The ruling Nepali Congress (NC) has finally laid to rest a long-standing controversy that was proving to be a stumbling block to the election of a new president during the party's 10th general convention to be held early next year. This came about with the decision of the central leadership to renew the active membership of a small group that was up in arms against party president Girija Prasad Koirala for what it charged was an attempt to influence the outcome of the upcoming elections.
The party's central working committee met in a marathon seven-hour session at the Prime Minister Koirala's residence at Baluwatar on Sunday-with riot police deployed outside the gates to keep a motley crowd of slogan-chanting protestors at bay-before deciding to renew the membership of all those who figured in the 1995 party list and who had applied for renewal by 29 September. The applicants would have to provide valid applications, accompanied by recommendations from two regional and/or district units. However, the decision would not cover dissidents who had contested against the official NC candidates in the last elections, said spok-esman Narahari Acharya.
Renewals would also be made for those members who had been handed active party memberships by the president in 1996. This includes some Congress stalwarts such as Kath-mandu's Haribol Bhattarai and Marshal Julum Shakya, whose names had earlier been excluded by the then district president Prakash Man Singh. Singh was one of the 'stars' whose name did not figure in the roster of active members published by the NC some two weeks back. Neither did anyone from the Kathmandu district committee headed by him that was dissolved earlier this year appear in the list (against which the party received about 900 complaints).
Singh was among those leading the protests Sunday. Party sources said membership of Singh and his followers had not been renewed not because that would make a difference in the party election but because of the technicalities, namely, they did not re-apply when the first call was made and had submitted incomplete applications when applications were asked the second time. Others who will get their memberships renewed are those who joined the NC from other parties but had not had their membership renewed and those who had not been given membership so far.
The party also decided not to renew membership of those that had moved to new districts unless the concerned members decided to accept renewals for representation from districts where they had originally become members.
In 1995, the Nepali Congress had 105,000 active members. The new decision could mean an addition of 1,000-1,500, a number that falls far short of being capable of affecting the outcome of the party election although Sher Bahadur Deuba and the handful of permanent dissenters he leads within the NC tend to believe otherwise.