Thursday, 28 September, 2023

Congress A Mute Spectator?

Congress A Mute Spectator?

Narayan Upadhyay


Even as two ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) factions have been crossing swords over the dissolution of the Lower House of Federal Parliament, the opposition party appears to be in a stupor. The Nepali Congress’s top brass has kept mum over the party's course of action to deal with the prevailing political situation arising out of the unexpected turn of developments after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved the House of Representatives (HoR) two months ago. The political argy-bargy of the NCP rival camps has rendered the Congress a mute observer. And with the politics in a state of flux, the opposition party has discovered itself in disarray.
To commence a concrete step against the House termination is a far cry for the NC at present, even when the communist rivals have taken their bitter fight to the streets. The two feuding factions have held big political rallies and mass meetings across the country to sway the crowds and build a favourable political opinion for them by exposing the mistakes of each other.

Frustrating silence
Besides maintaining a frustrating silence, NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba is not obliged to acknowledge his party colleagues' proposals to deal with the present-day politics that slipped into deeper controversy after the collapse of the House. Deuba's much-criticised reluctance to act has prohibited the NC to initiate a substantive action against the House dissolution. A segment of the NC maintains that the party should resist vigorously what they have termed the 'unconstitutional action'. Senior leaders Ram Chandra Poudel, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Gagan Thapa, Arjun Narsing KC, and a few others have appealed to the party president to take a decisive, all-out protest against the HoR dissolution.
In its recent formal meeting, the NC dubbed the PM's act as unlawful but the top leadership is yet to go whole-hog to oppose the dissolution. Deuba has dithered despite mounting pressure from his party’s functionaries. His hesitation in leading his party to protest is due mainly to his ambition to remain in the good offices of rival NCP groups. Many speculate that he might have given words to both sides that he would throw his weight behind them. He has done this in his bid to secure broader stakes in government portfolios, including premiership for himself, and other positions. Some maintain he has backed PM Oli for the latter's acts and has remained in close contact with Oli.
Given the bitter rivalry between the two NCP factions, each led by the PM Oli and Prachanda-Nepal groups, Deuba is sanguine that the two feuding sides would seek his collaboration in setting up the next government, should the apex court reinstate the dissolved House. Even if the court refuses to revive the House and the nation heads towards the general election, many NC supporters believe, would enjoy an upper hand in polls. A divided NCP is likely to fare badly in elections, a boon for the opposition. In the aftermath of a full-fledged antagonism among NCP comrades, the NC has eyed a majority in the election slated for April and May this year. Deuba and his allies in the party are in a wait-and-watch mode, and many in the NC camp are quite ebullient for a 'certain-looking better position in the nation's politics.
However, many within the NC and outside averred that the Nepali Congress, which had waged many struggles for establishing, restoring and defending democracy in the nation, must be at the forefront to denounce any incidents that undermine democratic rules and values. They have thus rapped the party chief for neglecting to respect his party's democratic credentials.
As a party that prides itself on its long struggle for democracy, the NC should not always seek government positions at the cost of its hard-earned reputation as a forbearer and saviour of egalitarian qualities and principles. The main opposition party faces another truth: It should not be complacent about future positions because the general election will also test its real prowess. Though the NCP factional rivalry has hit zenith, there is every chance that the party may not divide.
The ruling party leaders may take a U-turn from their present cut-throat rivalry to save the party from the division. In such a scenario, the NC may not get the desired results in the reinstated parliament or the election. Another fact to perturb the NC is - the unified NCP enjoys the support of a larger number of the constituency, which may be a saving grace for the party. The NC backers know this too well. They have thus urged the party leadership to take steps as per the suggestion of the party colleagues instead of waiting for the Supreme Court verdict on the House dismissal and the decision of the Election Commission to declare one faction as the authentic NCP.
Problems for the NC, which is gearing for its general convention in August this year, are multi-pronged. Intra-party differences have paralysed the party, posing a challenge in taking ahead of its political agenda. The senior leaders-- Deuba, Paudel and Sitaula-- are in a race for the party leadership in the coming party convention. Other leaders and workers have thus divided them on the line of their allegiance to these top party brasses. The internal differences might have made the party leadership reluctant in staging a vigorous protest against the House dissolution and other gaping national issues.

At this crucial juncture, the opposition party is in an urgent need to address internal differences to enable the party to spread good vibes among the electorate and workers and supporters. The party can win the people's faith when the leadership exhibits his grit to lead the party in a testing and challenging period. As a party of the people having faith in democratic culture and principles, the NC must move forward in unison so that it can send a positive message about its agenda, programmes and true intention in dealing with the present anarchic situation. The reticent party president must lead the party from the front so that the party would not falter in the next polls.

(Upadhyay is Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal.