Minendra Rijal: ‘I am down but not out and will not ask for the leadership’s mercy’

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Dr. Minendra Rijal is a Nepali politician and former Defence Minister of Nepal. He is the leader of the Nepali Congress party. He served as Minister of Information and Communications during the prime ministership of Sushil Koirala. He was also one of the architects of the mixed electoral system that ensured better social and gender diversity in the Constituent Assembly.

On Nov. 20, Nepali people will head to the elections to elect their 11th government since the country became a democratic republic in 2008. In about a week, people will be choosing 275 members of the House of Representatives, as well as filling seven provincial assemblies. The candidate-selection process of major political parties has been full of controversy. Many established leaders quit their parties as they were denied tickets, while others filed rebel candidacies. Nepali Congress’ Minendra Rijal was also denied ticked this time.

This interview with Mr. Rijal was conducted by the editorial board of The Mero Tribune in this regard.

You were planning to contest for a lower house seat from Morang-2 but your ticket was denied and was given to another leader Sujata Koirala instead. What may be the reason?

I don’t know the exact reason. But the following could be the two main reasons behind it.

First, I supported Shekhar Koirala’s candidacy for the office of the president of the Nepali Congress and ran unsuccessfully as one of the general secretaries of his team. Dr. Koirala lost to Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba by a slim margin. Mr. Deuba did not like my supporting him, especially my remarks towards the fag end of the campaign that once the general convention is over Dr. Koirala win the presidency of the Nepali congress and Mr. Deuba will become the immediate past president of the party. He thought my remarks were below what he thinks are the standards of a decent campaign. But I do not concur with his judgment. And even after almost a year since then and having given much reflection on it, I still feel strongly that my remarks were quite normal and customary as a campaign speech. As I was Dr. Koirala’s running mate, it was nothing unusual on my part to say that we will do our best to have him replace Mr. Deuba as the president of the Nepali Congress.

Second, as I failed to win the election to the general secretary of the party, I resigned from the position of defense minister in the Deuba cabinet. A few months after my resignation, he told me that he was offended by my action. On this count also, I feel strongly that resigning on the moral ground was the right call for me. Had I not done so, I would not have been in peace of mind now.

If there is any other reason then I am quite unaware of it. Neither he nor anyone close to him has alluded to any other reason behind it.

The disgruntled leaders have long been critical of their party leadership and speaking up against decisions made by the top brass. Do you think this may be one of the main reasons for your ticket denial?

Being able to speak up one’s mind, without the fear of being summarily punished by the leadership for doing so, is the essence of a political party’s internal democracy. I value internal democracy within the party very much. I think it is much more important in our context compared to western democracies. The leadership in our political parties like in our neighboring democracies exerts enormous influence within the party. The leadership at the top, despite all the provisions of the checks and balances in our party statute, still has several ways to reward the loyalists and punish non-conformists. They enjoy an almost completely unchallenged position within the party. Moreover, we do not have the grassroots-centric method like the primaries in the US to select the candidates to run for public office.

 The top leadership can be quite subjective in deciding whom to give out party tickets to run for public office. Hence the issue of internal democracy is of paramount significance. Our party has an exemplary track record of having uncompromisingly fought for liberal democratic values for all throughout more than seventy-five years of its history. We have been as good as any other democratic party in the world. Any compromise on it is in quite a contradiction to the Nepali Congress’s ideals of unfettered liberal democratic values.

Those who have been denied the ticket have quit the parties, filed rebel candidacies against their parties, and resigned from their posts. What is your plan now?

No, I will not plan anything like that. I have fought and been active for the democratic cause in Nepal for more than five decades since my high school days when I started out as a student activist. The party and its ideals are very vital to me. Hence, I will stay and fight it out within the party. I am saying this with a great sense of will and determination.

Many parties have denied tickets to electable candidates who had a good record of winning elections, just because they were critical of the leadership. Do you think top brasses are taking parties to dictatorship?

I was punished at the whim of the party leadership. The decision to keep back the ticket was completely unjustified as I was among the few who weathered an almost unsurmountable left-front challenge and won in the previous general election. In addition, the party colleagues and people, in general, did highly appreciate my performance as a member of parliament. Even Mr. Deuba did have stated so in his written communication to me. I gave my best as a member of a very slim opposition against the formidable ruling party and I was quite satisfied with myself. But it would be unbecoming on my part to punish my other colleagues for the injustice done to me by the top leadership. I am actively campaigning for our party’s many other candidates in the general election. This gives me a good sense of duty and honor. Moreover, it has instilled more confidence and resolve in me to stand up for the greater good of the party, democracy, and nation.

Are you feeling bad for not getting a ticket? 

Of course, I feel bad. I am down but not out and will not ask for the leadership’s mercy.

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