Amid political uncertainty, Congress seems to have forgotten about its general conventionDebua faces charges within the party of putting excessive focus on power games rather than holding the convention which must be held by September if the House is restored.
Amid political uncertainties in the country, confusion dogs the Nepali Congress on two fronts. While it appears to be ambivalent on KP Sharma Oli's House dissolution move, it’s equally unsure when to hold its general convention.
After the party’s plan to hold its 14th general convention in February was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Congress now seems to have put the agenda on the back burner, even though a section of leaders is pushing for the jamboree—or at least continuing with the required preparations.
Party leaders are sharply divided and say they are unaware about how and when the next general convention would take place.
Under the legal and constitutional provisions, the party must hold the convention by September.
Leaders say there was already confusion about the general convention and now with the political developments since the Oli government dissolved the House and declared snap polls, everything has become more confusing.
Party Vice-president Bimaledra Nidhi said since the case of House dissolution is pending in the Supreme Court, the party is awaiting the verdict so that it can take a decision.
After the party called off its plan to hold the general convention on February 19-22, it had been working on new dates, targeting March-April.
But on December 20, Oli took a sudden step of dissolving the lower house of Parliament after disagreements with fellow leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal.
He also declared snap polls for April 30 and May 10.
If the Supreme Court endorses the House dissolution, the Congress party will have to cancel its general convention and prepare for the elections.
“We are waiting for the Supreme Court’s verdict. This is the major reason we have not been able to work on new dates," Nidhi, one of the contenders for the post of party president, told the Post. "The upcoming Central Working Committee meeting will discuss and come up with a new timetable."
But many in the party blame party President Sher Bahadur Deuba for the delay in setting convention dates.
Leaders close to the faction led by senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel believe Deuba has no interest in holding the general convention as he is busy weighing options for his personal benefits.
Reports suggest that Deuba was in the know when Oli decided to dissolve the House.
Deuba is believed to have been trying to make the most of the situation that arises after the Supreme Court verdict.
According to insiders, if the House is restored, Deuba will try to reach a deal with either Oli or the Dahal-Nepal faction to become prime minister. If the court overturns Oli's decision, the country will head to the polls which will mean the Congress will participate in the elections with Deuba as the leader, as there will be no convention ahead of the vote.
Central committee member Minendra Rijal said Deuba is more interested in going for the elections in coming April-May and is least bothered about the general convention.
“We are continuously holding meetings on how and when the general convention can be organised. If elections happen, as expected by our party president, we can hold the general convention after the second round of elections on May 10," said Rijal. "We will sit again next week. The party is preparing to hold a mass meeting in Kathmandu and other major cities against the House dissolution.”
Rijal, however, stressed that the party must work to finalise the date for convention taking both the scenarios—House restoration and elections—into consideration.
The party, however, seems to have halted its preparations. It has yet to complete some necessary works like distribution of active memberships and holding local level conventions in all 77 districts, without which a convention to elect the central party leadership is not possible.
According to leaders, central member Narahari Acharya was requested during Tuesday’s Central Working Committee meeting to take the responsibility of expediting the process of distributing active membership, as he had headed a mechanism to deal with similar issues in the lead up to the party’s 13th general convention held in March 2016.
But Acharya refused.
According to a leader, Acharya cited his health conditions for not taking up the responsibility.
Acharya, according to a central working member, also had taken a jibe at the party leadership saying while the party is protesting against Oli’s House dissolution move calling it unconstitutional, there is a risk of “our own party becoming unconstitutional”.
“He was reminding the party leadership of the need to hold the general convention by September at any cost,” the leader told the Post.
The Congress has also yet to integrate hundreds of people who have joined the party recently, according to a central member.
After the existing term and mandate of all party committees expired in March 2020, the party had extended the term and mandate by one year, as per the party’s charter. So the present term and mandate of all party committees end in March and by that time the party needs to hold the general convention.
The party statute, however, allows extension of the term and mandate by six months more, citing the Covid-19 pandemic. This will mean the party can hold its general convention in September, but it cannot postpone it any further.
Shreekrishna Aniruddh Gautam, a political analyst and columnist for the Post’s sister paper Kantipur, said there’s no way the Congress can escape from its democratic, legal and constitutional obligation of holding its convention.
“It would be better for the Nepali Congress to go for the agitation against Oli’s decision to dissolve the House so that it can also create the basis for the general convention,” said Gautam. “Isn't the party’s general convention a movement in itself? A general convention creates vibrancy and rejuvenates the party.”
According to Gautam, the Congress leadership, however, is not thinking straight and making erratic statements.
“If the Supreme Court endorses Oli’s move of dissolving the House, decks will be cleared for the elections. But the question is whether elections will happen on declared dates,” Gautam told the Post. “Elections do not look possible in April-May. Therefore, the Congress party’s convention will be postponed. But what if the court restores the House? The Congress then will have seven months for the convention. The party does not seem to have any back-up plan.”