‘There’s no coherence between ideology and conduct of leadership’

The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has been embroiled in a most bitter factional feud over the party’s decision to recommend Bamdev Gautam to the National Assembly. The dispute ensued after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli rejected the party’s unanimous decision. The feud is so intense that leaders are not shying away from predicting serious turmoil in the party. This feud has also affected the government’s performance at a time when corruption scandals are coming to light one after another. In this context, Roshan S Nepal of The Himalayan Times caught up with NCP Standing Committee member Astalaxmi Shakya, a staunch critic of the government and the party leadership, to talk about the government’s performance and the party leadership. Excerpts:

The ruling NCP is embroiled in probably the worst-ever factional feud. What’s wrong with the party?

We are a communist party. In terms of ideology, principles, functions and programmes, there must be broad consultations within the party. The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) does not endorse anything just because some senior leaders propose it. The party has been practising internal democracy ever since it was underground. Therefore, let’s not take otherwise such democratic debate.

Earlier, the then autocratic royal and Rana regimes had snatched away citizens’ rights. People’s participation in development was non-existent. We then fought a long and difficult battle against the feudal system. People have made huge sacrifices for this transformation.

The system has changed and we are now a federal democratic republic. The constitution has guaranteed citizen’s rights, and it envisages socialism. The party can no longer function in the conventional style. Therefore, the problem is that the leadership is still guided by the same conventional attitude. The leadership must be ready to give up yesterday’s feudal attitude and develop the republican attitude and culture.

As we set the target of socialism through economic, social and cultural transformation, we also talked about developing national capital. The leadership must be able to adopt a vision and devise programmes to realise these targets. I do not think the leadership has realised this.

Today, you cannot do what the feudal rulers did yesterday. Today, everything should be done keeping the people at the centre stage. Besides food, shelter and clothing, people want security, easy access to services, good governance, end to corruption and end to price hikes, among others. People do not want to live a difficult life. People are represented everywhere — from the local to provincial and central levels.

However, the narrow-minded attitude of the leadership has prevailed. The leadership seems to be guided by personal interest. If you look at things from the Marxist point of view, leaders have to be broad minded, able to love all, listen to everyone’s concerns, dedicated to serve everybody and deliver justice to all.

However, the present leadership only thinks about itself, their posts, faction and their family members. The sad part is that the leadership is even more narrow-minded than the feudal regimes. The feudal system has been thrown away, but the feudal attitude still prevails in the leadership. Those pleasing the leadership get all the opportunities without any hard work, but those working hard at the grassroots level are always neglected.

If you talk about Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, he’s made a lot of sacrifices. Other leaders fought a war and risked their lives forgetting their family members. All of us sacrificed for the country and the people.

But we cannot just say that we’ve made sacrifices in the past and sit idle. We still need to be selfless and we still need to make sacrifices. The leadership must lead by example. If the leadership fails to set good examples, we cannot expect good conduct from the people.

When we were underground, we were told by the same leadership not to take a penny from the people, face the same hardships the people faced and be dedicated to service of the people. But the same leadership has now forgotten everything and is indulging in lavish lifestyle akin to that of feudal rulers.

The people do not look at your partisan affiliation or your ideology first. They look at your conduct. This is where I see the problem. This system does not envisage narrow-minded attitude, pompousness and love for luxury. You do not attain socialism by treading on this path. Therefore, there’s no coherence between ideology and the leadership’s conduct.

What’s the solution to this problem?

I am very clear about the fact that no leader can be successful without internalising this transformation. Talking about NCP Chairperson KP Sharma Oli, he is our leader irrespective of whether or not we voted for him during the general convention. However, there’s a problem when it comes to his style of functioning. Unbecoming of a communist leader, Oli is guided by factionalism and is narrow-minded. All of us have weaknesses. But Oli does not like anybody pointing out his weakness or criticising him. This is his biggest demerit. I do not say Oli does not have the capability or vision to build the nation. But we need to understand the fact that all of us have weaknesses. Therefore, we must not think that only we know everything and others do not. There are experts and learned people. But Oli cannot take along all of them. He does not entertain others’ views. He wants to corner anybody who criticises him. Because of his own narrow-minded attitude and selfishness, he is facing problems.

Earlier, the party’s standing committee used to decide who would be the prime minister and ministers. After their appointment, the party formed a team to evaluate the performance of the prime minister and ministers. The team would give suggestions to ministers. Even ministers would sit together for discussions. But there’s no such practice now. There’s a feeling among the prime minister and ministers that the party should not intervene in their functioning.

Oli is not only prime minister but also the party’s chairperson. But we hear ministers not getting appointment to meet him. Ministers are being sacked terming them incapable. This is wrong. In a democracy, you must learn to respect others if you want respect from others.

You said the government should function as per the party’s direction. But the prime minister rejected the party’s decision to recommend Bamdev Gautam to the National Assembly, stating it was the prime minister’s prerogative. What’s your take?

The prime minister is wrong. It’s the party’s affair. As per our practice, the party decides on three government affairs. First, the party decides who is to be appointed prime minister or ministers. Second, the party decides whether to sign treaties with other countries. The third is that the party prevails when it comes to important political decisions.

Earlier, our party used to have a department of political affairs. The department’s job was to decide on political appointments after holding thorough consultations. So much so, the department would study the biodata of prospective appointees. After studying a potential candidate’s vision for that vacant post, the department would nominate a person. But now a person’s vision and capability are not considered. What is considered is whether a person is loyal to a particular leader or faction.

This is the reason behind the government’s tussle with the party. The party does not know who and on what basis a certain individual is appointed to a certain post. The party cannot take responsibility for any misstep of the prime minister or the government, while the prime minister takes all the credit for the government’s good works. For example, the heads of the party’s entire rank and file hung in shame after the recent audiotape scandal.

Is it only Oli who’s promoting factionalism? We also see distinct factions led by other top leaders, including Co-chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal.

Parties always have factions, but they are based on ideology. Every person has their own independent view. So a leader must not look at them as opponents. A leader must be able to accommodate all, including those with differing views. If a leader negates diverse views and promotes only a particular view, then factionalism arises. Therefore, a leader must develop the capacity to manage conflict, especially when we are an open society.

You talked about Dahal promoting factionalism, but I do not think so. He came from a different background and merged with the then CPN-UML to form the NCP. I do not think Dahal just wants to be a leader of a faction. Since he came from a different background, he has his own beliefs and views. But majorly, all of us are one in our target of socialism through people’s democracy, policies and programmes and ideology. Therefore, the problem is the conventional way of functioning and rigidity in relation to change.

But the prime minister has been saying that his own party colleagues are hatching plot to unseat him. What’s your take?

If he has said so, it raises serious question about his capability. This means he has failed to win the confidence of his own party members. He should have pre-empted any such situation. A communist party should run on the basis of system, policies, ideology and culture. But we are heading towards becoming a party named communist, but without any communist characteristics. Other party members will be disappointed if those in state power do not listen to the party and the people. This will result in criticisms and conflict. A person cannot be superior to the party whether the person is a prime minister or chief minister. You cannot just bypass the party and continue to stick to power for a long time.

I am not aware of any exercise to change the government’s leadership. But I think a leader has to take all these things normally. Various types of discussions take place in a party.

We do not have that culture whereby leaders retire after holding the top post for a certain time. Leaders do their best to cling to a post forever once appointed, even if they cannot work, or are not physically fit and too old to lead.

But people are not going to accept that. After assuming a post, you need to function as expected from an incumbent of that post. So a post-holder should not think a lot about losing the post.

The party’s rank and file is huge and there are many party members who are equally capable and have made sacrifices. So it is not right that only one person gets the opportunity repeatedly, and the younger generation spends a whole life waiting for opportunity. The party should now seriously discuss how many times a person can become prime minister, minister and central committee member.

The leadership must think about developing new leadership and handing over the reins to the younger generation.

Democratic culture envisages handing over leadership to younger generation, but feudal culture is about clinging on to power as long as you can no matter what.

How do you evaluate the government’s performance?

This government has immense mandate. Everybody loves this government and is ready to cooperate to make it successful. But it has not been able to function properly just because of the prime minister’s arrogance. The prime minister lacks ability to accommodate all, listen to divergent views, and listen to experts. Leaders should not themselves go on saying how good they are or how good their performance has been.

A true communist wants others to evaluate their performance.

On the other hand, the government has not been able to deliver on the immediate needs of the people. I do not say we do not need waterways or railways. But we also need to address immediate concerns such as health, education, security, employment, good governance, end to corruption and easy access to services.

Talking about the present context, Nepal has been designated one of the most vulnerable countries when it comes to coronavirus outbreak that started from China. The government evacuated Nepalis from China and the people lauded the government. But it is not enough. Instead of boosting preparedness for a possible coronavirus outbreak, the leadership is busy with one-upmanship. The government does not have a plan on what to do if coronavirus breaks out in the country.

People want easy access to services and good governance. They do not want to wait for many days to avail one government service. But there’s corruption from top to bottom.

When the prime minister said he would not be involved in corruption and not even look at the face of the corrupt, all were happy to have a prime minister with such determination. But the same prime minister made the childish claim that the voice in the audiotape scandal was not Gokul Baskota’s. This has disappointed people. People have not felt that corruption has been controlled, instead they are complaining about corruption at all levels.