The Nepali Congress recently conducted a training in Denmark. Top NC leaders took part in the event. However, the event drew criticism from a section of NC leaders, who said the NC was holding a training programme abroad when it was doing nothing at home to orient workers. The NC also recently concluded the first phase of its year-long National Awareness Campaign, which was again marred by factionalism. Observers have also been writing off the NC stating that the party was doing nothing to revive its organisation after its humiliating election defeat. They charge that it’s just waiting for the government to lose credibility so that it can win another election. In this backdrop, Ram Kumar Kamat and Roshan S Nepal of The Himalayan Times caught up with NC Vice-president Bimalendra Nidhi to talk about the party’s priorities. Excerpts:
You recently visited Denmark for a training organised by the Nepal Liaison Committee. However, a section of NC leaders have criticised the event saying the NC was holding a training programme abroad at a time when it was doing nothing at home to orient workers What’s your take?
If people criticise just for the sake of criticism, we can’t do anything about it. But we have conducted around 15 such programmes in Nepal. After I was elected the party’s vice-president, we held two programmes inviting experts and intellectuals. Immediately after that, we held a national training programme for mayors and deputy mayors. We have also conducted training for sister organisations.
Constituting the Central Policy and Training Academy took some time because of preparations for the Maha Samiti. Delay in constituting the academy affected training programmes, but we did organise programmes.
In the recently concluded first phase of the awareness campaign, we conducted training in all 77 districts deputing central committee members. The academy also marked Republic Day with an interaction and Deepawali in all 77 districts during the awareness campaign. In Kathmandu, the academy organised a three-day event to mark Republic Day.
We have announced 14 more programmes — two in each province — to train General Convention representatives. We will also conduct training for chiefs and deputy chiefs of rural municipalities and train active members. So it is wrong to say we only conducted training in a foreign country. In fact, such training programmes have been taking place and have been attended by senior NC leaders. But controversy surfaced only during my visit. That’s not fair.
We conducted training for liaison committees at the global level. This was also a pre-planned programme as our friends in Denmark had long been requesting such a programme. Moreover, the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy had invited me, among other leaders, to attend an event there.
What opinion did the Nepali diaspora express in the programme?
The Nepali diaspora wants democracy, stability and peace strengthened. It also wants an investment-friendly environment in Nepal. They also desire to contribute to Nepal and Nepalis. Members of the Non-Resident Nepali Association participated in our three-day training with keen interest, looking for roles to contribute to Nepal.
They want to contribute in two ways — through knowledge, skills and money they have earned there and by exploiting their contacts there to encourage foreign investment in Nepal.
We also discussed external voting for Nepalis living abroad, and advanced democratic, electoral and human rights practices in European countries. More than 200 representatives from 24 countries attended the event.
Coming to the NC’s internal issues, senior leader Ramchandra Paudel recently said ‘the country wants to get rid of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and the NC wants to get rid of NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba’. What do you say?
I do not know if Paudel made such a comment. But in my opinion, the right to select the president and office bearers lies with the general convention. There are leaders who want to become party president. But just wishing and making public comments will not help. You need to win elections. So those vying for the top post are free to convince general convention representatives and win in the next general convention. So this issue is irrelevant.
A section of NC leaders say the party establishment is trying to postpone the 14th General Convention. What’s your take?
That’s not true. But provisions in the amended party statue make holding the general convention on the stipulated date impossible. Even if the decision making authority is given to Paudel and Krishna Prasad Sitaula, the general convention cannot be held by March. Earlier, the general convention used to be organised with representatives from 240 electoral constituencies. But the number of constituencies is now 165. Earlier, 12 representatives came from each of the 240 constituencies, but the amended statute has provisioned 25 representatives from each of the 165 constituencies. So, we first need to constitute bodies in all 165 constituencies.
Moreover, as per the statute, we need to form interim committees in the constituencies through a convention to elect representatives for the 14th general convention. This means we will be holding two conventions for forming interim bodies before the 14th general convention. Without interim committees, preparations for the general convention cannot begin. The statute’s provision on interim arrangement for the transition phase states that a convention of existing general convention representatives will form interim committees.
The amended statute was endorsed by the CWC two months ago. Only adopting a statute is not enough. We also need to put in place rules. Forging consensus for setting up the rules drafting committee took a lot of time. It was recently formed under Ramesh Lekhak. Unless the rules are endorsed, the party organisation cannot be restructured as per the amended statute. This is a very simple issue, but I don’t know why such knowledgeable leaders don’t understand.
Why the delay in constituting the NC’s sister organisations and filling various divisions of the party?
A section of NC leaders are saying the party establishment wants to bulldoze its decisions by sidelining leaders from rival factions. This is wrong. Had we planned to take decisions unilaterally, we would have completed the tasks much earlier. NC President Deuba has held talks with leaders such as Paudel, Sitaula, Ram Sharan Mahat and Prakash Man Singh, among others. We formed a discipline committee, election committee, and rules drafting committee through consensus. So forging consensus is taking time and it’s a loss for the party.
We say office bearers should be elected, not nominated, to strengthen internal democracy. This also means elected president and office bearers should be allowed to work. But when the party president tries to exercise his power, they (leaders of rival factions) put forth their conditions and are adamant. Can the basis for consensus only be the party president agreeing to any proposal put forth by those who have been defeated?
The right to appoint division chiefs lies with the party president. But Paudel and Sitaula want certain divisions to be allocated to them. Paudel has said he wants two among Organisation Division, Foreign Affairs Division, Public Relations Division and Publicity Division. Do you think it is justifiable? The party president has said such things won’t be entertained anymore. He has said he will try again to forge consensus. If it’s not possible, he will take decisions.
NC lost the last elections. Do you have a plan to revive the party?
Yes, of course. The ongoing awareness campaign is part of that plan. We have also placed high priority on training programmes. The awareness campaign and trainings have set three targets. The first is, mobilising the NC family from central leaders to low-level workers. The second is strengthening relations between party members and people through interactions. And the third is strengthening relations between the NC and voters.
Our target is to win the next general elections, form the government and serve the people. For that, we need to win people’s trust. To win people’s trust, we need to be active and strengthen relations with people and voters. For this, we need to convey what Nepal Congress stands for and what it can do for people.
After promulgating the constitution and adopting federalism, there’s the impression that we do not have any further work to do politically. That’s a wrong notion. We still have a lot to do to strengthen the new system we have adopted. We need to convey to the people the fundamental characteristic of the new system such as federalism, secularism, proportional representation, electoral system and rights and duties of the three tiers of government. Even elected representatives are not clear about relations between local and provincial and federal governments. There’s still a conservative approach to giving rights to provincial governments. If we are not aware of these, there will be no commitment from the people and the new system will be non-functional. We cannot forever mourn election loss. Instead of passing the buck, we need to work to win the next election.
But some NC leaders and observers say the party is only waiting for this government to lose credibility. They say the awareness campaign is a failure.
That’s wrong. The NC is doing a lot of things and the awareness campaign is one of them. In the first phase of the campaign, central committee members were mobilised in all 77 districts for a month. Almost 4,000 meetings have been conducted. The mobilised central committee members do not belong to one faction. The party recently conducted a two-day meeting to review the first phase of the awareness campaign, representatives said the event had a very positive impact. NC workers said such programmes should be held regularly. The major achievement of the campaign was it mobilised NC members at all levels. The campaign succeeded in instilling new energy in party members. In the second phase, we will mobilise central leaders in 330 provincial electoral constituencies, and in the third phase we will mobilise leaders in 753 local governments. Some of our friends do not like the success of the campaign. We can’t do anything about that.
Has the government worked as per its commitment?
In the past 14 months, the government should have prioritised putting in place instruments to strengthen federalism and power-sharing among the three tiers of government.
All seven provincial governments have been formed, but they do not have necessary apparatus to run the government. They don’t have their own police force and civil service. They don’t have implementing agencies. These issues are addressed through collective effort, but the federal government should take the lead.
The government should have first made laws for the police force and civil servants. If you do not have police force, you are not a provincial government because the police force is the law enforcement agency. They should be able to control, operate and hire and fire the police force.
Provinces should adopt so as to have a police force and the federal government should make laws that clarify what remains with the federal government and what goes to the provinces. For example, the federal government can keep with it the Armed Police Force and provincial governments can have their own police force. Similar is the case with civil service.
The government’s first agenda should have been to delegate rights to the three tiers of government as per the constitution. This government is not doing these works because it is guided by communist ideology, which advocates democratic centralism. However, this constitution does not recognise communism or democratic centralism. So the ruling party should transform in line with the constitution.
If you look at bills being presented in the Parliament, they have been brought haphazardly. Bills related to Media Council, National Human Rights Commission, Information Technology and Guthi, are not in line with the constitution, democracy, and federalism.
What do you say about the government’s foreign policy priorities, especially those related to the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative, India-led BIMSTEC, and the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy?
Foreign policy should be conducted with national consensus. Forget about national consensus, the government is not even following communist ideology when it comes to foreign policy. It is childish. It neither understands Nepal’s interest, nor has it been able to respect foreign friends.
A version of this article appears in print on July 08, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.