Nepali Congress: The grand old party's newfound height

Nepali Congress is more concerned about what will happen to the Nepali society in the face of a collapse of traditional institutions and values. It is against “ultra-progressive ideas” of the Maoists.



The Kathmandu Post, May 12, 2011


To many observers, the month-long campaign for peace and statute organised by the grand old party, Nepali Congress was a roaring success and also a rare but an important event in the party’s history since the armed insurgency began in 1996. Despite doubts, the party’s rallies across the country had decent participation from not only its own cadres but also the general public perhaps curious what the old guard had to say. Insurgency now buried, the new political openness also propelled the mass.

What does it mean for the party and the larger national politics? For some NC stalwarts, it’s the NC rising out of its latency, a rebound after the loss in the 2008 Constituent Assembly polls. “NC represents hope at this point of time,” says Ram Chandra Poudel. “The event reflected that the party is regaining strength.”

Former Prime Minister and NC leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai once used a metaphor for the party, calling Congress a weed (dubo), which at times looks as if it’s nearly dead but revives to to a higher level of strength  every time, overcoming obstacles. NC youth leader Ram Hari Khatiwada draws upon the metaphor as he observes “the party has woken up again with new vigour and energy.”

For many others, however, this is not the whole story. The public participation in the campaign, to them, reflects the larger phenomenon that is typical to a society which is in a flux. There are people on each side of the political spectrum-right, left and centre. 

In general perception and in view of some NC leaders, the party represents the force that does not want to experiment with “ultra-progressive ideas.” According to this school of thought, NC is more concerned about what will happen to the Nepali society in the face of a collapse of traditional institutions and values. This notion puts the party against forces that, the NC leaders believe, want to build or experiment with an entirely new structure, “either for good or bad.”

“There is a large section of Nepalis that is against both the wanton changes aspired to by the extreme left and

the status quo sought by the conservatives,” says S. Aniruddh Gautam, an analyst. “They are in search of moderates and they find that in NC.”     

NC leaders acknowledge that one reason the party appeals to the larger public is its “stand” on how the state should be restructured.

NC has opposed ethnicity-based federalism, rejected granting preferential rights to a dominant ethnic group in a region, stuck to the Westminster model of democracy and pitched for a largely direct electoral

system. For new forces such as the Maoists and the regional and ethnic parties, NC’s stand is not very “progressive” and represents “status quo,” as it does not address the people’s “aspirations for change”.

“The public support is for the values and principles that NC advocates,” says NC leader Bal Bahadur KC. “Congress is not against change but of course it is against untoward changes. We are carrying this sentiment in the society which is witnessing radical ideas of the extreme right and the extreme left. Our moderate stand is what the people like.” Poudel found the people, particularly in the Far West, actually abhorred the concept of ethnic-federalism. “They feel the concept would only divide the country. They rallied behind us in support of our stand on federalism because we represented them.”

A section in the party, however, takes the event normally. They say NC managed to steer the mass because of the newfound political openness. “Earlier, people used to fear taking part in certain political gatherings. Now, they can participate fearlessly in any political event,” says NC leader KB Gurung. “But I don’t believe this is a rebound for NC. People have always wanted to listen to what Congress has to say. Only time will show whether Congress can cash in on their sentiments.”

[The scribe can be reached at kamal.sigdel [at]]

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