Why is Arzu Rana Deuba toiling away in Sudurpaschim Province?Many people see it as her entry into full-time politics.
The Rato Gurans Resort on Baitadi Road, which is some three kilometres from the Dadeldhura Bazaar, has been crowded with visitors for the past one week. As soon as the day breaks, people, mainly Nepali Congress cadres, throng the resort to visit Arzu Rana Deuba, the wife of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Arzu, who is also a central committee member of the Congress party, has a hectic schedule of meetings with party supporters—she discusses elections from 7 to 11 am and from 3pm till late evening every day.
In her latest visit, Arzu arrived in Dadeldhura on October 8 to file candidacy for the lower house on behalf of her husband, the five-time prime minister. And she immediately jumped into campaign mode. Many people see it as her entry into full-time politics.
Arzu, who aspired to run for the House seat from Kailali-5, changed her mind and opted for safe election under the proportional representation system. She feared non-cooperation by a party faction and revolt by local Congress leader Pushkar Nath Ojha.
Arzu’s activities in Dadeldhura look like she’s leading the ruling alliance’s campaign in the entire Sudurpaschim Province. Soon after filing nomination on the Congress president’s behalf, she called a joint meeting with the local leaders of the ruling alliance. To her obvious displeasure, leaders of the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Rastriya Janamorcha did not come to meet her. As the events unfolded, Tara Joshi, a CPN (Unified Socialist) leader, filed his candidacy as an independent for the provincial assembly seat in Dadeldhura B. The ruling alliance had decided to field a Congress candidate in the constituency.
At the meeting, Congress and Maoist Centre leaders discussed their poll strategies, measures to strengthen the ruling alliance and campaigning in Sudurpaschim.
Arzu also interacted with the Congress leaders and activists in the district. A participant said the interaction was focused on the strategies they should devise to win the election. “Arzu seems a bit more affable this time—giving easy access to party cadres and listening to them,” said a participant, requesting anonymity.
Arzu also held interactions with teachers, professors, representatives of various social organisations, journalists and representatives of the business community close to the Nepali Congress. Many Congress workers said Arzu’s interactions this time looked well-planned. She is said to return to Dhangadhi after assessing the electoral situation in Dadeldhura.
“Bhauju [Arzu] was visibly involved in distributing party tickets in the Sudurpaschim Province. Party tickets, for both the House of Representatives and the provincial assembly, were provided as per her strategy. Now she has more responsibility than others to make the party candidates victorious,” said a central member of the Nepali Congress. “The main aim of her visit appears to be to pacify Congress dissidents mainly in Kailali and Kanchanpur,” he added.
A party insider said almost all candidates in the Sudurpaschim Province except Badri Pandey, the Nepali Congress joint-general secretary who is vying for the House seat from Bajura district, were picked by Arzu herself.
Candidates like Pushpa Shah of Achham; Ram Janam Chaudhary, Bir Bahadur Balayar and Dilli Panta of Kailali; and Ramesh Lekhak and NP Saud of Kanchanpur are considered to be close to Arzu. There was dissatisfaction in the party after she gave ticket to Prakash Deuba, her aide and nephew, for the provincial assembly in Kailali-5 sidelining more competent aspirants. Dilli Panta, who was elected to the provincial assembly, is contesting for a House of Representatives seat from Kailali-5.
“There is dissatisfaction in Kailali though she [Arzu] did not contest the election from here. She takes the ticket distribution and election victory in Kailali-5 as a personal prestige issue,” said Congress leader Hari Krishna Joshi of Kailali. It seems Arzu is more focused in Kailali than her husband’s constituency in Dadeldhura.
According to party workers, Arzu, who was defeated in the 2017 election in Kailali-5, blames non-cooperation from Pushkar Nath Ojha for the loss. They argue that Arzu gave ticket to Dilli Panta, who is also Ojha’s relative and represents the Doti community in Kailali, to soothe disgruntled party workers.
Congress leaders take Arzu’s latest engagement as her attempt to expand her role in the party.