Congress unification: A story of leadership failure

Ever since King Gyanendra dumped Sher Bahadur Deuba’s government for its inability to hold elections on time on Feb 1, 2005, there have been demands from all quarters for the merger of the two parties — the NC and NC (D) — in order to strengthen democracy and fight regression. Responding to this demand, PM and NC president Girija Prasad Koirala made a clarion call for the unification with the promise that the members of both parties would retain the positions they held in the mother party prior to the split. Deuba-led NC (D) did not react positively and dubbed the unification call a ruse to entice NC (D) members to NC.

However, unable to withstand mounting pressure for unity from party workers, well-wishers as well as the international community, Koirala and Deuba agreed to take the process forward and constituted a six member team to recommend merger modalities. For some reason, this committee did not work with the sense of urgency that the situation warranted and failed to come to any kind of consensus. With CA election barely three months away and as international pressure mounts, the two leaders have apparently agreed upon the following points.

The united outfit will have a central committee consisting of 37 members from NC and 27 members from NC(D); the general convention and general committee (Mahasamiti) members of both will continue in their respective capacities; the active members of both will be included; district presidents and chairmen of electoral constituencies will be decided on the basis of seniority, positions during the 10th general convention and their contribution to Jana Andolan II; GP Koirala will be No 1, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai No 2 and S B Deuba No 3 in party hierarchy, while Sushil Koirala will be No 4; and acting president in the united party and Deuba will be consulted in all major decision making processes.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that NC (D) has come up with a set of demands which among others stipulates that the two vice-presidents and the general secretary retain their respective positions and that the current party spokesperson too continue in the same capacity. This demand does not bode well for party unity since it undermines the seniority and capabilities of more deserving colleagues on the other side.

At this juncture, it might be useful to delve into the genesis of the split. While Koirala can be lauded for his grit, determination and stamina to fight for the cause of democracy, his capacity for institution building, fostering internal democracy and decentralisation leaves much to be desired. It was his intention to monopolise all power that prompted him to dump four cabinet colleagues without consultation with his two senior colleagues when he was the PM in the first elected government in 1991. This resulted in formation of a group of 36 dissident MPs who opposed the PM. During a budgetary vote in the parliament, the dissidents made themselves absent. The PM could not muster a majority and dissolved the parliament (again without consulting his colleagues) and sought a new mandate.

In the mid-term election, the NC fared badly and came out second biggest party after CPN-UML, which formed the first communist-led government in Nepal. After the fall of the UML government, Deuba became PM and led an unsuccessful coalition which could not secure a vote of confidence in the House owing to the deliberate absence of two NC MPs. This aggravated the intra-party conflict.

In the third general election, KP Bhattarai was proposed as NC’s PM candidate and the party won a comfortable majority. Unfortunately, Bhattarai soon began to face obstacles from his own party.

Ultimately, he was forced to tender an emotional resignation. Koirala, who succeeded Bhattarai, also had to resign in the wake of Holeri, when the army refused to attack the Maoists.

Deuba assumed prime ministership again and soon declared a state of Emergency, also mobilising the army against the Maoists. At the behest of the army, he wished to prolong the six-month-long Emergency, but the NC leadership refused to co-operate. Sensing a foul play, Deuba dissolved the House and announced mid-term polls. This prompted the party leadership to annul his party membership for three years and in turn Deuba split the party. Deuba’s inability to hold polls enabled King Gyanendra to usurp power.

In this backdrop, it is clear that NC management is weak and leadership myopic, self-centered and ineffective. After the split, the two parties have fared even worse, NC (D) more so in terms of lack of internal democracy and direction. We hope that the two leaders will be able to unite two parties. They should also pave the way for a new generation of leaders who will be able to manage the united party more effectively by instituting internal democracy, decentralisation, worker evaluation, and financial viability and equip the united NC to cope with the challenges of the 21st century.

Thapa is Mahasamiti member, NC (D)