Congress should have courage to transform itself into an ultra-centrist force by amalgamating pragmatic, progressive and nationalist agendas
Historically, progressive forces in Nepal had cherished the dream of a democratic constitution by the dint of a Constituent Assembly. The dream was finally realized in 2015, after seven decades. Over this time, there was constant struggle between feudal and socialist elements. In the long run, this struggle silently paved the way for radical communism and eventually to the birth of Maoist insurgency, which in turn spelled doom for monarchy. Monarchy had been widely seen as a force opposed to the sovereign basic law, but realizing the compulsions of a small country surrounded by two mighty neighbors, it championed nationalism.
Coming to today, it has been more than two years since the promulgation of inclusive constitution, but the niggling political transition continues. The budding democracy has been under duress mainly In the midst of all this, the recent left alliance has caught everyone’s attention. There had been similar attempts in the past as well. But timing this time was crucial, the alliance taking place right on the eve of elections for union as well as provincial governments. As Nepal is in the critical stage of crafting new political structures, such a political development was highly meaningful. Possible implications of the alliance are still being speculated from different perspectives.
In the past, too, an attempt was made to polarize politics in the name of left alliance. After the first Constituent Assembly elections in 2008, the victorious CPN (Maoist) party had made such an uncalled-for effort. This at a time when there was an acute need for reconciliation, accommodation and unity among pro-change forces. In July 2008, in spite of disagreement of Nepali Congress President and mentor of peace process, GP Koirala, the UN recognized the ‘High Level Political Mechanism’, which, not incidentally, was led only by the ruling Maoists and CPN-UML.
Back then, senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai had even said, “We needed Nepali Congress to abolish monarchy. Now, we could go ahead along with left forces alone.” An ulterior motive to create hostile ideological camps to squeeze centrism was thwarted by Koirala’s political acumen. His genius lay in the fact that he could do so without hurting the ongoing peace process.
As this article focuses on political polarization and centrism, it may be relevant to talk about Nepali Congress: a centrist political force since its inception and a bulwark of social change. This party is senior- most socialist party in the South Asia. This is why it is the current vice-chair of the august Socialist International, with NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba holding the prestigious post.
In Nepal’s checkered political history, Nepali Congress has led all the major political revolutions. Of late, under its stewardship, the issue of Maoists insurgency too was resolved and peace reinstated in society. GP Koirala, in spite of warnings from some powerful nations that still treated the Maoists as pariahs, continued on the importance of completing the peace process by taking the Maoists along.
NC’s confidence and strength while dealing with these historic challenges emanate not only from its visionary and iconic leaders from Tarai as well as from hills, namely BP Koirala, Ganeshman Singh, Ramnarayan Mishra, Radhakrishna Tharu, Mahendra Narayan Nidhi, Diwan Singh Rai, GP Koirala, Suwarna Shamsher JBR, KP Bhattarai and so on. The confidence also came from its strong ideological underpinnings.
Towards golden mean
NC’s philosophy of democratic-socialism is built on the foundation of centrism. The bigger the share of “centrism” or “golden-mean,” higher is the stability of the respective society, and extremism shall have no place there. But in recent times NC’s guiding principle is fading. The Congress position on core issues is now indistinguishable from other rightist and leftist forces. Taking advantage of this, the utilitarian leftists and radical regional elements are bent again on squeezing the country’s leading centrist force and paving the way for left and right extremism. The conundrum is that the country’s rightist-nationalist elements, with which NC now has an electoral alliance, are likely to be fly-by-night opportunists. Does the Congress leadership realize this?
Hence, in the face of the new adverse climate, NC leadership, instead of being swayed by leftist attempt to polarize politics, should be focused on completing one main and two auxiliary tasks. As country’s transition is incomplete, it is NC’s main responsibility is to keep centrist politics well and alive. If Congress can do so, it will lure both leftist and rightist planks, leading to three significant gains.
First, holding fast to its centrist position will help Congress reduce growing polarization, which, as experience from elsewhere suggests, is detrimental to the health of least developed countries (LDCs). Especially in Nepal, with its long transition, a confrontational political environment can be costly. Second, centrism will also keep NC from being marginalized. Third, it will be a great gift to a society that seems headed for an inevitable clash. In the broader context, this will also be in the interest of our neighbors.
Of the two auxiliary tasks I talked about earlier, one concerns management of intra-party feuds between centre-right and centre-left elements. Able management will also make Congress a stronger centrist force. The last challenge is rejuvenation of frail organizational networks of the region’s senior-most centrist cum social democratic political force.
Have the courage
Again, to address all these challenges, Congress, which has historically discharged its domestic and foreign duties with such confidence and pride, needs to revive its revolutionary centrist image. Given the country’s preparedness for political transformations and realignments, NC should have the courage of transforming itself into a radical or ultra-centrist force by amalgamating pragmatic, progressive and nationalist agendas in its political programs.
Simultaneously, it must make a call for fundamental reforms of nation’s strategic institutions, as most of them either are redundant or rusty. Indeed, Radical Centrism helped the Western World overcome scores of sociopolitical challenges in the late 20th Century. It can likewise help Nepali Congress regain its lost space in Nepali politics.
The author has served as Nepal’s ambassador to the US and the UK