By Maila Baje
If a single garland strung across the necks of our three preeminent Koiralas is what it takes to start talking about reviving the Nepali Congress, we’ll take it.
The individual ambitions of Shashank, Shekhar and Sujata Koirala to don the dynastic crown Girija Prasad Koirala left behind in 2010 have worked to the advantage of party president Sher Bahadur Deuba. He can revel in dreariness only because of divisions among the disaffected within.
The last election cycle pushed what many still consider Nepal’s only democratic party into the opposition in the federal and seven provincial assemblies. The two-thirds-majority government of the newly united Nepal Communist Party has alienated a growing section of the electorate by its incompetence. Yet the ruling party seems to consider governance as a means of managing the contradictions brought upon by the hasty unification of the Marxist-Leninist and Maoist factions.
Instead of seizing the initiative, the Nepali Congress is all shriveled up. Deuba’s appointment of Bijay Kumar Gachhadar as party vice-president brought condemnation from across the Nepali Congress factions. Leaders accused Deuba of violating the party’s statute and principles by nominating Gachhadar without consulting the central committee. Moreover, the party statute provides for one vice-president, a position Bimalendra Nidhi already holds.
Deuba brushed off the criticism saying that he took the decision to honor the agreement with Gachhadar that paved the way for his return to the Nepali Congress. (Translation: I did it for the party.) The anti-Deuba camp knew it had to step up its pressure but members weren’t entirely sure of the motives of one another. Every factional leader is too mired in personal ambitions for the others to trust in a post-Deuba setting.
After Sujata’s luncheon the other day failed to electrify the atmosphere enough, the focus shifted to the stage where the three Koirala cousins stood. The ambience in Biratnagar was earnest enough, at least in public. Sujata didn’t let her substantial sense of self-worth monopolize the proceedings, even though it was organized in tribute to her departed dad. Shashank, too, sought to project a sufficiently accommodating image, while Shekhar did all he could to defer to the moment and show that he and Sujata were mere central committee members standing together with their general secretary.
So far so good. But, really, is this good enough? It’s not as if the Nepali Congress rank and file are clamoring for a Koirala to rescue the organization. Political parties always need the right kind of individuals to drive them. What the Nepali Congress needs, though, is ideological coherence. What does the party stand for in ways that its competitors do not?
In a given context, an individual can drive a new narrative and then keep working to justify it. But, then, a Girija Prasad Koirala also needs a Maoist rebellion, an assertive monarchy and an estranged neighbor to break away from a key founding tenet of his party.
Having abandoned the monarchy, the Nepali Congress needed to define a new purpose. As labels like social democracy and democratic socialism became expansive enough to cover the Maoists and Marxist-Leninists as well, the Nepali Congress could have sought to distinguish itself by taking distinct positions on issues such as secularism, federalism, the Indian embargo and Chinese investments.
Furthermore, when you keep touting how you abandoned your ideological fealty to constitutional monarchy, it becomes kind of disingenuous to keep harping on your role in the 1950-51 revolution. Again, if the communists are so despicable when they have acquired power on their own today, how could you not have anticipated so during a decade of post-monarchy cooperation (and especially after all of B.P. Koirala’s steely admonitions)?
Not every politician can talk about a U-turn like Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan did the other day. Those intent on marching ahead are the ones who need the greatest clarity of message and means. A garland doesn’t love you or hate you, it just exists – and withers faster than most things.