'The Nepali Congress better change or it's finished'
Narahari Acharya, 55, is a symbol of rebellion within his party. As a member of the central working committee of the Nepali Congress (NC), he has been representing the voices of "progressive" young generation cadres in the party. He joined politics in the mid-1960s as a young student leader. Acharya, who has been the most vocal critic of the old leadership in his party, had filed his candidacy for the post of central chairperson during its 11th general assembly with constituent assembly, state restructuring, end of the monarchy, and, more emphatically, intra-party democracy as his agenda.
At a time when the party and most of its top leaders have faced "unexpected" defeat in the election, Acharya, who won from Kathmandu Constituency-5, spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post over a range of issues concerning his new role in the party in the post-polls scenario, the confusion over the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly and the future course of the NC leadership.
Q: People see much significance in your election victory [amid the wipeout of the NC's top leaders]. Would you say you have emerged as a savior?
Acharya: Not exactly. I am not tempted to see things that way. However, what I believe is that we have to make some concrete efforts to rescue the NC. Still, the election result does not mean defeat of the NC's principles and values, it means defeat of the leadership. We must move ahead. There are ways, and it is possible to restructure the party.
Q: What sort of role will you play in that restructuring?
Acharya: The NC, as a democratic party, has a very difficult role to play. Our main objective is to write a democratic constitution even though we have fewer members than other parties in the CA. It is the Maoists who are ahead; the UML has also gained some seats. Parties that follow Marxism, Leninism and Maoism as their basic principle make up a majority. This makes it challenging for us to create a constitution which upholds loktantrik values.
Establishing a republic is not our worry now. It is everybody's agenda. But how to establish and secure loktantrik values such as human rights, individual rights, free press, free legislature, rule of law and academic freedom is our major concern. And I think the people look to the NC to safeguard these values.
People have both expectations and suspicions with regard to the Maoists. They have got their hopes up because it is a new force. At the same time, they are apprehensive because of their standards. This is where the NC has a role to play, and this is where I see my role.
Q: Your party seems to have an aversion to change. Will you be able to execute your reform agenda under the same leadership?
Acharya: It must change. The failure in the election is the failure of the leadership. We never bothered to do an introspection and stuck to the belief that the April Movement defeated only the king. But the movement was an attempt to remove other regressive elements too. We never paid heed to these things. The NC did not see the change that had occurred and the new level of awareness among the people.
That's why we have called the 12th general assembly through which we will not only bring changes in the party but also rebuild it in a new form.
Q: That's what your party members have been talking about for a long time. But nothing has happened.
Acharya: That is why I say it is not enough to only reform the party. We need a new constitution. Despite such an ignominious defeat, the leadership has not learned a lesson. It is not easy, but we must do it. In fact, the NC has no alternative.
Q: Are you confident that the young generation will take the lead?
Acharya: That also will not be easy. This reluctance to change was one of the reasons behind the NC's rout in the polls. Nobody wants to vote for a party that is slow to change.
Today, there are 3,500,000 voters who are below 35 years age. We had very few candidates and programs to attract these youth. We could not attract the 29 percent of the voters who were casting their ballots for the first time. They were looking for someone new, and they might have found the Maoists. I don't agree that they voted for the Maoists because they believed in them fully. Neither did they vote for the Maoists because they supported Maoism.
The NC should understand that it has to remodel itself. It will focus on change, and the members will go along with it. But I don't think the leadership will support the move.
Q: Will the Koiralas retain leadership of the NC, for instance, if Sushil Koirala or Sujata Koirala were to be nominated as the next chairperson?
Acharya: The Koirala family is not in a position to continue. Girija-babu morally gave up his post as party chairman when he decided not to join the party on the campaign trail. That means he withdrew from the party leadership then and there.
Q: But still GP Koirala has asserted his authority to reject Sushil Koirala's resignation. What does this indicate?
Acharya: He cannot reject or accept the resignation because he has, in a way, given up his post of party chairman when he decided not to lead the party's election campaign. Sushil Koirala was nominated deputy chairperson by the central committee, and only the central committee can make a decision.
Q: It is heard that your party bigwigs are preparing to hand over leadership to Sujata Koirala and other losers.
Acharya: I have not paid attention to such minor things. What I am focusing on is the coming general assembly. And whatever the assembly decides, that will be okay with me.
Q: Do you think Sujata will be nominated?
Acharya: It is likely, but that will not be acceptable. If that were to happen, the Koirala family will be swept out of the party for ever and there will be no chances of a comeback.
Q: Does that mean the end of the Koirala dynasty?
Acharya: I do agree that there are some families such as the Koirala family which have much attraction in the NC. The NC is open to all, and anybody can reach positions of responsibility. But we have been maintaining for a long time that democracy within the Congress has never been strong.
It has an international image as a democratic party, but there has to be democracy within the party too. And that is what we are trying to bring about.
Q: You have been the most vocal critic of the old leadership, and that seems to be the main reason why you have always been sidelined.
Acharya: If one speaks of doing new things, one has to be ready to be sidelined or brought center stage. What I put at the center is my agenda, it is a secondary matter where I fall.
Q: Do you think the younger generation has the capacity to lead the party and will the old generation step aside to make room for them?
Acharya: We have been agonizing over this question. It is the desire of the NC members to democratize, reform and liberate the party from its undemocratic working style. I will do my best to make that happen. We can develop that capacity. What we see in a traditional family is that it wrongly believes that a senior member is needed to head it. The young generation may run the party in a better way. Actually, we don't have any choice. The NC better change or it's finished.
Q: There seems to be two factions within the NC for and against joining the Maoist-led government. Where do you stand?
Acharya: My stand is that the Maoists have the political right to form the government. But it must fulfill the entire constitutional process. And how it presents itself in that process will determine the type of government it will form and lead.
But what I think is that whether to join the government or not is a secondary matter. The main thing is the national project of writing a constitution. But everyone's attention is fixed on the formation of the government. Our first priority is to end the monarchy and establish a republic. Number two is writing a constitution incorporating democratic values. Forming the government is number three in our list of things to do.
Q: There are some NC members who argue that because the Maoists do not have a two-thirds majority in the CA, the NC should not give up leadership of the government.
Acharya: I don't consider that an argument at all. No one has got a two-thirds majority. Even if the rest of the parties were to join forces, they still wouldn't have a two-thirds majority. So the NC should hand over leadership of the government to the Maoists.
Q: Some say that the first meeting of the CA will be a ceremonial one and that it cannot declare a republic without first completing the preliminary procedures.
Acharya: There are three things that need to be done before the first meeting. First, there has to be political clarity and commitment. There should be a political decision regarding how to organize the first meeting and for how many days it can continue. It is not necessary that the first meeting has to end on the first day. The next thing is constitutional arrangements. We have embarked on a journey of rule of law. We are not in a state of Jana Andolan or civil war, and we need to do everything in a constitutional manner.
Similarly, we need to make arrangements for the implementation of our decisions. For instance, in the case of the king, where do we keep him? How do we keep him? What does it mean by making him a citizen? Do we send him back to his old residence at Nirmal Niwas? Do we ask the CDO of Kathmandu to issue him a citizenship certificate? We have announced that we would make him a citizen, so we must give him a certificate proving his citizenship. He was king, not a citizen, and he does not have a citizenship card.
And here's my strong objection. There has been no discussion on these serious issues. But an issue which can be settled in a couple of sittings has drawn everyone's attention. All the parties, the media, the entire citizenry and even the international community are engrossed with the same unimportant question. This is the area in which the leadership is going to be tested. Those who lead should think about this. [Published on May 5, The Kathmandu Post]