Nepali Congress likely to defer its 14th general conventionParty leaders cite Covid-19 pandemic, senior leader Poudel’s demands for dissolving party departments and non-distribution of active membership as the reasons.
Nepali Congress is party fraught with rivalries and factionalism and this division has been apparent also on the issue of whether to reschedule the 14th general convention announced for February next year.
Two of the major rival factions in Congress, the first led by party President Sher Bahadur Deuba and the other by senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel, have been on the polar opposite sides ever since the debate of deferring the general convention emerged due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Both camps have a lot at stake on the convention taking place as planned and getting postponed. The assembly, set for 19-22 February, 2021, will try to elect a new set of leadership from the centre to the local levels. While Deuba wishes to continue his reign Poudel wants to oust him and take over the party reins.
Which side comes on top from this welter of factional infighting remains unclear for now, given that there are also other rival camps adding intrigue to the party dynamics.
For now all eyes are on the party’s central working committee meeting convened for Sunday, as it could decide the fate of the general convention.
Though Nepali Congress has not made any official decision about the postponement of its general convention, party leaders say the central working committee meeting is likely to announce the reschedule dates.
Congress Vice President Bimalendra Nidhi hinted in a rather roundabout way that the convention will be deferred but stopped short of confirming that Sunday’s meeting would make an official announcement.
“Though no one says it publicly, it is going to be very difficult to hold the general convention on the scheduled date of February 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Nidhi, who is close to Deuba.
“We have already missed the deadlines set for distributing active membership and formation of new party interim structures which are crucial in the run-up to the general convention,” he added.
It was senior party leader Krishna Prasad Situala who first proposed postponing the general convention from February to May/April 2021.
The Poudel faction, however, opposed the plan, insisting that it was still possible to conduct the general convention in February. As an alternative, the Poudel camp also suggested beginning the assembly from February in some districts and holding the central convention in May/April.
Dilendra Prasad Badu, a central working committee member and Poudel’s confidant, says if the party cannot hold the general convention on the scheduled dates, it can at least begin holding the convention from February 2021 at the district level.
“Let's defer the date for the distribution of active membership to November end. The active membership are the voters of the party. If we complete distribution of active membership by then, we can begin local conventions at places where Covid-19 risks have lowered,” Badu said. “If we do not begin to hold a convention in February, as per the constitutional provision, we can defer it by six month. But if we do not do anything and do not begin the process by February, the party will face a serious crisis.”
Earlier, the party had fixed mid of September to complete the distribution of active membership of the party but due to the pandemic, several districts could not meet the deadline.
In order to hold a credible general convention, the Poudel faction has submitted a 16-point memorandum to the party headquarters and asked for a discussion in the party.
Nidhi said the party has to resolve several differences and demands put forth by the Poudel faction.
“President Deuba has offered Poudel to sit for talks before Sunday’s meeting,” he said.
Poudel has demanded dissolving the party departments formed by Deuba, completing the integration
process of the party including giving space to the leaders who joined Congress in different times, and ensuring parity in the distribution of active membership.
The party has not fully accommodated the members of the Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar led Nepal Loktantrik Forum, which merged with Nepali Congress in October, 2017.
Similarly, Sunil Bahadur Thapa, the former leader of Rastriya Prajatantra Party, also joined Congress in July and some of his associates are yet to be adjusted in the party.
“There are several issues to sort out. If districts and electoral constituencies fail to meet the deadlines for distribution of active membership, then the entire process will be affected.” said Nidhi.
There is another view in the party on holding the general convention in time.
Some leaders have suggested holding votes in districts so that all voters may not have to come to the venue of the general convention.
Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala says if the party cannot bring thousands of voters to pick the new leadership, there should be an arrangement where each district can vote at the district headquarters.
“If we cannot hold the general convention by that deadline, we have to think over other options. One way is allowing party members to cast their votes in district or provincial headquarters by maintaining the physical distancing. The ballot boxes could be brought to Kathmandu for counting,” said Koirala.