Thursday, 28 September, 2023

NC Turns Over A New Leaf

NC Turns Over A New Leaf

Narayan Upadhyay


As the vote counting of the Nepali Congress (NC) election nears its end, the election outcome has shed light on some important aspects that will help the country’s oldest democratic party to set its future course in national politics. Belying pre-election speculations that incumbent party president Sher Bahadur Deuba would lose his post, he registered an emphatic victory over his closest rival Shekhar Koirala, touted as a strong candidate to win the NC's presidential post during the 14th general convention.

With this win, Deuba once again proved that he is a seasoned leader with a fair amount of backing from general convention representatives. His position in the party as a leader with a good support base became further apparent as 25 out of 35 candidates that won central working committee seats in the open category belonged to his panel. Also, three joint secretaries and a vice president (Purna Bahadur Khadka), who won, belonged to his group. All these outcomes have bolstered the fact that he will hold sway in the party in days to come.

Shekhar’s commitment
Another feature of this election is Shekhar, who hails from the famed Koirala family, has come out as a leader of the high reckoning despite his unexpected loss to Deuba. The result established him as the leader of the anti-establishment side of the party, as he garnered considerable votes from general convention representatives. He gleaned 1855 (40.13 per cent) votes as against Deuba's 2733 votes (59.12 per cent) out of 4633 votes cast, of which 35 became invalid.

Shekhar, even in his defeat, showed a big heart though - while congratulating Deuba for the victory he expressed he would support the party president in every endeavour he undertakes to promote unity, cooperation in and betterment of the party. He would not seek sharing of posts and power within the party and the government based on 60/40 per cent ratio and warned of staging protests against the president if he were to engage in partisan acts.

Equally significant is the vote the NC convention representatives cast for electing two general secretaries. Despite dividing themselves between the pro-establishment and anti-establishment in electing the party president and a few other candidates, they did not toe the partisan line when they cast ballots for two general secretaries and a vice president, all of whom are leaders of the anti-establishment side.
Convention representatives chose to elect popular youth leaders Gagan Kumar Thapa (general secretary), Bishwa Prakash Sharma (general secretary) and Dhan Raj Gurung (vice president). After representatives voted for these leaders, the idea that these youth leaders have huge potential to guide the NC through the choppy waters of Nepali politics has taken centre-stage in the party. With the Young Turks' victory, talks of transferring leadership to youth leaders have gained ground.

Another important aspect of this election is that many top party brasses were swept aside in the election, giving a new twist to the initial conjecture about the outcome of elections. The sitting minister, Minendra Rijal, lost the race for general secretary and was quick to resign his ministerial post. He has been praised highly for exhibiting his moral side after quitting the post following the defeat.
However, two other senior leaders lacked the same degree of morality after they lost the contest for the top party post. Initially, the contest for the party's president turned interesting, for many had thought the candidacy of Prakash Man Singh, Shekhar and Bimalendra Nidhi could make Deuba's chances weaker. The first round, however, turned into a damp squib for Singh and Nidhi as neither of them could come close to Deuba and Shekhar in terms of garnering votes.

Both of them finished at distant third and fourth places. Having no support base in the party, the election not only exposed weakness of Singh and Nidhi but also rendered them as leaders leading only a few constituencies as they belied the claim of being leaders on par with Deuba and Shekhar. They also left everyone surprised after they threw weight behind Deuba in the second round of the contest. No one had expected the two would back Deuba in the second round after losing their first round contest.

Given the pre-poll stance, many thought both would have gone with Shekhar, who had led the anti-establishment group after senior leader Ram Chandra Paudel decided not to contest the election. Woebegone Paudel decided to sit back after Koirala, Singh and Nidhi turned down his request to let him fight against Deuba as a consensus candidate of the anti-establishment group.
In the meantime, the outcome of the NC election, for many NC backers, has somewhat heralded a new beginning - it has ushered in a process of transferring leadership to youth leaders. With the change of guards in key party posts, such as vice president and general secretaries, the Congressmen can now expect the commencement of the party's transformation - more fresh hands will inject fresh ideas to bring a new outlook in the party, vis-à-vis changing political scenarios in the country. As the country has already adopted a federal system of governance, the party requires consolidation of its positions in all seven provinces to make the party stronger and vibrant.

Strong unity
Its political rivals, communists, the pro-Madhes and pro-royalist parties, have always posed threats to relegate it to a second or lower position in general elections. The last general election had already made the Congressmen aware of this truth. Any unity among communists or other parties will send the grand old party into the political backseat.

The outcome should also make the NC followers aware that they would move ahead only by forming a strong unity. Winning the upcoming general election, due next year, should be the focus of the party, which cannot be achieved without a strong bonding among the new and old faces. Since the ongoing conflict between the major communist parties - the UML and Maoist Centre - can prove a blessing in disguise, NC leaders must work in unison. The party election has spurred the party towards unity, which will come in handy in putting up a stellar performance in the general election.

(Upadhyay is managing editor of this daily.