Congress proposes August 23-26 for convention, but its confusion persistsThe party continues to be divided over whether it should make its strategy with elections in focus, as Deuba wants, or strongly oppose House dissolution, as demanded by the Poudel faction.
The Nepali Congress is considering holding its 14th general convention on August 23-26 by extending the terms and mandate of all party committees by six months starting from the first week of March.
The party had earlier decided to hold its general convention from 19 to 22 of this month in Kathmandu, but due to organisational issues, failure to distribute party memberships and the Covid-19 pandemic, the plan was put on the backburner.
Party spokesperson Bishow Prakash Sharma said a proposal to hold the general convention on August 23-26 was made during Wednesday’s Central Working Committee meeting.
The party has proposed extending the current terms of all party committees—Central Working Committee, 77 district committees, 165 electoral constituencies, 330 provincial party committees, 753 local bodies and 6,743 ward committees—by another six months after their current terms and mandate expire in the second week of March, according to Sharma.
Ever since it faced a drubbing in the 2017 elections, the Congress party has been a divided house. Growing factional feud had made the party hobble so much so that it was failing to play even the role of the main opposition in an effective way.
The Congress has been sharply divided along factions led by party President Sher Bahadur Deuba and senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel.
Technically, the party’s deadline for holding the general convention is before March 3.
For the party, which was unable to decide on its general convention due to the internal conflict, the pandemic was a godsend.
But Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on December 20 took a drastic step of dissolving the House, which further divided the Congress party.
The faction led by Poudel has been demanding that the party must strongly protest the House dissolution and demand its restoration, while Deuba has taken a softer stance, saying the party should wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict.
Party leaders said Wednesday’s meeting floated the proposal but a final decision is yet to be made.
“Before a decision to defer the party’s general convention [to August] and extend terms of the all party committees is taken, the party will suspend over a dozen provisions of the party charter,” reads a statement issued by the Nepali Congress after Wednesday’s meeting.
Oli’s House dissolution move has been heard by the Supreme Court for over a month now. A verdict is expected by the end of this month.
If the court overturns Oli’s decision, politics will return to Parliament, in which case the Congress party sees a chance of leading the government, and if not play the role of the kingmaker. If the court upholds Oli’s decision, elections will have to take place on April 30 and May 10. In that case also, the Congress party sees a good prospect of emerging as the single largest party, given the Nepal Communist Party has now split, at least politically.
The party hence is taking the middle path so that it can make its own strategy depending upon how the court verdict turns up.
Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, party leaders including President Deuba, senior leader Poudel and incumbent and former office-bearers had held a meeting to discuss the party’s general convention and to review the agitation programmes the party has announced against the House dissolution.
“Deuba did not agree on the proposal to intensify the agitation to demand House restoration,” a senior party leader who had participated in the meeting told the Post. “Deuba rather insisted that the party should focus on election preparations.”
Poudel and former general secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula, however, pressed Deuba to make restoration of the House the party's bottom line so that Oli’s “unconstitutional and undemocratic” step could be corrected, according to the leader.
“But we could not convince Deuba,” said the leader. “He kept on insisting that the Nepali Congress should keep both the alternatives open—elections and House restoration, saying the party cannot move ahead with just one exclusive agenda.”
Poudel, the senior leader, has for long demanded that the party must make a push for the revival of the House, as Oli had taken an unconstitutional step and that the Congress must oppose the elections declared based on an unconstitutional move.
“Our party has a historic opportunity to save the country and the constitution and Deuba as the party president has to take the lead,” Poudel told the Post in a brief interview over the phone. “But the party president insisted that we wait until the Supreme Court passes its verdict.”
Deuba’s role of late has come into question from within and outside the party.
Many wonder if Deuba was in the loop when Oli dissolved the House. There are many within the Congress party who believe Deuba was in close consultation with Oli about the ordinance on the Constitutional Council Act.
Oli on December 15 had introduced the ordinance on the Constitutional Council Act. A meeting of the Constitutional Council the same day had made a slew of recommendations for various constitutional bodies. President Bidya Devi Bhandari on February 3 appointed 32 individuals to various constitutional bodies.
Among the appointees, some are said to have been recommended as per Deuba’s wish despite strong opposition from the party.
Various reports suggest that Jaya Bahadur Chand was Deuba’s pick for the post of a commissioner at the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority and Oli had diligently obliged to the nomination.
Chand was appointed Inspector General of Nepal Police by Deuba in February 2017.
Poudel at Wednesday’s Central Working Committee, according to leaders, brought up contemporary political issues and said that the Congress should strongly stand in favour of House restoration and calls for scrapping of the February 3 appointments to the constitutional bodies.
“We have clearly said that the decision to dissolve the House was an unconstitutional and undemocratic move. This decision has left the country in a chaos,” a leader quoted Poudel as saying in the meeting. “I see a huge political disaster ahead if this move is not corrected. So the Congress should take the lead to prevent the country from heading into a disaster. Our party president seems to have failed to realise this.”
But Deuba intervened, according to the leader.
“If the House is reinstated, then it’s okay, otherwise, as the opposition party, we have to respect the Supreme Court’s verdict and go for the elections,” the leader quoted Deuba.
Deuba, who was being cornered in the party by rival faction leaders, was afraid of losing his grip on the party and he had been showing his reluctance to hold the general convention.
It has to hold its general convention before the party committees become illegal and it will have no option than to seek a six-month extension.
Though the party’s committees completed their four-year terms in March 2020, the party extended their terms and mandate by one year as per the provision of the party charter and decided to hold the general convention in February 2021.
Since the February plan has already been shelved, the party committees will be illegal if their terms are not extended again.
Even if the party settles for August 23-26 general convention, it continues to face a problem—what if the court clears the way for elections for April 30 and May 10 but Oli fails to hold them and postpones them by six months to October-November.
“Actually we have been trying to convince the party president to stick to one-point agenda that we must continue our protests against Oli’s House dissolution move as it is unconstitutional,” said Arjun Narsingh KC, a central leader. “But Deuba refused to budge from his old position.”