Nepali Congress race hotting up as party braces for November conventionFour clear factions have emerged in the grand old party.
In a little over two months, the Nepali Congress will hold its general convention. And the grand old party’s jamboree in the cold November this time is likely to see hotly contested elections, with around half a dozen aspirants vying for the party presidency.
While incumbent party president Sher Bahadur Deuba is eying a second term, Bimalendra Nidhi too has announced his candidacy, in a clear indication how factionalism runs deep in the Nepali Congress. Senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel also has on occasions dropped hints that he would contest for the top post. And there is Krishna Prasad Sitaula, former general secretary of the party, who leads his own camp.
As of now, four clear groups have emerged in the party. But within the Poudel camp too, there are aspirants for party president, including Prakash Man Singh and Shashank Koirala.
As per the new party charter, which will come into force from the upcoming 14th general convention, there will be elections for one party president, two vice presidents, two general secretaries, eight joint general secretaries, 168 central working committee members, and seven provincial chiefs.
Insiders say leaders are currently busy building their teams.
“Building a team is essential, and I am doing some homework,” said Nidhi, who earlier was in the Deuba camp, but now has decided to create his own group. Days after Nidhi’s announcement for the post of party president, Bishwa Prakash Sharma, the current spokesperson for the party, announced his candidacy for general secretary. This is seen as a build-up of the Nidhi-Sharma camp.
Gagan Thapa also has thrown his hat into the ring for the post of general secretary. He, however, has not made it clear which camp he represents.
Earlier this month, the Poudel camp held a press conference at the party headquarters in Sanepa, which many believed was aimed at sending a message across the party’s ranks.
Poudel was flanked by Prakash Man Singh and Shekhar Koirala on his right and Shashank Koirala, Arjun Narsingh KC, Sujata Koirala and Gagan Thapa on his left.
Insiders say the press conference held in the presence of influential leaders was “symbolic” in the sense that exercise is on within the Poudel camp to find a consensus candidate for party president.
Thapa, however, has not explicitly said if he would represent the Poudel camp.
During the 2016 convention, Thapa was in the Krishna Prasad Sitaula group, and he, along with KC who represented the Deuba camp, had lost the vote to Shashank.
But Minendra Rijal, also a key member in the Poudel camp, is too harbouring the desire to contest for general secretary.
Insiders say a clear picture has yet to emerge of the panels of the different party factions.
From the Deuba camp, his close aide Purna Bahadur Khadka has been tipped as the vice presidential candidate. There, however, are too many aspirants for general secretary, including Prakash Sharan Mahat, current joint general secretary, and central members Ramesh Lekhak and NP Saud.
“Since Deuba is too busy in governance issues, we have not been able to hold discussions on our approach when it comes to the general convention,” said a leader from the Deuba camp.
Many say though party spokesperson Sharma announced his candidacy for general secretary immediately after Nidhi’s candidacy for party president, it would be too early to call it a Nidhi-Sharma combination.
“It is not true that I am going to contest from the Nidhi camp,” Sharma told the Post. “I am a candidate of the Nepali Congress and I am not associated with any camp.”
Sharma said that he had spoken to party president Deuba and other senior leaders before announcing his candidacy.
“If a situation arises where I must make it clear which camp I belong to, then only will I do so,” he said. “I belong to the party first; not any camp.”
The Nepali Congress started its ward-level conventions from September 3 so as to avoid the risk of becoming invalidated. The party was under constitutional and legal obligation to hold its general convention by September 8 this year, as it held its 13th general convention in March 2016. After extending the term and mandate of its elected bodies by one year, it had sought yet another extension of six months citing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now the Congress cannot avoid the November 25-29 deadline.
Though the Poudel camp wants to give Deuba a run for his money, it has to strike a fine balance among some senior leaders before it locks a consensus candidate for the post of party president.
“Team building is necessary but we have not yet zeroed in on a common candidate for the post of party president yet,” said a leader close to Poudel.
The Poudel camp has been holding a series of meetings over the past few days.
“We hope to reach consensus very soon. We are taking inputs from party ranks,” said Sanjay Gautam, a leader from the Poudel camp.
The Nepali Congress general convention has always been an event drawing a lot of attention, with interest from outside Nepal also. The Congress will go to general convention this year at a time when the country is poised for the general elections next year. The party had faced an unprecedented drubbing in the 2017 elections, as the communists had forged an electoral alliance.
But observers and analysts as well as party insiders say factional feud can play a spoilsport.
Sitaula, a former general secretary, leads a faction of his own, and he too has announced that he would contest for party president with Pradip Poudel as his general secretary.
Bhimsen Das Pradhan, a leader from the Sitaula camp, however, said the picture would become clearer in a few days, especially after district-level conventions, which are scheduled for September 21 and 26. The party’s provincial conventions are scheduled for October 27-29, before the general convention is held.
“Let’s see how alliances form. There could be some understanding with the Deuba camp as well,” said Pradhan. “We are also working to build our team. We hope to finalise our team once the district-level conventions are over.”