Nepali Times
State Of The State
The radical centre


When the Nepali Congress assembles next week for its 11th General Convention, its decision makers face a nation in crisis and a party snared in internal contradictions.

Unlike in the past, the party can't brush disagreements under the carpet anymore. To maintain its relevance the NC needs to challenge a coterie that has brought the country's most influential political force to its knees.

The NC began as a move-ment devoted to the transformation of Nepali society and polity. But it didn't the take the Rana-Shah establishment long to slowly co-opt the leading lights of this once revolutionary party. Congress leaders Matrika Prasad Koirala, Tulsi Giri, Biswo Bandhu Thapa, Sribhadra Sharma and Parsu Narayan Chaudhary all fell one by one. The credit for keeping the rump on course must go to Ganesh Man Singh.

It was GM who kept BP's dream alive by refusing to settle for anything less than undiluted multiparty democracy. When the pressure of the People's Movement mounted in 1990, King Birendra gave in and the sovereignty of the Nepali people was recognised for the first time in our history. But making that hard-won democracy work has been more difficult. The rot set in when the personalities of party leaders dominated the NC's ideology of nationalism, democracy and socialism.

After 1990 it gradually became more and more difficult to tell one party from another. The political mainstream shifted to the right and it was characterised by an ideology of defensive national identity based on acute ethnocentrism, mindless schizophrenia, and militant chauvinism. The parties lacked a commitment to fundamental political change, there was an unquestioned acceptance of the market economy and there was no patience for dissent

The parties had fallen into enemy territory. The royal palace had never vacated the political space at the right-of-centre and newcomers had to accept a secondary role. The NC did just that. Under Sher Bahadur Deuba and his band of political opportunists, the NC became a status quo force. Girija Prasad Koirala watched from the sidelines, unable to check his party's drift rightwards.

Deuba showed his conservative character when he prematurely dissolved parliament in the dead of the night on 22 May 2002. Had it functioned for some more weeks, lawmakers were on the verge of passing far-reaching changes in the constitution to bring the Maoists into the political mainstream.

Deuba turned his party into a palace front, and has allowed himself to be used and disposed of many times since. Deuba's departure was an opportunity for reform that Koirala failed to grab. The result has been catastrophic for the NC.

After February First, there was no way a political party could swear by a constitutional monarchy and still be relevant. Any party that feels the people's pulse can't have failed to realise that federalism, not merely decentralisation, is going to be the structure of the state in future. No monarch that wishes a constructive role can fit into such a scheme of things.

The NC must now begin to prepare itself for the day when elected regional leaders will be in command with a committee of presidents at the centre formulating national policies through a system of collective leadership. The Koiralas can't keep operating the party like a family business just because King Gyanendra is running the country like a private limited company. A political organisation needs all its members to have a sense of ownership.

It's not that NC members don't know what needs to be done, they just lack the courage to break out of their inertia. The role of aspiring leaders becomes important here: they need to stir the ideological pot so that it comes to boil without overflowing.

In private conversations, NC leaders agree their party badly needs a transformation. But most of them are prisoners of the past. They hide behind the favourite excuse of all conservatives: history can't be hurried.

To say that Nepal isn't yet ready for republicanism is an insult to thousands of martyrs who laid down their lives for assertions of people's sovereign rights. The NC must now get over its complacency and rise up to seize its radical centre once again. That is its destiny, and only that will mean that it values democracy.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)