Uncertainty over convention date hasn’t deterred Congress leadership hopefuls from vying for supportDeuba has to first contend with Nidhi and Shrestha from his own faction while Poudel has the challenge of first appeasing those from his alliance if he is to challenge the incumbent.
There is uncertainty over the Nepali Congress general convention taking place in February next year due to the coronavirus crisis, but this hasn’t stopped party leaders from announcing their aspirations for the presidency.
Including incumbent President Sher Bahadur Deuba, there are at least nine leaders from the party who want to lead the party after the general convention scheduled for February next year.
While some have publicly announced their intent to run for the party presidency so that they can bargain for important positions later,there are a few leaders who are actually preparing the groundwork to contest in the position.
Party leaders say it is not unnatural to have more aspirants in the party that has many senior leaders.
“Every leader has an aspiration to command the party,” said Prakash Saran Mahat, party’s deputy general secretary. “The scenario, however, will change when the actual contest begins.”
The 14th general convention of the Nepali Congress is scheduled to take place from February 19 to 22 next year.
President Deuba wants to retain his position for a second time. Deuba, who has not hidden his aspiration to become the prime minister, knows that he must win the party leadership fight to fulfil his dream of re-entering Singhadurbar—something he says has been foretold by his astrologer.
Senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel, who lost to Deuba in the presidential race in the 13th general convention in 2016, is another aspirant for the position. Already in his mid-seventies, Poudel believes the upcoming convention is the last opportunity for him to get to the helm the party.
However, the high number of aspirants from the opposition faction could prove to be a hurdle for him. He needs to appease the first to keep his hopes alive.
One such rival is Shashank Koirala, the current general secretary and son of the one of the party’s founders B. P. Koirala.
To this day, the Koirala clan is considered the saviour of the party by many.
And Shashank is not the only Koirala that Poudel needs to contend with. Shekhar Koirala, also of the Koirala clan, is also in the fray, making Poudel’s job doubly difficult to win over others in his faction.
Meanwhile, Poudel is also not getting any support from Prakash Man Singh and Ram Sharan Mahat, who had thrown their weights behind him during the last general convention. Both SIngh and Mahat have expressed their interest to run for the presidency this time. And then there is also Arjun Narsingh KC, another senior party leader, eyeing for the top post.
Leaders from the Poudel faction say they are concerned about the many aspirants from their side. They say their hope to wrest the party’s reins from Deuba will not materialise if they have more than one candidate coe February.
“Having more than one candidate from our faction would mean giving the party’s leadership to the establishment again. This we have discussed and warned of in several of our meetings,” Badri Pandey, a Central Working Committee member, told the Post. “We are building a pressure to have a single panel from our side and include the faction led by Krishna Prasad Sitaula.”
During the 13th general convention, Sitaula had formed a third faction within the Congress party, inducting youth leaders Gagan Thapa and Uma Kant Chaudhary.
Sitaula has been busy attending the meetings with rival factions these days.
Pandey says as most of the senior leaders are already in their 60’s or 70’s, they say they would be too old to contest for the leadership after the 14th general convention.
“They believe their chance of victory will get slimmer next time round as a new generation will be ready by then. While that could be true, announcing candidacy alone without a prospect of victory is useless,” said Pandey.
Poudel is 75 while Shekhar and Mahat both are 69. KC and Sitaula are 71 years old. Comparatively, younger leaders from the Poudel faction are Singh and Shashak who are 64 and 61 years old respectively.
The increasing number of aspirants has also troubled the establishment faction. With Bimalendra Nidhi, the party’s deputy president, expressing his interest, the path for the party leadership is not going to be a smooth sailing for Deuba.
Besides Nidhi, the party’s former vice-president Gopal Man Shrestha, also of the Deuba faction, has also announced that he too will be contesting for the party presidency.
“A month ago, I told Deuba that he should consider others for the party president this time,” Shrestha told the Post, “I am equally senior as Deuba and Poudel in the party.”
Shrestha, who chairs an organisational department in the party, said he has already started the groundwork for election to the party leadership.
But a central working committee leader close to Deuba said he expects both Nidhi and Shrestha to support Deuba.
“So many aspirants from the establishment side isn't pleasant news. The party president expects to forge a consensus by the time of the general convention,” another leader close to Deuba told the Post.
Though the race for the party leadership is hotting up, it is not sure whether the convention will even take place in the stipulated time. The party had announced to complete the distribution of the active membership by mid-August. However, that hasn’t begun yet.
The party has announced to double the active membership before the upcoming convention, a demanding and time-consuming task.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has affected our plans. The central working committee meeting will evaluate and decide whether the convention is possible in the stipulated time,” said Mahat, party’s deputy general secretary.
The next central working committee meeting is expected to be held once the prohibitory orders in the Valley are lifted. Mahat said that even if the convention is postponed, it will not be pushed by a long.
Observers, meanwhile, say if the number of presidential aspirants remain the same come the general convention, it could break the existing dynamics in the party.
“Nidhi’s candidacy will break his alliance with Deuba. Similarly, the Poudel faction will get dismantled if there is candidacy from the Koirala family,” Taranath Ranabhat, former speaker of the House of Representatives, told the Post. “There are also the chances that the leaders from both the factions will change their groups if they don’t get the desired positions in their faction.”