Chaos in Congress as convention kicks offFactions busy in last-minute haggling. While Deuba camp has its own challenges, the Poudel camp struggles to find a common candidate for the top post.
Nepal’s grand old party has its own idiosyncrasies. And they become more apparent when the party’s general convention nears.
Before the final showdown, in the Nepali Congress, which is holding its 14th general convention starting Friday, internal dynamics are changing rapidly.
While Sher Bahadur Deuba is in a bid to make a comeback as party president for the next four years, his former ally Bimalendra Nidhi appears to be trying to scuttle his plan. Nidhi himself is throwing his hat in the ring.
“I am going to contest with my own panel of leaders,” Nidhi told the Post.
Then there is a faction led by Ram Chandra Poudel backed by Shashank Koirala, Prakash Man Singh and Shekhar Koirala, all four of them eyeing the post of party president.
A last-ditch effort to reach a deal to find a consensus candidate in the Poudel camp failed on Thursday night.
“Even after repeated talks, we failed to reach a consensus,” said Chandra Bhandari, a leader close to the Poudel camp. “After Prakash Man refused to backtrack, we now have to chart out a new strategy.”
Tension has been running high in the Poudel camp, with both Prakash Man and Shekhar eyeing the party president position. What’s more, Poudel has been seeking to become the consensus candidate for the post from his panel. Shashank, yet another aspirant, however, has agreed not to fight for the top post.
Several rounds of hectic meetings within the Poudel-Koirala camp for the last few days have failed to make any headway.
“We have not been able to reach consensus yet as both Shekhar and Prakash Man are adamant on their claims,” said Ram Sharan Mahat, a senior party leader.
After some leaders suggested that Poudel be allowed to contest, Shekhar appeared to have mellowed. But Prakash Man has stuck to his guns.
Insiders say Shekhar was ready to backtrack for the sake of Poudel, but only if Prakash Man also did. But the latter said he won’t, according to a leader who participated in the meetings.
An infuriated Poudel has conveyed that he would detach himself from the entire process and stop attending meetings.
Poudel skipped the party’s Central Working Committee meeting on Thursday.
A leader said Prakash Man is firm on his position, saying that he made a compromise during the last convention also and that he is not going to backtrack this time.
If Prakash Man, Shekhar and Nidhi contest for party president, this would be the first instance in the party’s history to have all aspirants carrying their family legacies.
Prakash Man is the son of the late Ganesh Man Singh and Nidhi is the son of yet another Congress stalwart the late Mahendra Narayan Nidhi. Shekhar represents the family of the late BP Koirala, founding member of the party and the country’s first democratically elected prime minister.
Shekhar, however, has conveyed that he may not contest, but with the caveat that Prakash should also step out of the race.
“If Prakash contests, I will also file my candidacy,” said Shekhar. “Since I have the highest number of votes in our camp followed by Poudel, I am the natural candidate.”
The infighting in the Poudel camp may ultimately benefit Deuba, but he has his own challenges.
Deuba so far appears to be confident as he has the backing of Krishna Prasad Sitaula and Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar, among others. But he is struggling to form his team of office bearers and Central Working Committee members to be elected from the convention.
Sitaula himself is an aspirant for the party president post. So Deuba faces the challenge placating Sitaula and his team by offering respectable positions in the party.
For Deuba to bring Sitaula into confidence, he has to offer the latter the vice-president post and a general secretary, some joint general secretary posts and some Central Working Committee members, which insiders say is a tough ask.
If Sitaula decides to throw his weight behind Deuba, the latter will face an uphill task of managing leaders from his group—there are quite many aspirants for various office bearers’ positions.
“We have advised Situala to either form his own team or form an alliance with one of the camps,” said Bhimsen Das Pradhan, a leader close to Sitaula. “If we don't contest the elections by forming our own panel, we will probably support Deuba.”
One president, two posts of vice-president, two posts of general secretary and eight posts of joint general secretary are up for grabs. The party will elect 134 members for the Central Working Committee.
For two general secretary posts, Balkrishna Khand, Prakash Sharan Mahat, NP Saud and Bishwa Prakash Sharma are the aspirants from the Deuba camp.
But Deuba can pick only two.
According to insiders in the Deuba camp, the party president has asked Sharma to contest for the post of joint general secretary.
From the Poudel camp, Gagan Thapa and Minendra Rijal have declared their candidacies for general secretary posts.
Thapa announced his vision for the country on Thursday.
From the Sitaula camp, Pradip Poudel is aspiring for the post of general secretary.
“We have collected names of aspirants from our panel,” said Saud, who is close to Deuba. “Several leaders have urged Deuba to take Sitaula into confidence.”
Many expect Deuba to win in the first round if he takes Sitaula into confidence and the Poudel camp fails to find a consensus candidate for party president.
The only way the Poudel camp could check Deuba is by finding a consensus candidate or making Sitaula contest for leadership. In that case, there could be a run-off. If Nidhi rallies behind the Poudel camp’s candidate, Deuba may face a tough time, insiders say.
During the last general convention, Sitaula’s role was crucial in Deuba’s win.
In the run-off, Sitaula had sided with Deuba to defeat Poudel.
“If we want to sweep the elections with a majority of office bearers and Central Committee members, we must seek Sitaula’s support,” said Ram Hari Khatiwada, a close aide to Deuba. “We need to make space for the Sitaula group.”
Since Sitaula has emerged as a strong player, Poudel on Wednesday reached out to the leader from Jhapa, a former general secretary.
“Sitaula asked Poudel about the agenda and package,” said Pradhan, a leader close to Sitaula.
It quickly became apparent that the meeting between Poudel and Sitaula did not go well. For Poudel, who is struggling in his own camp, there is hardly anything he can offer to Sitaula.
On Thursday, Deuba said that attempts are still on to elect top party leadership through consensus as he wants to avoid bitterness in the party as three-tier elections are approaching.
“As of now, there will most likely be four candidates for the post of party president and the final contest will be between Deuba and Shekhar,” said Shyam Ghimire, a leader from the Deuba camp. “There is division in the Poudel-Koirala camp and if Nidhi does not influence much of the votes from our camp, it is likely that Deuba will win in the first round.”
In the Nepali Congress, unlike in other parties, a party president candidate must secure more than 50 percent votes to win. If anyone fails to secure the votes, it goes for a run-off between the first and second candidates.
“Still the scene is not clear who will incline towards whom ultimately. Each camp is struggling to form its own panel and keep its votes intact,” said Ghimire. “Polarisation will continue until the day of election.”