Commentary: The 14th Nepali Congress General Convention

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The oldest democratic party of Nepal, Nepali Congress (NC) convened its 14th general convention from 10th December to 14th December. Sher Bahadur Deuba has reclaimed the post of party president on December 15 which means that the citadel of the power remains with the establishment faction. The rival leaders from the Ram Chandra camp along with other camps had vowed to post a united challenge against Deuba for the party leadership. Even after continuous meetings, the camp failed to elect a unanimous candidate to challenge Deuba. In the eleventh hour, Ram Chandra Poudel and Shashank Koirala withdrew from the race. The division in the rival camp and failing to offer a consensual candidate helped Deuba a passage to victory. The first round of election for the party presidency between Sher Bahadur Deuba, Dr. Shekhar Koirala, Prakash Man Singh, Bimalendra Nidhi, and Kalyan Kumar Gurung did not yield a majority. In the second round of election, Bimalendra Nidhi and Prakash Man Singh decided to support Deuba giving him an easy path to victory. Both the candidates had repeatedly expressed the necessity to change the leadership. So, the decision to slant towards Deuba, swaying the voters came as a shock. Prakash Man Singh, Bimalendra Nidhi and Shekhar Koirala are the descendants of the three great NC leaders Ganesh Man Singh, Mahendra Narayan Nidhi, and B.P. Koirala. It is speculated that the move to support Deuba is an indication of the growing friction between the families of the second generation of the leaders. Despite losing to Deuba with a margin of 700 votes, Shekhar Koirala has established himself as a powerful leader in the party circle.

Party Membership and Election Method

Although NC claims to be the singular democratic party of the country by upholding the ‘mass-based system’, it has introduced different layers for party membership. The party has two types of membership, Nepali Congress members and Nepali Congress active members; out of which only active members can participate in the vote and impact the leadership in the General convention. According to the NC statute of 2017, NC members who have served in the party for one year can apply for the active membership. However, some of the clauses specified in the document to be qualified for the active member such as ‘The hardship, torture including prison stay faced as a NC member in the party’s various programs, campaigns, and movement’ is a vague statement because it doesn’t specify how the hardships and torture will be measured. Due to these vague clauses, there is a tendency of selective issuance of active membership in NC.

The general convention kicks off at the ward level through which up to 75 regional representatives are chosen for the Provincial Assembly convention. These representatives then vote for Palika, District and Province convention. The Provincial Assembly convention is held in 330 regions through which 16 representatives are selected from each region of the province. The representatives chosen from these conventions participate in the convention of the House of Representatives constituencies to appoint the House of Representatives Regional Working Committee. There are 165 HoR constituencies which appoint 25 representatives including 14 members (four women) from the open competition, 10 from the proportional system, and the president of the constituency of HoR for the central convention. The table in the Annex below provides detailed information on the central office bearers.

General Convention and Policy Convention

The major objective of a general convention is to give dynamism to a political party through discussions on policies which ultimately gives a direction to the political party. For instance, the 11th General Convention was significant to determine the reservation seats for Dalit women, Janajati and Madhesi in the central committee. Likewise, the 13th General Convention was consequential in passing a resolution on issues including the implementation of constitution and discussions on the responsibilities of the party towards the earthquake victims. However, the 14th General Convention has solely focused on electing the leadership without discussing the party ideologies. Although the party has specified that it will hold its policy convention to discuss its ideology and goals, specific dates haven’t been fixed. Gagan Thapa, the General Secretary of the party has also highlighted in his political document, the need for a wider discussion on political, social, economic, and organizational issues in the party. This highlights the lack of proper direction through which the party will conduct itself in the next four to five years. It also demonstrates an ‘ideological crisis’ within the party.

Inclusion

NC has claimed to be an inclusive party which is also reflected in its provisions relating to inclusion. However, the results of the general convention especially in the top party positions failed to give a strong message of inclusion. In the 12th convention, Madhesis’ representation was 12.5% which went up to 14.11% in the 13th convention. The percentage went down to 8.29% in the recent convention. Despite Nepali congress’s strong presence in madhesh, it failed to elect Madhesi leaders in top office bearer positions. Only Bimalendra Nidhi and Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar vied for the top positions and both the candidates lost in their respective categories.  In the provincial convention, Province 2 elected Madhesi representatives, due to the concentration of Madhesi population in the region. The general convention trend showcased that the Madhesi representation is only limited to the cluster-wise representation. The trend was similar for women as well, since not a single woman was elected to the central member through open election.

Rise of the Younger Generation Leaders

The NC convention indicated a trend of transferring party responsibilities to the younger generation of leaders. The landslide victories of Gagan Thapa and Bishwo Prakash Sharma by garnering 64.56% and 42.37% of the 4,682 votes for the position General Secretary meant that there is an inclination towards the younger generation within the party ranks. This will allow the newer generation leaders to work and coordinate together to fulfill the general expectations and help strengthen the ideology of the party. One of the major issues across the major political parties in Nepal is the failure of the younger leadership to challenge for the top party position which has stagnated the power among the ruling elites. The rise of younger generation leaders including Dhan Raj Gurung in the party vice president has given a sense of changing dynamics in NC. The popularity of Gagan Thapa is reflective of his strong personality who questioned the top-level political leaders and also spoke to the problems of general population. Furthermore, Thapa has highlighted the need for a change in the party approach by adopting the bottom up to hold dialogues and discussions. These young leaders are undoubtedly the future pillars of the party who will play an important role in representing the values of the youths in the country.

Growing Factions within the NC

According to the Section 21, Clause 10 of the party statute, the party president is responsible for nominating 33 members for the central committee. Thus, Deuba has a political and moral obligation to appoint members from all the panels. However, the initial 13 central members appointed by Deuba didn’t include any members from the Koirala panel which is indicative of the growing factionism in the party. In a written remark, Koirala has urged Deuba to clarify the criteria for the appointment of the central committee members. This phenomenon is also reflective in the party hierarchy list prepared by President Deuba in which he has kept Shekhar Koirala at the 20th position, defying the party tradition of giving second or third rank to the nearest rival candidate. Although Shekhar had claimed to not hold any factional meeting during the convention, he called a meeting of leaders close to him. This growing factions within the party can ultimately hurt the party’s aspirations in the upcoming general election.

Conclusion

In the 14th General Convention, Nepali Congress selected its party officials and central committee members through democratic practice. Unlike the previous conventions, much of the focus has been directed solely to the election, largely ignoring the policy discussion. This has established NC as a party without a proper direction and ideology. In regard to inclusion, NC has introduced different provisions, but the representation of marginalized groups has been limited to cluster wise representation. The nomination of younger generation leaders like Gagan Thapa, Bishwo Prakash Sharma, and Dhan Raj Gurung indicated the rise of younger leaders and a sense of changing dynamics within the party. The steps taken by Deuba in electing central committee members and factional meetings held by Koirala has given a sense of growing factionism within the party.

ANNEX

ANNEX 1: List of the Central Office Bearers with Candidates Lists

Central Office Bearers
PositionNumber Candidates ListRemarks (Elected)
President1Sher Bahadur Deuba, Bimalendra Nidhi, Prakashman Singh, Dr Shekhar Koirala and Kalyan Kumar Gurung  Sher Bahadur Deuba
Vice-President2Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar, Purna Bahadur Khadka, Mahesh Acharya, Sujata Koirala, Dr Chandra Bhandari, Dhanraj Gurung, and Dibyashwori Shah  Dhanraj Gurung and Purna Bahadur Khadka
General Secretary2Dr Prakash Sharan Mahat, Dr Minendra Rijal, Bishwa Prakash Sharma, Gagan Kumar Thapa, Pradeep Poudel and Dr Rajaram Karki  Gagan Kumar Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma
Joint Secretary8Kamala Pant and Deena Mahalaxmi Upadhyay (Women); Man Bahadur Bishwakarma, Jeevan Pariyar and Ganga Sunar (Dalit); Bikash Lama and Bhishmaraj Angdembe (Adibasi Janajati); Dev Raj Chalise and Kishore Singh Rathor (Khas Aarya); Ranjeet Karna, Ram Krishna Yadav and Mahendra Yadav (Madhesi);  Farmullah Mansoor and Shekh Wokil (Muslim); Tejulal Chaudhary and Umakanta Chaudhary (Tharu)Women (1), Dalit (1), Aadibasi Janajati (1), Madhesi (1), Tharu (1), Khas Aarya (1), Muslim (1), Remote Area (1)
Treasurer1 President’s nomination and elected by central working committee

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