Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has been elected as the central president of Nepali Congress in the 14th national convention held in Kathmandu last week. He defeated his closest rival Shekhar Koirala with a convincing margin of over 700 votes. Deuba’s triumph was almost a fiat accompli as the senior party stalwarts reportedly ranged against him were deeply divided amongst them at the critical eleventh hour and failed to reconcile among themselves to offer consensual candidacy.
They did instead transfix their eyes singularly on the coveted post of party president. The leaders haggled over how to wrest support for one’s own candidacy in lieu of fielding a unanimous candidate who could offer strong challenge to the incumbent party chief. The rival leaders had vowed that they would come together to offer a united challenge to the party president Deuba seeking reelection for the second time. But they kept blowing their own trumpet without taking cognizance of their oft-repeated commitment in fielding a single candidate to take on Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba as the party president. Prakash Man Singh, Bimalendra Nidhi and Shashank Koirala – the scions of the three great democracy leaders of Nepal – Ganesh Man Singh, Mahendra Narayan Nidhi and B. P. Koirala had staked the claims for the party leadership besides the others including veteran Ram Chandra Poudel and Shekhar Koirala. As the leaders in the rival camp failed to forge a consensus for a mutually agreed common candidate, party veteran Ram Chandra Poudel withdrew from the race.
Fissure Likewise, Shashank Koirala also chose to step aside from contesting the elections insisting that a common consensus candidate can alone offer viable challenge to the incumbent party leader. Despite attempts made for a breakthrough negotiation to arrive at consensus, leaders overrated themselves, flaunted their egos and inflated their supremacy and thus failed to agree to a common candidate. The fissures in the rival camp gave Deuba an easy passage to clinch victory. The contest took an interesting competitive turn to the second round after the first round race did not give a mandatory edge to any of the party president aspirants. Bimalendra Nidhi and Prakash Man Singh who finished third and fourth in the race finally chose to throw their weight behind Deuba to give him a cake walk victory in the contest.
Though Prime Minister Deuba was criticized as an ineffective party leader to argue for the necessity in the change of NC chief, a big majority of delegates finally chose to give him the responsibility again to lead NC at this challenging time especially when the party has to face the polls during the upcoming days. In fact, regardless of the critiques, credit goes to Deuba to maneuver deftly using all permissible levers to unsettle, fragment and dislodge the formidable communist government led by KP Sharma Oli and replace it by a coalition government of disparate groups under his leadership.
Though NC was humbled at the last general elections held in 2017, his quiet, non-threatening and calculated strategies has succeeded to cobble together and harness the energies of the opposition groups to create a new combination of parties to form new government with NC in the driving seat. Moreover, his affable, easygoing and reconciling leadership style especially when it comes to dealing with coalition partners has made him an obvious and acceptable choice for heading the type of government as it is now. Though Deuba was given the renewed mandate to lead the party amidst high pitched in contest, his going for the second innings will be very tough.
As pledged by him time and again with the party delegates from across the country during the party convention, he has to demonstrate his dexterity and decisiveness to ensure that NC emerges winner in the upcoming election for three tiers – local, Pradesh (state) and federal. This is not an easy proposition but not impossible given the kind of fragmentation and hostility witnessed in the communist camp. However, CPN- UML, led by Oli, looks equally confident and also better honed for the electoral showdown with the well-entrenched organisational base and resource capability especially at the local level. Another challenge Deuba will have to face as party president is to rally together the ascendant, dynamic and relatively young contingent of leadership that has filled the NC's high end structures through electoral competition.
Hope Gagan Kumar Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma who got elected general secretaries of the party have enthused and imparted hope not only to the NC rank and file but for the entire Nepali people. The barrage of felicitations they received from the youth leaders across the party divide indicates that Nepali democratic politics is impregnated with innovative possibilities and outcomes. Accordingly, the youth leaders representing the parties other than the Nepali Congress should emulate the NC way and come forward to challenge the old fashioned and obsolete leadership bent on to cling to party and the governmental authority.
Both Thapa and Sharma have committed that they would extend support to the party president especially to warrant that the party runs in line with the democratic norms and principles enshrined in the party statutes. This constitutes a distinct departure from the past as the party office bearers in the upper echelon were not active enough to work with the party president to make party run in compliance with rules and regulations. It is expected that NC will go for a new makeover and rejuvenate itself as a democratic organisation to address the challenges of the contemporary context and meet people’s growing expectations.
(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow. email@example.com)