Ahead of general convention, Congress leaders ask if the event will upend status quoSecond-rung leaders from two major factions are preparing to challenge the current leadership
As the Nepali Congress expedites discussions on holding its general convention, leaders are asking whether it will upend the status quo.
After facing a drubbing in the 2017 elections, the Congress party is still struggling to find a way. The party is hamstrung by wrangling between two major factions, one led by party President Sher Bahadur Deuba and another by senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel. There are expectations that the 14th general convention, whose date is yet to be finalised, could help find a new direction for the party.
As Deuba has shown no signs of handing over the party’s reins anytime soon, many second-rung leaders are now mulling over announcing their candidacies for the post of party president. And the list is long.
Currently, the two factions and their leaders are gauging the situation and waiting for an opportune time to make a move, say party insiders.
Shekhar Koirala is one of the leaders who have time and again expressed his desire to lead the party.
“This is my last chance to contest for the post of party president, largely due to age factor,” Shekhar, who is in the Poudel faction, told a group of journalists on Sunday.
In recent months, he had travelled across the country talking to the party rank and file and projecting himself as the next party chief. “It will take some time before I make a final decision as I have to hear from others as well.”
In the Poudel group, Shekhar, however, is not the only leader who aspires to succeed Deuba. There are other heavyweights in the Poudel faction, including Shashank Koirala, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Prakash Man Singh and Ram Sharan Mahat.
Insiders say negotiations are going on in the Poudel faction to pick a right candidate to challenge Deuba in the next general convention. Recently, Poudel, Koirala duo, Situala, Singh, and Arjun Narsingh KC had reached an agreement to call a gathering of representatives from across the country to solicit their views on choosing the right candidate.
Sitaula has so far maintained silence, but Mahat has also shown interest to contest for the post of party president.
“I will announce my candidacy at an appropriate time,” Mahat told the Post. “I am a senior leader and experienced on party and government fronts.”
In the rival camp, Deuba, however, looks safe so far, as no one seems to be in the mood to challenge him in the next general convention.
But in a bid to strengthen his faction, Deuba is trying to woo Singh.
A leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing retribution, told the Post that Singh can influence over 100 votes in the general convention because of his sway over the districts in Kathmandu Valley. “If Singh switches the camp, Deuba will hugely benefit,” said the leader.
But there are several other factors that will come into play when the party heads to the general convention, insiders say.
Before the party holds the general convention, it will elect party representatives from the grassroots. This starts with the distribution of active memberships just after the formation of the interim structure and provincial committees. New active members are largely considered neutral votes—as their loyalty is clearly not known—and they make up major decisive votes in the Nepali Congress in the election during the general convention. In most of the cases, from ward to central levels, the Congress has a long tradition of contesting elections by creating panels or groups.
Another crucial factor, many leaders say, will be Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar.
Gachhadar, an old Congress hand, had started his own party, which until 2017 was known as Nepal Loktantrik Forum. He returned to the Nepali Congress just ahead of the 2017 elections.
Gachhadar from Sunsari has been an influential leader in the Tarai region. But he has so far played his cards close to his chest. While some believe Gachhadar is most likely to side with Deuba, others say nothing can be said now.
But youth leaders say senior leaders’ engagement in power game without settling the internal disputes and finding reasons behind losing the elections will do more harm than good to the party.
Dhan Raj Gurung, who has close relations with Poudel, and Ram Hari Khatiwada from the Deuba group said that both the leaders are flexing their muscles to influence the party rank and file from the grassroots level.
Gurung, who himself is vying for the office-bearer post, said senior leaders are trying to their build own teams. “But it will take some time,” said Gurung. “Several rounds of talks have been held, but the final decision will be made after all representatives are elected.”
Khatiwada who is aspiring for a place in the central working committee again said though no one is challenging Deuba, he will face difficulties in forming a dedicated panel due to a large number of aspirants for junior posts.