Nepali Congress, RSP Lock Horns

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The largest opposition party, the Nepali Congress (NC), and a crucial partner in the ruling coalition, the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), have recently been involved in a political standoff that has interrupted House of Representatives sessions. Some prominent Nepali Congress politicians have expressed their displeasure with the Home Minister and Rastriya Swatantra Party chair, Rabi Lamichhane, over, what they have termed, his misuse of cooperative savings.  

Although the RSP chair has flatly denied any misconduct, Congressmen have urged that a parliamentary investigative team be formed to look into the allegations. Congressmen have rallied around this issue, halting House business for some days. They have warned that they will not allow the Home Minister to speak in parliament unless a probe panel is created. Over the last few weeks, Congress functionaries, particularly noted youth leaders such as Gagan Thapa, Bishwa Prakash Sharma, Pradeep Poudel, Badri Pandey, and senior leader Ramesh Lekhak, have urged the government to investigate the Home Minister's role in the cooperatives' misappropriation of funds.

Arrest warrant  

The NC also attempted to ‘expose’ the RSP chair's relationship with Gitendra Babu (GB) Rai, whom the police have charged with a larger cooperative scam and against whom Interpol has issued an arrest warrant. Lamichhane was a partner with the absconding Rai in Gorkha Media, which controlled the Galaxy Television Channel, before forming his new party and leaving his job as a news anchor. The Home Minister has said he had nothing to do with all of Rai’s financial malpractice.  

Following the Congress' attempt to discredit the Home Minister, Lamichhane challenged NC general secretary Thapa to an open public discussion in which he would seek to clarify all charges against him and even expose those who have implicated him in 'baseless' allegations. But the Congress has not accepted this challenge, as it says it is "certain" that some records demonstrate the Home Minister's wrongdoing.  

Why have Congressmen reacted so harshly to the RSP chair following the sudden change in the ruling coalition? The Congressmen have stated that the Prime Minister caused the move in the ruling coalition, which would not have been feasible if Lamichhane had not agreed to become a prominent component in the new alliance. According to others, several Congress leaders approached the RSP chair, suggesting that he not join the new coalition but instead support the Congress in the aftermath of PM Prachanda's surprising move to restructure the coalition by alienating the NC. However, the RSP chair ignored the Congress and became Home Minister in the new administration.  

The Congress subsequently began attacking Lamichchane, claiming that his alleged involvement in cooperative fund misuse, along with his position as Home Minister, presented a conflict of interest. Since none other than Prime Minister Prachanda has dismissed all allegations against the RSP chair while addressing the House, claiming that no report of fraud against the Home Minister has been registered, it appears that the Congress will have a difficult time forcing the Home Minister to resign as long as this coalition remains intact.  

House disruption, or preventing the Home Minister from addressing the House, appears to be a political method used to put pressure on the present coalition. According to reports, following its unexpected departure from the erstwhile ruling alliance, the Nepali Congress attempted to persuade the UML and its chairman, KP Sharma Oli, to join it in forming a government. If the two parties agreed, the new administration would have a nearly two-thirds majority, enough to change numerous articles of the constitution necessary to rectify the country's current political peculiarities.  

According to many commentators, the country has suffered as a result of political instability in the centre and provinces caused by constitutional provisions that create hung parliaments in which parties in third, fourth, or lower positions become kingmakers. Many observers believe that if our officials truly want to provide stability, which is necessary for progress and prosperity, they must modify the current scenario. The Maoist Centre, which has 32 seats in parliament, and the RSP, which has 20 seats, are currently significant members of the five-party ruling alliance.  

The largest party, the Congress, has, in the in the meantime, become an outsider, while the second largest party, the UML, has been used to changing governments. Many say that because of the UML's participation, the Maoist Centre's chair was able to change governments three times in about a year and a half while remaining Prime Minister. Some saw this as a political masterstroke by PM Prachanda, who once stated that he was willing to kick anyone who attempted to encircle him and cause political upheaval. However, the NC has strongly desired to give the PM a dose of his own medicine by siding with the UML.  

UML's backing 

It is true that the current alliance will continue to exist as long as the UML deems it necessary. Clearly, the UML remains the cornerstone of the current ruling coalition. It has given Oli power in determining the fate of the current administration. Meanwhile, despite the fact that the RSP is a party with no communist tendencies, the RSP chair appears to be more at ease with the UML than with the Congress. The UML has lately thrown its weight behind Lamichhane, with its chair, Oli, dismissing charges labelled against him.  

To summarise, despite coming down hard on the RSP chair, Congress leaders will have a difficult time getting him out of his position. This raises another question: would they continue to disrupt House proceedings even though their attempt was unsuccessful? The Congress, a party built on the premise of a multi-party parliamentary form of administration, appears to be split at the moment and seeking a way out, but it still intends to put pressure on the government and the Home Minister until a new favourable situation emerges.  

(Upadhyay is former managing editor of this daily.)

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