New faces of hope in Nepali Congress: Will they be able to live up to their promise?

Analysts say Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma must keep themselves away from the entrenched interest groups within Nepali Congress, while at the same time never deviating from reform agendas.

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: Nepali Congress’ 14th General Convention has elected some new faces in the post of top office-bearers—vice-president and General Secretaries. While Dhana Raj Gurung was elected as vice-president, Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma won the positions of General Secretaries.

Thapa and Sharma are looked up to as potential changemakers within Nepali Congress and beyond.

As such, there is a kind of euphoria among the party cadres as well as the general public that the oldest democratic party of Nepal will now see some changes and much-needed reform agendas will be realized with Thapa and Sharma at the helm.

Part of the reason for this euphoria is these leaders have for long been challenging the leadership, raising voices for accountability from the leadership and arguing that there have to be tangible reforms in the party.

Promising track record

Of the leaders on whom the cadres and people have pinned high hopes and expectations, Bishwa Prakash Sharma and Gagan Thapa have long fought inside the party for reforms.

Thapa, who started his career as a student politician and shot to fame after the 2006 mass movement, is often described as the opposition voice within the party. Sharma is considered a progressive-minded leader. At times, these leaders have found themselves at the receiving end of arbitrary decision-making by the leadership. Thapa was not even allowed to participate in the election campaign rallies in the far-west region in 2017. Congress insiders say that Thapa was barred from participating in the campaign rallies fearing the rise of his popularity against party president Sher Bahadur Deuba.

“History of Sharma and Thapa has reflected that they are creative leaders,” Tula Narayan Shah, a political analyst, told Nepal Live Today. “They rose through ranks because of their personality and their positive impression in the public.”

The leaders who inspired hope and whose popularity goes beyond the party boundary have now reached positions from where they can contribute to broader reforms inside the party. Now Thapa, Gurung and Sharma, the men who have long been demanding reforms inside the party and are advocating for accountable leadership, have been given the responsibility of the major top posts by the general convention representatives.

The leaders from whom the Congress cadres, as well as the general public, hope so much are now in the position to realize those hopes into reality. But will they be able to live up to the hype and their promises of reforms?

Faces of hope

Political analysts Shah and Dr Indra Adhikari agree the win of Thapa and Sharma has sparked hope among Nepali people and even in political scenarios.

According to Shah, Nepali Congress fought for democracy but they could not adapt themselves to the public’s aspirations like inclusive and participatory democracy. Congress did not accept such matters wholeheartedly at all in most cases and even if they accepted them, they did so reluctantly. Congress has established itself as a tepid progressive force. New agendas set in the society were mostly not connected to NC. “That might change because Thapa has international exposure and Sharma has a clear understanding of inclusiveness in democracy. They have been advocating reform agendas in the party,” he added. “Congress will turn itself into a proactive progressive force, I hope.”

The recent result of the Nepali Congress General Convention has challenged the long-held perceptions in the party that ‘Nepali Congress is an old party of old leaders and ‘old and established leadership would get elected and others get nominated’, said Adhikari.

Young faces are coming forward even to the voters’ level and to the central level. Many established leaders lost the election this time. She further added that the old leadership had not created a favorable environment for the young leaders to emerge to leadership. “Representatives have challenged them this time, by electing leaders like Sharma and Thapa.” 

Challenges galore

Nepali Congress was going in a downward spiral, gradually losing its values. People were not happy with the erosion of the democratic party of Nepal. 

Analysts say that the election result has created hope but along with the hope, challenges and responsibilities have also increased for the new faces. 

Thapa and Sharma are seen as progressive leaders in Nepali Congress, Adhikari noted. “The conservative and traditional elements inside Nepali Congress will create a hurdle for them to take forward their agendas and programs based on their opinions and ideologies,” she added. 

Second, party transformation and leadership transfer are their agendas as well. Deuba himself is not a regressive leader but the main problem is that he gets driven and influenced by his confidants. “He represents a certain group. It may be easy to convince him but those who influence him may create a problem,” said Adhikari. 

Leaders like Thapa and Sharma will have to lead the party towards a progressive path. They have to break the old wrong practices in the party. “If they cannot do justice to reform agendas, it will be hard for them to upgrade themselves in party politics as there is a high hope from them at the moment,” she concluded. 

Leaders in Nepal appear revolutionary, progressive, creative and bring reforms agendas forward when they are a part of a movement. “ But when they rise to power, they turn out to be corrupt and inefficient and fail to deliver what they had earlier promised,” added Shah. Moreover, interest groups revolve around power. They intervene in such a manner that they impact even policymaking.

 “To keep themselves away from such interest groups is the main challenge for leaders like Thapa and Sharma,” Shah said.