Interview | ‘I’m determined to bring a new energy to the party’: Mahesh Acharya, Nepali Congress leader

Rameshwar Bohara

  • Read Time 6 min.

Mahesh Acharya is considered one of the few leaders with a clear perspective in Nepali Congress. There was once a time when every elected prime minister from the NC would want to assign Acharya a ministerial portfolio. But of late, Acharya, who has been at the party’s central working committee for three decades, seems to have fallen in the shadows, both in the landscapes of national politics and intra-party politics. One reason for that is his loss in the 2017 parliamentary elections. That, however, is not the only reason. The NC’s current leadership and the rising factional politics contributed as well. Acharya has now sent shockwaves through the party after he announced his candidacy for the position of vice-president for the NC, which is on a home stretch for its 14th general convention. In doing so, Acharya has made it clear that he is anything but “disappeared”. But why did he take that step all of a sudden? Rameshwar Bohara, editor of Nepal Live, Nepal Live Today’s sister publication, caught up with Acharya to find out. The interview, which is edited for clarity and concision, also covers other grounds such as the NC’s current status, the convention’s potential arithmetics, and the party’s future course.

Your candidacy for vice-presidential berth came suddenly, when the convention is just around the corner.

For a long time, as a member of the party’s central working committee. I have been presenting agendas for discussion on important issues such as the party’s policy, institution, and national politics. There is also a third aspect related to it. That is about our diplomacy, about how competition between our neighboring countries is heating up. Unfortunately, the upcoming convention is turning out to be a lost chance to discuss these issues. I stepped onto the field so as to ensure that our party, from grassroots structure to the leadership, takes issues related to party structure, our country’s diplomacy, sovereignty and politics seriously. 

I want that this agenda cross pollinates to the structures of our rival parties as well. I decided to file my candidacy to bring these issues to attention among friends from various generations in the party. I don’t know what shape my decision will take. I am not worried about winning or losing either. But if I could bring these issues in attention among friends from my party, then I would consider my candidacy a success. It is for these reasons that I decided to compete for the post.

Do you then conclude that in today’s Congress there isn’t any debate going on about the three fundamental issues that you mentioned?

That is extremely foggy. It is ineffective. To keep the issues related to the organization in chronology, our legislation allows our members to compete for the same post after they complete their appointed tenure. I think that is the problem.

We see a tendency of members to try to get reappointed by hook or crook. The situation is worrisome, so much that we can as well declare that it is impossible to get elected without bending the rules. 

Why compete again after you’ve completed an elected stint? We’re burgeoning the organization by naively adding more posts. Dissenting opinions should be settled by healthy practices, not by bickering among factions. When factional politics gets widespread inside the party, meritocracy takes a back seat. 

We see a tendency of members to try to get reappointed by hook or crook. The situation is worrisome, so much that we can as well declare that it is impossible to get elected without bending the rules.

The working committee is a place where ideologies are formed, where international agendas are discussed. But lately, factional bickering has corrupted the working committee on all levels of party hierarchy. A small group of officials usually decide on all matters. Is this coming worth mulling over? My candidacy is a medium to pose this question to all friends in the country.

COVID-19 has devastated our economic and social structures. Who is to discuss ways to get out of this dilemma? We need a recovery plan to deal with climate change. Nepal is at the forefront when it comes to facing the wrath of climate change at a time when scientific predictions foretell increasing irregular disasters. If the oldest party in the country doesn’t think about it then who will? 

At this point in time, the basic structures of our democracy are in shambles, governance is weak. We saw the squander of the two-third majority government lately. We’ve formed a coalition government but it looks disillusioned and without direction. The legislative is in limbo. The judiciary is in ruins. I don’t claim that Nepal is the only country with these problems. The USA and India follow suit. But if the Congress party doesn’t lead the debate on these issues, how will we create leaders?

If Nepal gets stuck in a tug-of-war between China, USA, and India, it is only a matter of time before the leadership gets stuck in a vortex. We need discussion over that too.

We could come up with excuses if none of this happens in the convention but that would reflect poorly on the committee who had been elected for 6 years. We should realize that it is the result of not being able to address the degradation of democratic rights, freedom, and institutions. We should dwell on it and try to find solutions. That is a huge part of my candidacy. 

If I get to that place, I’m determined to bring a new energy into the party. I think if I can create the environment that I want in Congress, we can also then help other parties instill democratic values in their parties.

I attempted to bring this problem up before the Central Committee yesterday, but was unsuccessful. I’d like to debate this with a distinguished group of impartial cadres from across the country. I’ve stated it before, but when I file my candidacy, I’m trying to emphasize the seriousness of these issues and the consequences.

Did you think about your decision for candidacy for long or was it motivated by the party’s latest status? 

I can’t single out one thing here. It was both. I was in the Central Committee this time. However, it has been 25-30 years that I’ve been active in it. But lately, I pointed out to many amends that were needed in our party’s legislation for them to be in congruence with the new constitution. 

As the convention neared, the party was sharply divided across factional lines, especially between two factions. The two factions increased activities to defeat the other one, over anything else. Hence, I hurried to file my candidacy. I didn’t see any indication that issues that I deem important wouldn’t get a chance to be discussed in the party’s decision process as the convention neared. I wanted to take those issues up for discussion among friends.

For the past five or six years, you were almost out of the scene. Is it that the Congress couldn’t utilize your capacity and experience or you didn’t want to? 

It’s not only me, the party has made a huge investment for me and other friends. The party has given me a huge opportunity to gather experience, to reach people, and a capacity to form my own opinion, to voice it, and to have an influence. It is definitely true that the party has missed out slightly on utilizing my and other friends’ capacity. I think this is an inherent flaw of our party’s executive system.

Once I lost the election, the government and parliament were out of my reach. I could have compensated for that through the medium of party politics. But at that time, our party was mired in internal conflicts. The fissure inside the party reached a climax when it was time to announce the general convention. We have finally reached a stage where we could host a convention in six years. It is definitely true that during this period, my role and activity have relatively shrunk. 

During the leadership of Girija Prasad Koirala and Sushil Koirala, you were in public positions apart from the party as well. Is it that today’s leadership didn’t seek you out? 

Let’s not look at it that way. I worked with all the members of our leadership. I worked at Girijababu’s cabinet. Kishunji assigned me a ministerial portfolio as well. Sher Bahadur ji assigned me a post in his cabinet too. And Sushil da did that too. At the times I was in these roles, I was also at the constitutional assembly during the difficult time of constitution promulgation. I derive some satisfaction from the fact that I could contribute positively to the constitution-writing process. That was a very difficult time. There were many different kinds of fissures, and protest movements. 

I feel that I did what was required at that moment, as a responsible member and leader of the party. During that time, my role became wide and extended. Now that it has become weak but I don’t consider that anything amiss. I don’t take that as motivated by prejudices against me. When I was not in the parliament, I was definitely away from parliamentary politics and governance. I have accepted people’s mandate. I tried to do what I was assigned by the party. Now I have come to a stage where I want to extend my role actively. My candidacy is precisely for that.