The main opposition Nepali Congress recently concluded its Maha Samiti meeting. Although the major agenda of the gathering was to amend the party’s statute in line with the country’s new federal set-up, the jamboree was also expected to instil new energy in the party. However, the ruckus in the Maha Samiti over the leadership’s failure to table the statute in time exposed the deep rooted factionalism in the party. It also raised serious questions on whether party members were convinced about the leadership’s ability to drive the party to victory in the next general elections. Roshan S Nepal of The Himalayan Times talked to senior NC leader Prakash Man Singh about the achievements of the Maha Samiti and the party’s future plans. Excerpts:
The Nepali Congress recently concluded its much-awaited Maha Samiti meeting. What are its achievements?
The Nepali Congress led the promulgation of the country’s constitution. However, its own statute was not compatible with the new constitutional provisions of federalism, republicanism and inclusivity. So the major achievement of this Maha Samiti was that the party’s statute was amended to make it compatible with the country’s federal set-up. As per the party’s statute, the gathering should be held every year, but the meeting had not been held for almost three years after the 13th general convention of the party. So, holding of the Maha Samiti was in itself an achievement.
Does the revised statute address the problem of factionalism that has historically plagued the party?
This statute is a compromise document. Some were of the view that the party president should be made stronger and a presidential system should be put in place, while others were for collective leadership with election of all office bearers. We will come to know how effective this statute is only after its implementation. If we find some impractical clauses in the course of time, we can always amend them as a democratic party.
So the office bearers should formulate regulations and execute this statute as soon as possible. The party seems to be ineffective, lethargic and demoralised. To address these issues, the organisation must be made robust.
The new statute in line with the new federal set-up has brought the opportunity to strengthen the organisation. Earlier, there were 240 electoral constituencies, now there are 165. There are provinces and new local bodies. The party’s organisational structure is being transformed. So to address the present stagnation and make the party dynamic, we need to form new bodies as per the amended statute as soon as possible. Although the existing central working committee still has around one-and-a-half year’s tenure left, we can put in place some interim arrangements after holding conventions in provinces and local levels whose borders have been changed. But these things should be done immediately. We should not sit idle assuming that the communists will fail to deliver and we will again get a chance.
As far as factionalism is concerned, it is the responsibility of the president to bring everybody together. But if the president only favours people close to him/her and considers all others as opposition, it will not help. To address factionalism, the president should be the president of the party, not of a certain group. All in all, if the president abides by the statue, factionalism will end.
The Maha Samiti was to run for five days, but it was extended by another five days because of disagreement over amended statute provisions, resulting in a ruckus. Was it able to instil new energy in the party and its members as envisioned?
The office bearers failed to do proper homework. Had they readied all the documents and made necessary preparations before the gathering, this debacle could have been avoided. But the leadership took everything lightly and did not hold necessary consultations with all stakeholders. It is the party president’s responsibility to bring people with different viewpoints to the talks table and reach an agreement. But the president took everything for granted, resulting in this debacle. In a nutshell, the president and office bearers have undermined the party statute, so the desired results are not being realised and party workers are demoralised.
Now that the Maha Samiti has concluded and leaders say internal matters have been sorted out. How will the party move ahead from here?
For a party to continue to remain vibrant, it has to be institutionalised in the true sense. No matter how glorious and colourful the party’s past is, if it fails to work in keeping with the changed context, it will take no time for the party to become irrelevant. To institutionalise the party, all members, from the central to the booth-level, should strictly abide by the statute.
People’s rights have been guaranteed after all these political transformations under the leadership of the Nepali Congress. But only ensuring rights is not enough, we should also ensure prosperity for the people. The party should understand the aspirations of the public — youths, women, senior citizens and people from all sections of society — in the present context and formulate economic policy accordingly. The party has to assure that it can lead the country towards prosperity.
We need to train our party workers. Leaders and workers need to reach people’s doorsteps, understand their needs and grievances and work to address them as soon as possible.
The Nepali Congress led the promulgation of the constitution, which could not be done by four communist governments. Three tiers of election were held successfully and peacefully under the Nepali Congress’ leadership. But the party was defeated in the elections. This shows that no matter how good the achievements and contributions are, if the party fails to meet minimum aspirations of the people while leading the government, people will look for options.
A party goes to the election under the leadership of its chief. So s/he is responsible for success or failure in the election in a democratic system. But in the NC’s case, the president shrugged off the responsibility. This has raised the question whether the leadership is abiding by democratic norms.
So the party needs a leadership that can drive it in such a way that it can gel well will the general public and instil confidence in them.
The Nepali Congress strongly objected to the recent Asia Pacific Summit stating that a secular government could not promote a specific religion or faith. But in the NC Maha Samiti, members strongly raised the issue of Hindu state. Even the party’s general secretary is publicly saying that a referendum should be held on the issue. Aren’t these things contradictory?
It is true there was a signature campaign advocating Hindu state during the Maha Samiti and signatures were also handed over to the party president. But it is also true that the government violated the concept of secularism by co-organising the Asia Pacific Summit with a controversial organisation. The government move fuelled fear among the public that it was trying to promote a certain religion that would result in social disharmony and the Hindus would fall into minority in due course of time.
The constitution has clearly stated that secularism means traditional relations and culture should be protected and promoted. It has stated that people can practise their religion, but cannot irritate or antagonise people following other religions. There are also strict provisions against conversion.
Secularism means the state does not have any religion, but citizens can follow their religion without causing a situation of conflict.
As for the advocacy and signature campaign for Hindu state during the Maha Samiti, those are personal opinions. The party is always committed to the country’s constitution.
How do you evaluate the performance of this government?
It has been 10 months since the government was formed. During the election campaign, KP Sharma Oli made huge commitments and people believed him, but the government has failed to deliver. Nirmala Panta rape and murder case has shown how feeble the law and order situation is. The murder of former ambassador Kehsav Jha in Kathmandu has remained a mystery. People don’t feel safe.
In the economic front, the government has been able to spend just around eight per cent of the development budget. How can a government, which has even failed to spend the allocated budget, materialise its goal of ‘Prosperous Nepal Happy Nepali’? The government’s major responsibility is to institutionalise federalism, but the issue is not in the government’s priority. Formulation of new laws is being delayed. Civil servant adjustment is being delayed.
In the foreign policy front, the BIMSTEC Summit exposed the government’s weakness. After the summit, the government said it would send the army to take part in BIMSTEC military drill in India, but later retracted. The government has failed as far as economic diplomacy is concerned. It has not been able to attract desired foreign investment and assistance. It has not been able to receive even the investment and assistance already pledged by donors.
You just said the government has failed to deliver. But why have you, as the main opposition, failed to effectively raise the issue in the Parliament and outside?
Effective opposition does not always mean breaking tables, manhandling a finance minister in the Parliament or breaking railings at Ratna Park as was done by the communists before. We are a responsible opposition. We have been raising all the issues — national and international concerning the general public — in the Parliament. So I request the media to properly disseminate the issues we have raised so as to make them more effective.
This winter session, we will press the government to enact laws and finalise civil servants adjustment to institutionalise federalism. Poor law and order situation and poor development budget expenditure are other issues we will focus on. Environmental pollution and pollution of the river systems in the valley that directly affect people will also be raised strongly.
A version of this article appears in print on December 31, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.