank Koirala, and Prakash Man Singh are repeatedly conducting meetings to discuss the candidacy. Similarly, Dr Shekhar Koirala, who used to be close to Ram Chandra Poudel, has also shown interest in the presidency and he has tried to convince Poudel that the latter will serve as the prime minister, while he will hold the party’s top post. On the other hand, Poudel has urged Koirala to assist him for the presidency for a year, promising to hand over the post to Dr Koirala a year later. Then there is Sujata Koirala, who has declared her candidacy for the top post in the upcoming General Convention.
Prakash Man Singh has presented himself as the natural candidate for the top job and is challenging his faction’s leader Ram Chandra Poudel.
Congress was thought of as the party with old generation leaders in dominance. Of late, however, a significant number of youths have emerged as active members. According to the member of the investigation committee Pradeep Poudel, youth ages 25-40 are dominant among around 8,00,000 active members, who will be decisive in electing top office-bearers, including the president.
First, the incumbent president Sher Bahadur Deuba does not seem to command much support as anti-incumbency sentiment is high in the party. He is putting in extra effort to stand tall but his popular ground among cadres seems fragile this time around, compared to the last assembly. Deuba has strong support from leaders like Bijaya Gachhedar and Sunil Thapa and cadres from the far-western region, yet he is unlikely to garner unconditional support from the region. Unlike in the last election, Deuba is unlikely to be able to secure full support from the far-western leaders. His decision to position his wife and NC leader Arzu Rana Deuba as the leader in the region has riled popular leaders there. These circumstances make his victory uncertain.
Second, senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel has also expressed his interest to serve as the president just for a year before handing over the responsibility to Dr Shekhar Koirala. Despite being a leader with high moral integrity, his recent statement reflects poorly on his confidence. This might not attract the party cadres and active members toward him.
Will the General Convention elect new leadership that can bring new hopes among its cadres and the general public? Or will the same leadership without any commitment to the change agenda emerge?
Third, Bimalendra Nidhi and Deuba, who used to be close to each other, seem to be drifting apart in recent times. Series of meetings Nidhi is holding with other leaders indicates this. As of now, there is little chance of Nidhi supporting Deuba in the upcoming General Convention. According to the leaders close to Nidhi, he has taken leaders from both Pahad and Madhesh into his confidence. Also, leaders who are dissatisfied with Deuba might support Nidhi as he was in the same coterie for a long time. Given this, Nidhi is likely to pose a challenge to the presidential ambition of Deuba.
Fourth, Dr Shashank Koirala is also making a buzz as the presidential candidate for the party. His acceptability appears high due to his flexibility. He is perceived to be less assertive compared to Deuba and Nidhi, creating a higher level of acceptability in the party. There is also a possibility of three leaders–Dr Shashank Koirala, Bimalendra Nidhi and Prakash Man Singh–agreeing on a power-sharing deal, making Dr Koirala the president and assigning other prominent roles such as Prime Minister and other portfolios to Bimalendra Nidhi and Prakash Man Singh.
Fifth, Prakash Man Singh has a good support base in Kathmandu yet he does not have a strong grip at the national level. He is also not considered a mass leader inside the party. Though he has also expressed his interest to serve as the party president, many believe that he will finally reach a power-sharing deal with Dr Shashank Koirala and Bimalendra Nidhi.
Sixth, Dr Shekhar Koirala has been openly expressing his keen interest to reach the party’s top post for years. But the fact remains that the other two candidates from the Koirala clan–Dr Sashank Koirala and Sujata Koirala–might not stand in his favor. In this context, the fate of his candidacy will largely depend on the move by another influential leader from the same clan and incumbent General Secretary Dr Shashank Koirala.
Last but not the least, Krishna Prasad Sitaula might give a nominal candidacy, changing his stance in the power-sharing process later on. Even Gagan Thapa might not lend his full support to Sitaula as Thapa himself is vying for the post of General Secretary, for which he needs support from all factions.