“My candidacy is for taking Nepali Congress out of the deeply entrenched ‘party-capture’ mindset”: Shankar Tiwari

The main trouble with Nepali Congress is that once a man rises to the leadership he seeks to remain in the leadership for lifetime.

NL Today

  • Read Time 6 min.

Shankar Tiwari is a writer, columnist, researcher and intellectual with a number of books to his authorship.  A fierce advocate of reforms in Nepali Congress, Tiwari has announced his candidacy for the post of central committee member in the 14th General Convention which is taking place in Kathmandu from Friday.  Tiwari’s most recent book Kasle Sudharchha Kangress? (“Who Will Reform Nepali Congress?”) was published on the eve of the Convention in which a number of young aspirants are contesting for the post of office bearers including the post of General Secretary.  Nepal Live Today caught up with him to ask about his candidacy and to discuss the reform agendas he has proposed in the book. 

You are known as a columnist, a writer, and an intellectual within Nepali Congress and outside. Why do you want to become a central committee member of Nepali Congress?

Actually, I have been active in politics since my college days. I was a Nepal Student Union leader. I contested in three student union elections. I have a legacy of political activism. After my master’s degree, I was engaged more in academic works of writing, researching and publishing. But even while I was into academic works, I was closely following the politics of the country and that of Nepali Congress. Now I want to work actively in Nepali Congress. I hope my being a central committee member in Nepali Congress will help galvanize the party, give new thoughts to the party and to make the party the preferred choice of the youths of the country. 

Besides, it is important for the political parties to have intellectuals in them. But for the intellectuals to become able to contribute for the better of the party also, the leadership has to be accommodative. The rigid mindset has to change. 

My candidacy is for the sake of taking the party out of the deeply entrenched ‘party-capture’ mindset which has afflicted the party for many years. This is my first and foremost agenda. Many things need to change in Nepali Congress. It is written in the party statute that the active membership of the party should be renewed before six months of the Convention. But in practice, for the last 20 years, active membership renewal begins after the date of the convention is announced. This allows for a lot of foul play to take place.  Party leadership has failed to lead and set the agenda for the nation. Which is why there are several factions inside the party. 

The new leadership that will emerge from the Convention cannot, should not and will not be allowed to run the show in the same old style. 

I believe that this Convention will go down as a moment to reenergize the party and inject new enthusiasm. Survey shows that around 60 percent of Convention representatives are new and young faces. I trust that they will go for electing the new leadership. Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure. The new leadership that will emerge from the Convention cannot, should not and will not be allowed to run the show in the same old style. In other words, my candidacy is for reform and change. 

Your book is also focused on the need to reform Nepali Congress. Where did Congress derail from its original mission? Where do you trace the point of its erosion? 

The main trouble with Nepali Congress, or any other Nepali political parties for that matter, is that they are running the show with the same old and outdated mindset.  I say this based on my experience and learning. In the Western democracies or in any other functioning democracies the leaders of the political parties who cannot deliver, who fail to secure a majority for the parties in the general elections leave the space for the new leadership when they lose.  They give way for the new leadership. It is this fundamental feature which keeps the Western democratic parties functioning and dynamic. But in Nepal this is a far cry.

All those leaders who committed with the people during the 2006 people’s movement that they would not repeat their past mistakes have deliberately resorted to committing the same mistakes.  They had said to the people that they would conduct themselves in a better way. But they have not walked the talk.

Like I said the main trouble with Nepali Congress is once a man rises to the leadership he seeks to remain in the leadership for lifetime.  He is not ready to make way for the new faces to rise, nor pass the baton to the next generation. This makes the whole party organization stagnant.  Until and unless there is a clear provision in the party constitution itself for the exit of the person from the leadership, no new faces are going to get the chance. The leadership which fails to secure a majority for the party in the parliamentary elections should either be re-endorsed by the party through the timely general elections or it should make way for the new leadership. This is where Nepali Congress needs a fundamental shift. The main problem lies in the hesitancy of the men in top leadership to transfer power to the new faces or younger generation. 

But hesitancy in transferring power to the next generation is in the history of Nepali Congress itself. Why are you so concerned about it now? 

I do not fully agree with you here.  There were some healthy symptoms in the party regarding leadership transfer in the past. In the 1990s, when Girija Prasad Koirala led the party to 1994 mid-term elections, and when the party lost he immediately realized that he had failed to secure a majority for the party and he abstained from becoming the party’s parliamentary leader. He paved the way for the second generation leader Sher Bahadur Deuba to become the parliamentary leader. But despite failing many times to make the party rise and shine in Nepali politics Deuba has never shown willingness to transfer power to other leaders.  

Historically, whenever the policy of the top leader has failed the party they have always given acting presidency to the immediate vice president. Sher Bahadur has never done that. BP Koirala gave acting presidency to Krishna Prasad Bhattarai when he (BP) realized that his policy of running armed struggle from exile was a mistake.  Bhattarai was against the idea of armed struggle.  Congress has this history of top leaders doing soul-searching and passing the baton to others when they themselves fail to steer the party to the right direction.  Current president and prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has learnt nothing from history.

By that logic, do you suggest that the main obstacle to reforms in Nepali Congress is Sher Bahadur Deuba? 

In a way, yes. He did not follow any examples set by the Congress luminaries who were his predecessors.  You only have to go back to 2008. After Nepali Congress lost in the first Constituent Assembly elections, Sushil Koirala immediately resigned from the post.  Such practices have been completely forgotten. Unless it is legitimized through the party statute that the leadership under whom the party suffers a setback resigns, nothing is going to change.

Congress is the oldest democratic party in Nepal. We have to make it the youngest and functioning political party of Nepal.   

The current leadership, which was groomed during the Panchayat days and which has been sitting upon power since the 1990s, is functioning with the same old mindset. They have failed to conduct themselves as per the needs of the changing times, changed context and new ideals.  They have also failed to inject new ideas and vision to thousands of party cadres. 

What solutions do you suggest in the book for the kind of reforms you seek in Nepali Congress? 

There are a total of nine chapters in the book. It chronicles the history of Nepali Congress from the first general elections of 1959 to the post-republic politics. Congress has always remained at the center of politics.  Even after securing near two-thirds majority in the last general elections, Communist parties failed to deliver good governance, stability and development to the country. Congress is back in power today mainly because of the failures of the communist to deliver. 

Until and unless Congress changes, the political situation of the country will not change.  Today, youths of the country and youths in Congress are not happy with the way Congress is functioning.  They want new leadership, not the old tried and tested leaders. So the solution is to bring new faces in the party and new leadership.  Congress is the oldest democratic party of Nepal. We have to make it the youngest and functioning political party of Nepal.  We can take a leaf from the book of British politics. When David Cameroon rose to power in Conservative Party he modernized the party by initiating some major reforms. He reformed all the policies, he gave parliamentary tickets to migrants, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and other monitories. That way he insured inclusion in the party.  It was a major policy revamp. In Nepal, people have endorsed the young guards of Nepali Congress but they are not encouraged to rise to leadership.