Uneasy marriage

The Nepali Congress split up mainly because of its internal struggle over power and position. Reunification efforts are stumbling over similar issues. But time seems to be running out for now, given that the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections are only three months away. Sher Bahadur Deuba, president of the breakaway NC-D, vented his frustration in public on Saturday at the lack of result from the unity talks. He threatened to declare the unity talks “abortive” at this week’s NC-D central working committee meeting, and then move on to a “campaign of party organisation” for the polls. According to him, the unity efforts “turned into disappointment” and the time “had run out for unification”. Accusing the parent party establishment of dilly-dallying, he complained that “because of the unity talks, we could not even organise”. NC-D leaders say they had “shown utmost flexibility but the Congress leadership ignored us”.

Deuba has a valid point. After reunification, the NC-D would cease to exist. So, entanglement in unity efforts affects its full and independent working, psychologically and practically. But both Koirala and Deuba want unity, not for anything but to boost the Congress’ poll prospects. On Koirala’s reckoning, the Congress may suffer a “considerable loss” with the NC-D fighting the elections as a separate party in the first-past-the-post phase, which accounts for about half the seats in the CA polls. The NC-D leadership’s fear is that without the parent party’s banner, the NC-D might go the way of the CPN-ML, the then breakaway from the CPN-UML. This is likely to give the Leftists an electoral advantage, a calculation that prompted the Congress’ friends at home and abroad to urge unification.

However, personal and factional interests have come in the way. Both leaders are ready for unification, but on their own terms as far as possible. Besides, there are people on both sides of the divide who think they might lose status and power in the post-unity party adjustments. That is why not much has come of a series of meetings that has taken place after a task force was formed to sort out the unity issues. Deuba appears interested in the settlement of the leadership question of the unified party after Koirala’s disappearance from the scene. This also brings to the fore the lack of self-confidence in second-generation Congress leaders, including Deuba. They want to be anointed by Koirala as his successor, rather than win over the party on their own merit in a democratic manner. The impasse revolves round such issues as precedence, induction of members into the CWC, allocation of important central posts such as vice president and general secretary, the distribution of the central departments, and party posts from the regional down to the grass-roots level. Strong factional mentality that has developed in the Congress over the years is unlikely to go away even after unification. It may flare up in the future, particularly after the marriage of convenience is over.