Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Congress conundrums?


Sometime back, NC MP Gagan Thapa addressed a party meeting in a Tanahun village. He tried to project an optimistic view about the party and national politics, and assured his audience they would succeed in writing a democratic constitution. He then declared NC would govern the country for twenty years and lead Nepal's economic transformation.

Pin-drop silence.

That's when Thapa realised just how low the morale of party workers had dipped. They had stopped believing in themselves and the party. Abusing the Maoists could energise the cadre temporarily, but 'we are the future' rhetoric could not penetrate the fog of despondency that had engulfed the party rank and file. Exactly six decades after NC led the first true democratic revolution in Nepal, the party is suffering from its deepest existential crisis.

It does not have an ideological direction. Radical social democracy fell by the wayside in the early 1990s and no one quite knows what has replaced it. The party has slowly shifted to the right of the political spectrum, but neither the party nor the right wing social base have quite embraced each other yet. It does not have a clearly articulated position on any of the contemporary debates that mark our politics - federalism, affirmative action, land reform or even India-Nepal bilateral relations.

NC has lost the propaganda war on 'change' despite being the first party with a remarkably national character. As Thapa points out, by dint of political work, not necessarily quotas, the party has two Newars as vice presidents (Gopal Man Shrestha and Prakash Man Singh), a Madhesi general secretary (Bimalendra Nidhi), and a former Madhesi general secretary as the country's president (Ram Baran Yadav). By comparison, the Maoist standing committee has a far more exclusivist character. But any inclusiveness seen in NC is all the result of pre-1990 efforts by BP Koirala, Subarna Shumsher and Ganesh Man Singh. There was no effort in the 1990s to consolidate and go beyond the relatively privileged in these communities, a massive failure other parties have since capitalised on.

NC is saddled with a dull, uncharismatic leadership that has lost the art of political communication. Apart from Sher Bahadur Deuba, who commands a degree of mass support in his far west stronghold, it is hard to think of a single top leader with truly popular appeal. No one knows Sushil Koirala beyond the party and Ram Chandra Poudel has a limited base in the organisation beyond a few district HQs in the central hills. None of these leaders has ever attempted to explain the logic of the peace process to their own constituencies, which is why there is now resistance to cooperating closely with the Maoists on the ground. In the Tarai, the NC core area, the exodus of leaders to Madhesi groups has been already documented and explains their electoral disaster.

The spat at the party's HQ in Sanepa on Wednesday revealed the factionalism that percolates down to the lowest levels of the organisation. At the top, the leaders spend all their time devising plans to marginalise intra-party rivals. On the ground, the party continues to operate as parallel NC and NC (D) structures in many districts.

But just when you'd think soul-searching is in order, the party seems focused on how to get their own man appointed as governor of the central bank. NC has internalised the belief that securing political appointments for its own, extracting resources from the state for party or individual benefit, and encouraging crony capitalism by diverting local budgets to favoured businesses is the only way to become stronger.

If there is one lesson for NC, it is that this strategy has only made them weaker. The NC has become detached from its social base and ideological moorings precisely because it has become inextricably tied to the state apparatus without using it to effect any radical social change.

There is little doubt that Nepal, and Nepali democracy, still need a strong NC. But for that, as Thapa says, the party has to stop behaving like it is answering questions in an exam paper set by another party. Drive the agenda, discover your roots, engage in a generational transformation, get rid of the money launderers and right-wing pseudo academics that dominate the party's top echelons, spend a few years out of power, intervene on policy issues constructively and patiently rebuild the organisation on the ground. There is no other short-cut.

1. Satyajeet Nepali (1)

As someone else has remarked, when Prashant is not busy expounding his parochial Madhesi agendas he comes up with pretty good analysis. The one person the NC can blame for its fate is Girija Prasad. That is the man who presided over the NC's erosion of any ideological moorings and debased it to a thieving machine living off of looting the state, undermining its every institution (from police force to RNAC to other public corporations), and bringing down both party and state to its current state of absolute disarray, all in the name of "peace" and "democracy"! The lies, lies and again lies that GPK and his gang of equally empty-headed and conscienceless lieutenants promoted all throughout the 90s and continue to do so now have caught up with the party, and as a fatally wounded giant, this once tall and grand party is now crumbling under the weight of its own insincerities, lies and contradictions! 

2. Satya Nepali (2)

Under GPK, the NC became a party devoid of any principle or ideology save Opportunism. Corruption and Congress are synonymous terms now. The NC should be thankful that a depthless hothead like Gyanendra took to the throne when he did, for they then got to scapegoat the monarchy for all the failings in our society. Failings that the NC not only failed to correct, but compounded during its 12-year rule of personal enrichment and national decline. More than anything else, the real reasons for the ascendancy of the Maoists are the failings of the GPK-led NC itself. Yet, casting away all responsibility at the slightest opportunity, the NC decided to scapegoat the monarchy, and prostituting itself with the violent and radical Maoists, decided to orphan, no, murder(!), the very child it sired, the constitution of 1990, without making ever so much an effort worthy of any name to ever defend it. Murdering its own child, the NC ran after the bastard child of opportunism, terrorism and foreign intrigue. No wonder they are directionless and visionless now. They themselves killed the one vision they may have called their own. Shame, shame, shame on such shallow, fickle, untrustworthy, cunning, fiendish Opportunists! At the slightest sign of trouble you abandon all and jump ship. If ever I need to curse an enemy I shall wish upon them that they get *friends* such as Nepal's 'kangresis'!

3. Satya Nepali (3)

There is only one way for the NC to regain its stature: smash to smithereens the legacy and culture of corruption, opportunism, mendacity and short-sightedness developed by the selfish, nepotistic, feudal Girija Koirala. A culture, whose consummate zenith is probably represented by the the extremely selfish, opportunistic, narrow-minded and short-sighted 'barha-bunde samjhauta' of New Delhi of 2005! But kangresis are bent on holding on to the image and legacy of grandfather Koirala. Koirala the peacemaker! Koirala for the Nobel Prize! ..Ridiculous! Despite doubts deep in their hearts, the NC clutches Koirala close to their bosoms like their life depended on it. And the slow-poison of Koirala-culture keeps killing it. For the NC to reinvent itself it needs to kill Koirala and his legacy instead. Does it have the courage to do so?!

4. Nirmal
This time different than the "what maoists do and what new messiahs of madhesis are doing", well written article with Gagan being exemplary. He is smart, clever and knows where  to stand by. They have rallied around 25 CA members, it is good! But why can't they say: look we will be compelled to utilise our vote of conscience If the business of the NC goes like usual(and it goes like this). He is here and there expressing his insatisfactions over the performance of the govt(and lucky guy! gets good coverage in media.). Really this deal -present alliance- is a shame for the NC at every aspect but NC's so called second generation is like always with their rhetoric anti-maoists(power capture blah blah blah) and they are at the helm for years as If they are life long govt employees. Irony and incoherence of Nepali politics!

5. save nepal
great insight!

few bad apples give all a bad name. thats what happened with NC. Girija and Sujata are the core of what is rotten in our society. Koirala clan's monopoly of the party as their personal inheritance have done great damage to the party and the nation. I pray the old man kicks the bucket soon, coz things can be only better from there. also feel sorry for people like Gagan. he should quit NC and join Maoists, coz NC is damaged beyond repair, and Maoists wield too much power which calls for presence of good leaders in its ranks so that misuse of this immense power by ideological fanatics there is avoided.  Gagan is one such guy who can contribute more if he is with the right party.

6. Arthur
"It does not have a clearly articulated position on any of the contemporary debates that mark our politics - federalism, affirmative action, land reform or even India-Nepal bilateral relations."

If Congress clearly articulated its position it would be more openly against federalism, against affirmative action and against land reform and for subserviance to India. Since those positions have little support, naturally they prefer to articulate them less "clearly".

1. "NC is saddled with a dull, uncharismatic leadership that has lost the art of political communication."

2. "NC has internalised the belief that securing political appointments for its own, extracting resources from the state for party or individual benefit, and encouraging crony capitalism by diverting local budgets to favoured businesses is the only way to become stronger."

3. "There is little doubt that Nepal, and Nepali democracy, still need a strong NC."

Points 1 and 2 are clear, and also true of the UMLs and the Madheshi parties that have joined the present coalition.

But how could there be "little doubt" about point 3? Isn't it completely natural in a democracy that such parties should become weaker and weaker as they lose popular support and isn't that precisely what has been happening to them?

What's the problem?

7. Ram

@ SaveNepal (5)

If Gagan Thapa wanted to quit, he would do that long ago. Quitting is not beneficial. Do you realize how many parties there are in this country? Besides, although the NC name is damaged, good leadership can bring back the pre 1990 good name of that party. Gagan Thapa has not quit because hopefully he knows this. Say what you will about the post 1990 situation of the Nepali Congress, it's narrative is more closely related with the nepali narrative than any other. For example: the equal representation of ethnicities that Prashant talks about.

Narratives and history matter to those competent enough to understand politics as a vocation. If you listen to Thapa's interviews or speeches carefully, you know that he might understand this. Saying his favourite leader is BP, or talking about touring the country right after the republic was obtained, or even taking up farming. See how he is trying to connect himself to the larger Nepali Mileu? Staying within Congress is a part of this. American example of some good competent politicking: Barack Obama's exceptional entwining of his own personal history with American history itself [note: not trying to compare Thapa and Obama]

8. Nirmal
The question is whether this attitude still serves the NC. Certainly, everytime less and less. but it seems that the NC is not aware, perhaps because most of its leaders have many years in politics which have already knitted tons of cobwebs that segregate themselves. Far from reality and mass sentiment. Unrealistic. Moreover, most of them do not know how the poeple in the street behave and think because they have hardly been with the people there, being people(love to be kangressi netas). In other words, they do not what is to convince commoners. Hence, there are some of the evils of the NC exhibited pathetically. Because, let's not make mistake in recognising the NC's present motto: In the market, good professional triumphs, but in the political market of the NC there are other virtues essentially important, and have to do with personal "success", the silence, cutting heads and the balls, with professionalism. Ergo, no surprising that a person with his own ideas is a value in any thriving company but danger in the NC. The NC moves upside down, and it goes like this.

9. Maharajadhiraj
Gagan Thapa huh? Oh well, he seems to have known powers of oratory in modern day politics, he has mastered the art of rabble rousing speeches, he knows how to influence a gang of half-wit crowds by waxing lyrical on

10. rishav
I actually agree with Prashant on one point here, not being a NC supporter myself, Nepali democracy does need a strong NC but also an accountable, non-corrupt, serious and dedicated NC. Like them or not they are the only political center of the road party ,which is truly for democracy ultimately not for the communist version of a people's demon-ocracy. They are the standard bearing party which has always believed in freedom of speech without intimidation, respect for multiparty democracy and other democratic ideals. Their downfall has been their poor management skills, organization, ageism(pro-older politicians), dedication, internal power struggles, pro-India stance(perhaps this highlights issues about us Nepalis dealing with our own nationalism/realities), tackling of corruption within it's ranks and recent accusations of nepotism(to be fair other parties including the maoist have also been accused of this as well, perhaps this is more of a broader cultural practice of us south asians). If only NC got it's act together it is the only party which actually has the ability to bring all the other different political parties and denominations together. It is of no coincidence that when their is a weak NC the democratic situation in Nepal also becomes weakened as well. I do believe people would vote for them if they could only sort themselves out and become the democratic leaders that the Nepali people deserve.


It is interesting to note that in Mr. Jha's so-called "contemporary debates that mark our politics" economic issues are nowhere to be found; you cannot consider "land reform" to be an economic issue. It seems Nepal is just making a transition from feudalism to nationalism al la Europe in the nineteenth century. Identity politics seems to dominate political agenda and suck all the energy out of political debate. When the rest of the world is banding together into supra-national states for economic reasons, tiny Nepal is fragmenting into even smaller entities for political reasons. From economic standpoint that

12. Maharajadhiraj
Oh man, when will the NT rectify the problem of hyphens...? NT, your software has cut my two paragraphs long rant into a two liner... Say sorry, नत्र बालिन्छ टाएर हत्तिबन आएर...

13. K. K

So...NC is an rotten apple.
So.. the rotten apple is necessary for democracy !!!
Wah ! wah !...poor democracy..... 

14. YUM
 I believe this right-ward lurch is more accidental (a result of the monarchy being abolished) than deliberate and if the party comes back to it's senses, it should realize that in a country like Nepal, it is hard to govern and win elections from the right.

At it's core, the party still loathes the Kathmandu elites as much as those elites loath the party and it's leaders. Much of the right-wing social base that Prashant talks about may flirt with the NC at times but they are a lost cause for the party since their hearts really lie in either the revival of the monarchy or for General Katuwal to open a party and run for elections (if not stage a coup).

The future of the NC lies in reviving the party's fortunes in the Terai. The biggest existential threat to the NC is from the Madesi outfits rather than from the Maoists, UML or others. For the party, the road back to Kathmandu winds through Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Janakpur, Rautahat and westwards.

15. Budabaaje

Nepalieconomy is absolutely correct. At a time when our neighbors are focussing on important economic issues and growing like crazy, we have gotten stuck in these nitty-gritty things, and it looks like we'll remain stuck in them for a long time. I realize that equality for all groups is important in Nepal as it is everywhere. But in the name of this new sambhidhan and naya Nepal etc. politicians have pushed this country into a 'dal-dal'. What was the need to destroy the 1990 constitution? Even if one agrees that king misused it, that still doesn't mean that the constitution itself was bad! As someone remarked, these parties gave up on the 1990 constitution like a mother abandoning her child. They just ran after the Maoists and their 'naya Nepal' idea like brainless people. And at the lead of these brainless people was GPK. But I disagree with all those who blame only Koirala for the downfall of Congress. Who put Koirala at the top? who are the ones who blindly followed him? It's the congress party members and supporters who made Koirala so powerful. Therefore, it's not just Koirala, it's the whole party that's rotten. If a party chooses a bad leader again and again, year after year, then that says something about the morality, principles and ideology of the party itself. The NC has nothing new to offer. They thought they would steal Maoists' ideas and agendas from them (republic, federal, restructuring state etc.) and make it look like their own. People saw through it and gave their votes to Maoists instead. Congress party is completely hollow. They yap about democracy but don

16. Arthur
In comment #13 K. K summed up the problem in the article much more clearly than my comment #6.

I must admit I also enjoyed Satya Nepali's remark in comment #2:

 "If ever I need to curse an enemy I shall wish upon them that they get *friends* such as Nepal's 'kangresis'"

Both the UMLs and the Madheshi parties in the cusrrent coalition are discovering the power of this curse as their support base rapidly declines in parallel with the collapse of their kangresi "friends".

As for the economy, mentioned in comments #11 and #15, there is no point trying to focus on it while such people remain in power. Only when Nepal has a functional state responsible to its people can a focus on the economy be more than mere empty talk.

Even the "donors" have started to recognize that there is no point attempting to fund education, which is absolutely critical for any economic development, while the corrupt remain in power.

17. Satya Nepali

Budabaaje's point about the 1990 constitution deserves more consideration:

"Even if one agrees that king misused it, that still doesn't mean that the constitution itself was bad!"

Spot-on! Revolting against the king is one thing. But destroying the 1990 constitution along with it was like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There is a lot more to the SPA's quick abandonment of the 1990 constitution in favor of the Maoists' idea of a new constitution. The "bastard peace" signed in 2005 is only the culmination of an act of betrayal against the 1990 constitution, against the principles of democracy, that began much earlier. It's important to understand this to realize why the barha-bunde is a "bastard child".

An important feature of democracy is the "rule of law". But the SPA under GPK's leadership totally flaunted this principle. As per the rule of law, Deuba was well within his right to dissolve the parliament in 2002. The law clearly states that after such a dissolution, a new parliament has to be *elected*. People who appreciate the importance of the "rule of law" would have followed Deuba and gone for elections in Oct 2002. Instead they raised a ruckus and the NC split in two.

Be that as it may. Even if Deuba had not dissolved the parliament, the mandate of that parliament, elected in 1999, would have ended in 2003. A new election would have to take place in 2003 anyway. That's the law and that's the democratic principle. But what did the undemocratic, self-serving and cunning-minded Girija do? He started rooting for a "reinstatement of the parliament". And the whole SPA followed him like stupid sheep. Worse, the agra-panthi of Nepal also supported this undemocratic and anti-rule-of-law demand. In a democracy, politicians only hold power after being elected by the people for a *limited* amount of time. After that, they have to go back to the people to renew their mandate. But GPK, elected in 1999, wanted to continue to remain in power without seeking a fresh mandate from the people! What can be more "undemocratic" than this? And it was totally against the rule of law i.e. against the 1990 constitution too. This is the real beginning of the downfall.

The Maoists' insurgency was just an excuse. Elections are held in insurgency situations all over the world (Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq etc. etc.) Nepal's security sector had also indicated that they were ready to provide the necessary security for elections. They had proposed a 5-phase election in Deuba's time itself. It was the fake democrats led by GPK (who wanted to remain in power without facing the people) that was the real constraint against elections, not the insurgency.

That act was the greatest 'apahelana' and betrayal of our democracy. Note it was committed by so-called democrats themselves! Having committed this act of criminality, abandoning the 1990 constitution was a natural follow-on. To hide one lie, you need to speak a thousand more, isn't it? Politicians who didn't want to face the people to get back to power *legitimately* changed the terms of the discourse altogether. Naya Nepal, naya sambhidhan, CA elections yada yada yada. It wasn't true democrats and true representatives of the Nepali people that signed that peace agreement. It was these fake, impostors, opportunists who had already betrayed the principles of democracy that went and signed that secretive, unholy alliance in foreign lands!

The agra-panthi of Nepal, including this paper, have tried very hard to sweep this great undemocratic act underneath the carpet. They try very hard never to talk about it or make all sorts of stories to fool the people about it. It goes to show just how undemocratic those agra-panthis are as well!  

18. Keshab Raj Pokhrel

There's nothing new in saying that NC leaders are corrupt and NC is leaderless, directionless, disoriented, and disorderly. What Pankaj does above is what he does always: restate the obvious. The truth is that NC is not going to vanish anytime soon. NC is going to be around. And it might actually be reaping bigger harvests in the coming days than it has ever before. The Maoists will implode (even if they win the next election by a 2/3 majority; a party led by petty high school teachers and a geek who should have been a high school teacher has no other alternative). The terai-based parties will grind each other to dust. UML will never be able to make up its mind: to be or to not to be. NC will continue to lead the country by gathering this or that group of misfits. I'm afraid this is how the country's future is going to be like. May God prove me wrong.

19. abc

Oh ! Giddha Prasad Koirala whats up now?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)