Kathmandu: That Gagan Thapa would not win the election of parliamentary party leader in Nepali Congress was nearly a foregone conclusion. Even diehard fans of Gagan inside Congress were not sure about his victory. Besides, Gagan was not an unopposed candidate from the rival faction led by Dr Shekher Koirala. Reportedly, Koirala conceded the ground to Gagan in exchange for the latter’s support to the former in the next general assembly.
Be that as it may, Gagan Thapa’s candidacy and the votes that he secured in the PP leader election held on Wednesday carries a lot of message in politics in Nepali Congress and beyond.
Thapa lost to Congress President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba with 25 votes. While Deuba got 64 votes, Thapa bagged 25.
In politics, the number of votes matters a lot but the message matters as much.
Gagan Thapa has been able to send the message to the Deuba camp that his modus operandi in running the party and the government is not liked by all Congress lawmakers–not by 25 of them at least.
Whether Deuba, happy to be surrounded by ‘yes men’ and with the advantage of power and resources he holds as the PM, will take this message for what it is is not a matter of speculation. He will probably take dissent by Gagan as a fleeting moment of resistance within the party, given his past track record.
But inside the party and outside, Gagan has shown that his generation of leaders can and should be able to challenge the leadership. This is one main reason there was an outpouring of support for him from youths and cadres across the political spectrum.
Gagan had fought the election for the House of Representatives with the promise that he would challenge the leadership and that he would stake claim on the parliamentary party leadership.
Gagan Thapa fulfilled that promise.
Leaders close to Gagan Thapa have been arguing that Gagan represents the voice of change within the Nepali Congress and the camp led by Deuba represents the status quo.
In a way, that is true. Most leaders to side with Gagan in the election were youths and those who have been raising voices against the misrule within Congress.
Leaders like Dhanaraj Gurung, Bishwa Prakash Sharma, Pradip Poudel and Dr Shekhar Koirala stood together in support of Gagan Thapa. “This in itself is a big message,” says political analyst Geja Sharma Wagle. “This shows that the promising young leaders with vision and popular base are at one place to challenge the leadership.” According to Wagle, now Gagan Thapa has become established as an alternative leadership within Nepali Congress.
In his view, the Shekhar-Gagan-Bishwa Prakash group is going to emerge as the change agent of leadership transfer in the next general assembly. “The big message is that of leadership transfer,” he said. “This marks a big change in Nepali Congress. It is a positive and meaningful sign.”
Wagle argues that election of PP leadership has also shown that Deuba, whose grip on power was firm inside the party in the past, is not in the same position now. “The youth leaders have given the message that they are capable of challenging the leadership,” he said.
Dr Indra Adhikari, another political analyst, also attaches a great deal of importance to Gagan Thapa’s move of contesting the election for the parliamentary party leader of the Nepali Congress.
“This is meaningful in many respects. Look at how other parties like UML and Unified Socialist are choosing their parliamentary party leaders. There was no election. They were nominated unopposed,” said Adhikari. According to her, Gagan’s candidacy and election results are more than just a number of votes. “Nepali Congress showed there is an internal democracy within the party, however weak it may be. The PP election within Congress gave a message that dominance of leadership can be challenged through competition and through democratic means and it can be done by remaining within the same political organization,” she said.
According to her, Gagan Thapa has set a precedent for other parties as well. “Gagan Thapa himself knew that he would not win. But he dared to challenge the leadership democratically. In the process, he also set a precedent for leaders of other parties on how to create space within the party democratically,” she said.
Adhikari agrees that Gagan Thapa has established himself as a credible leader within the party. “People will recognize the rival faction within Congress as a Gagan group from now on,” she said.
“The way Gagan Thapa dared the leadership democratically, he deserves appreciation for that. He has won by losing the election. Hope has won.”
By securing victory in the PP leadership race, Deuba, who has repeatedly failed to deliver on good governance, has paved the way for becoming the prime minister again. In this context, the role of the dissident faction within the Nepali Congress will be closely watched by the public.
According to Geja Sharma Wagle, the task of the Shekhar-Gagan-Bishwa Prakash group is cut out. “They should work to hold the party and the government accountable to the people in the days to come. They need to be able to raise the vital issues of public concern in the party, in the parliament and among the people,” he said.
According to him, people will expect and watch whether they will be able to continue to speak against and expose the wrongdoings inside the party and in the government. He believes that they can do so better now because they are more organized and have better strength. “They can make Deuba camp accountable and make him deliver because they are a force to reckon with. Deuba cannot ignore them. He cannot succeed as the party president and PM without the support of this group and without listening to them,” he said.