Is NC Losing Political Compass?

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Stung by its disgraceful descent from power, Nepali Congress (NC) is doing everything it its capacity to put a spoke in the wheel of the new coalition. On one hand, it has accused the Prime Minister and CPN-Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda of betraying the mutual power-sharing deal. On the other, it is disrupting the meetings of House of Representatives (HoR), demanding the resignation of Home Minister Ravi Lamichhane over his alleged involvement in misappropriation of cooperative funds. But it is not making internal assessment as to how its own series of actions led to the collapse of the erstwhile coalition. 

The rival factions within the NC have finally smoked the peace pipe, thanks to PM Prachanda, who kicked it out of the government to suit the emerging political expediency. Anti-establishment faction, led by Shekhar Koirala and general secretary Gagan Thapa, used to constantly inveigh against Prachanda despite the fact that their president Sher Bahadur Deuba was obvious bedfellow of the executive head. Koirala had publicly called for toppling the government and goaded Deuba to take the helm before letting Prachanda complete allotted two-year period in office while some other NC stalwarts floated the idea of passing the mantle to CPN-Unified Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal. These sorts of overtures aimed to break the coalition by none other than NC's rival group.

Premature attempts

On the other, general secretary Thapa had made premature attempt to remove Deuba from the party's (PP) parliamentary leader. This move came to naught as Deuba has a strong grip on both party's central committee and the PP. Koirala had softened the tone against Deuba but Thapa refused to relent as seen in his political report in the Mahasamiti conclave that concluded in the third week of  February. Thapa had insisted that NC would not enter pre-poll alliance with any political party. The establishment side tried hard to remove this point from Thapa's document but to no avail. And Thapa's anti-alliance posture, which the Mahasamiti endorsed unanimously, was the last straw that broke the camel's neck.

However, both Thapa and Koirala had set a common goal – dismantle the coalition – so that Deuba would be rendered weak in the national politics because being the head of the largest party, Deuba held the key to  eight-party coalition. For this, they did not hesitate to maintain a double standard. Following the three-tier polls held in November 2022, the NC emerged as the biggest force followed by the UML and the Maoist Centre as the divided communist parties contested the polls separately. It was natural for the NC to stake its claim to the premiership but it would amount to weaselling out of previous five-party deal to support the Maoist chair Prachanda to head the new government. Thapa and Koirala had egged Deuba on not to give up the premiership. As Prachanda became the PM with the backing of UML, Thapa and Koirala lashed out at Deuba for breaking the alliance and losing the opportunity to lead the coalition government. 

In the previous alliance, it had been alleged that the NC did not allow the PM to act freely, especially when it comes to handling the matter of economy and foreign policy. The PM wanted to form a high-level committee to study and find a solution to the economic recession but Minister for Finance Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat flatly snubbed the former’s proposal, which was not expected in the parliamentary system. When PM Prachanda visited China last September, the NC leadership was adamant that Nepali side not sign any agreement to implement cooperation projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework. 

Media reports claimed that PM Prachanda had talked with the NC leaders over phone from Beijing, seeking their consent to BRI projects. He said: “If we do not sign an accord on BRI projects, our visit will turn bland.” Despite the PM’s request, the two nations could not make a breakthrough in picking and executing the BRI projects. Meanwhile, Nepal did not adhere to non-aligned policy when it voted in favour of a resolution condemning Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine during a voting at the United Nations two years ago. Nepal showed a pro-West tilt when NC was in charge of the Foreign Ministry. 

Diplomatic dexterity

This contrasted the position of most South Asian countries that remained neutral on the matter. India, Nepal’s southern neighbour, demonstrated diplomatic dexterity on Russia-Ukraine conflict. Its stance paid off when Russia supported to promptly rescue its citizens who were working in the Russian army and fighting against Ukraine. But there is little progress in rescuing Nepalis who are recruited in Russian army and sent to frontlines of ruthless war. Families and relatives of those enlisted in the Russian army are wailing and weeping before the media and concerned authorities, calling for the release of their men from the battlefields.  Diplomatic observers attribute this delay to Nepal’s failure to stick to a balanced foreign policy on the tricky geopolitical issues. 

Situated in a sensitive geostrategic location, Nepal cannot afford to conduct foreign policy with flippancy. It should be able to muster trust and economic support from its neighbours, all friendly nations and international community. The political parties - be they ruling or opposition – must not deviate from the country's cherished non-aligned foreign policy by keeping national core interest at the centre. As the largest and oldest party, the NC is not supposed to lose its compass in dealing with domestic politics and foreign policy. Now in opposition, it must play a constructive role, contributing to stability, good governance and economic development. Penchant to flirt with unnecessary political gambit will only boomerang in the long run. 

(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)

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