Wednesday, 19 January, 2022

Congress In Driving Seat

Congress In Driving Seat

Narayan Upadhyay


That the follies of former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli caused a severe rupture to the country's major communist parties that ultimately led to the downfall of his government is as clear as daylight. Oli's political misadventure handed the reins of the government to the Nepali Congress. The second-largest party in parliament has now found itself in the driving seat of national politics. 

The unexpected turn of events compelled the NCP-Maoist Centre, the CPN-UML's breakaway faction of Madhav Kumar Nepal, and the Upendra Yadav group of the Janata Samajwadi Party to throw their weight behind the Congress president to lead the coalition government to safeguard, "democracy, constitution, federalism and the rule of law" in the country. Oli's unconstitutional move of dissolving the sovereign parliament twice to remain in power despite failing to win a trust vote in parliament acted as a catalyst for his ignominious downfall. His hubris allowed rival communist leaders to ally with the Nepali Congress, a centrist party boasting of waging myriad struggles for heralding and restoring the democratic system of polity. 

When leaders Nepal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda found themselves on the receiving end at the hands of their bitter foe Oli, they proposed NC chief Sher Bahadur Deuba to lead the coalition government after chasing away Oli from power. Leaders Nepal and Prachanda gained traction towards the Nepali Congress, a mass-based party of democrats and moderates, as it wielded special clout in the country's politics. After Oli ventured out to dismantle the fabric of the constitution with a sole design to cling to power by abusing the Office of the President, Deuba reciprocated the call to dislodge Oli from power. The Supreme Court's epochal verdict drove the final nail on Oli's premiership.
Oli's departure saw the Congress-led coalition forming a government, which is likely to be taken part by two other coalition partners. PM Deuba is now carrying out steps to smoothen the entry of coalition partners into the government. 

As the NC and Maoist Centre have already joined the government, they are now awaiting to welcome the JSP and Nepal’s faction so that the coalition government would get a full shape to conduct the government's daily affairs effectively. To facilitate the entry of Nepal's party into the government, the latter introduced an ordinance related to political parties that allows any breakaway group with 20 per cent of central committee members or parliamentarians to form their eligible parties.

The ordinance, though drew widespread criticism for the coalition government, is a succour for the Nepal-led group. Based on the ordinance's provisions, the group has formed a new party, Nepal Communist Party (Unified Socialist), which has marked the formal split in the largest party in the parliament, the UML.  The entry of the new party, awaiting a final endorsement from the Election Commission, will further consolidate the government's status against the main opposition, the UML.

Critics of the new ordinance need to remember a fact - in a democracy, any person or group can leave or join a party. If the relationship between leaders and workers sours, the party leadership must seek to address such a situation. The dissidents, who must enjoy their democratic rights, must be allowed to exit respectfully and form their own party. The ordinance did ditto. However, as with UML chair Oli, he never appears to become an accommodative leader or show any intention to address the exacerbating situation. He has so far played the role of chief divider, as he shows no serious intention to listen and address the urges and grudges of dissidents — the fundamental reason the erstwhile ruling party, the UML, has broken into two. Many believe should Oli give continuity to his self-serving motives, the UML will witness many splits in its rank and file in the days ahead.
The NC-led coalition has worked to incorporate the key alliance partner, the Nepal-led group in the government and important government appointments. In a week, the Nepal-led party would be an important player in the present government. The entry of the Nepal-led new party and the JSP will ensure unity of the coalition government, at least until the next general elections. At present, many have speculated about the fate of the five-party coalition when the nation goes to the polls in about one and half years.

There is a greater likelihood that the Nepal-led party and Maoist Centre will participate in the upcoming polls by sharing parliamentary seats between them. Upendra Yadav's JSP may also be encouraged to do the same with Nepal and Prachanda's parties during the elections. What about the Nepali Congress? Will it go into the election fray by joining forces with communists?
A large section of the NC believes that their party, which boasts of having democratic credential, must not contest elections by sharing seats with the communists. Since the Nepali Congress has a handsome presence in all constituencies across the nation, it can emerge as the winner in the next elections. 

Popular vote
The ongoing bitterness between the communists, between Oli and Prachanda's parties and between Oli and Nepal, may come in handy to the Congress in winning many seats in the first-past-the post-elections. If the feuding communists decide to contest in all constituencies on their own, then the communist votes will be split, much to the advantage of the Nepali Congress. In the past, the NC had won many general elections and formed its governments owing to the rivalry among the communists. The NC can take solace in the fact that it has a massive popular vote that will ensure hefty proportional parliamentary seats for the party.

However, Deuba and his party must remain aware that the communists, despite their current level of animosity, can forge poll alliance if they see an opportunity to win elections and to form a government. Seeking to take advantage of the communist rivalry is what the NC will be mulling to do. Deuba and his party-men in the government do not have the luxury to stay idle. Without falling into any controversy, they must perform well to win the support of the electorate in the coming elections. A stellar performance of the government will invariably swell the votes for the NC in the upcoming polls.

(Upadhyay is managing editor at TRN.