If everything goes as planned, the Nepali Congress is tentatively scheduled to hold its 15th party convention in the early next year. As the oldest existing political organisation in the country, the NC has gone through the history of Nepal and helped to define its critical moments. Most of the time, NC leadership has been able to uphold its legacy of restraint and moderation. It has also proved that the party, with some exceptions, does not take decision on crucial issues without taking long-term implications into account. In this regard, NC distinguishes itself from other parties that do sometimes take decisions in haste but back off later. Moreover, there are periods in the history when NC has rallied together with the leftist parties to take credit for historic democratic turns. The NC’s decision to throw weight behind the slogan of democratic republicanism with distinct departure from the long held commitment in favour of the limited constitutional monarchy does testify to this fact. Leftists had their well pronounced stake on republicanism, NC had strategically defended limited monarchy despite the fact that the latter had taken the former as its principal adversary. When the country was under the grip of monarchy, the NC was mostly behaved as the principal foe by the monarchy whereas from ideological point of view, it should have been taken as the force that could be dealt with and befriended with overtures of accommodation and collaboration.
Seasoned party In fact, when one takes stock of the past of the Nepali Congress, one can say that it has been the most seasoned political party in the country led by such leaders as BP Koirala. The party had come into existence at a time when the world was throwing off the yoke of colonialism. The nations in Asia and Africa were achieving independence one after the other. Nepal’s immediate neighbours India and China were undergoing major political change. China was uprooting its feudal social and economic structures from the base through the application of radical Marxist-Leninist political ideology while India was passing through democratic change under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Nepali Congress drew strength and inspiration mainly from the Indian struggle for freedom since many of its leaders had been politically persuaded, educated and socialised in India. Many had been jailed with their Indian fellow politicians on charge of opposing the British rule in India. Not only the NC leaders but many radical communist functionaries in Nepal had been politically trained in India during those times. This association of the first generation Nepali congress and communist leaders with Indian political struggle had its impact on the subsequent political developments of Nepal. Many Indian leaders had supported Nepal’s movement for abolition of the Rana regime launched under the leadership of Nepali Congress in particular. Moreover, Nepali Congress had also drawn inspiration from values and ideas from the radical changes in China under the leadership of Mao as well. NC’s ideology of democratic socialism is the product of intermarriage between democracy and socialism. What needs to be appreciated is that Nepali Congress has been more or less consistent to its basic and fundamental political, social and economic values and principles despite some deviations time and again. Though there has occurred a tilt to the left and right in the approach of Nepali Congress time and again, its faith in the principles of democracy, human rights and rule of law has never been compromised. Many struggles for democracy, freedom and right of the people have been initiated and led under the leadership of Nepali Congress. The democratic movement was launched to topple the party-less authoritarian polity in 1990. Following the success of people’s uprising in 1990, multiparty democracy was reinstated in the country. Nepali Congress was elected to rule the country for multiple times. However, the party was not able to translate its values and principles into practices. The multiparty democracy was slow to deliver social and economic justice as a result of which massive discontents and dissatisfaction of the people accumulated to challenge the existing social and economic order of the country. The Maoist-led conflict escalated exploiting the discontents of the people and it had its impact in the rural areas especially where diverse groups of poor people lived. The ideology of the Nepali Congress was challenged and its organisational networks at the grassroots were threatened. Many of its leaders were displaced and they fled to cities for safety and security. However, credit should go to Nepali Congress and primarily its late leader Girija Prasad Koirala who played a key role in influencing the Maoists, among others, to pursue peaceful means of democratic political change. Once Maoists joined together with the moderate political forces- NC, UML and others- to challenge the King’s authoritarian rule, the anti-monarchy stir picked up momentum. Finally, Nepal abolished monarchy and became a republic. The role of Nepali Congress to effect this consequential political change in Nepal has been phenomenal. Had not NC accepted and braced for the political change that we have ushered in today, it would not have been possible to arrive to such an important and transformative republican outcome in the country.
Democratic values If NC is to gain its role befitting its glorious and commendable past, the party should rise to the occasion to redress the chronic organisational challenges it is facing today. NC should remain the epitome of democratic values and practices. It should espouse the cause of the justice and development for the people. It is to be seen whether the proposed party convention takes the bold decision to elect the leadership that keeps is internal house in democratic order and meets the challenges of the contemporary Nepali politics.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. firstname.lastname@example.org)