Factionalism in faction ‘led’ to Poudel’s defeatLoss likely to throw the camp into further disarray
The ‘establishment faction’ of the Nepali Congress (NC), which dominated the party politics for two decades, now faces an uncertain future within the party after its presidential candidate was handily defeated during the 13th General Convention.
Lack of unity among the stalwarts of the faction was the primary reason behind the defeat of Ram Chandra Poudel in the election of party president. The defeat by a wide margin is likely to throw the faction into further disarray. However, on Tuesday, two members—Shashank Koirala and Sita Devi Yadav—of the Poudel ‘panel’, or the old ‘establishment camp’ for that matter, won in the election of general secretary and treasurer. The wins have come as a relief for now for the side.
But there are challenges ahead. Before Sushil Koirala’s death, the faction was more or less united. After his death ahead of party’s convention, there was a leadership vacuum in the faction.
“Sushil Koirala was the pivot of the establishment faction, but with his death, we lost a leader who could keep the faction united,” said NC leader Nabindra Raj Joshi.
Obviously, Poudel was senior leader in the establishment faction after the death of Sushil Koirala. But Krishna Prasad Sitaula and Prakash Man Singh challenged his supremacy, and announced their candidacy for party president. Similarly, key stalwarts of the establishment faction, according to leaders, were more focused on their own survival instead of ensuring Poudel’s win.
Though Singh later supported Poudel, Sitaula continued to stick to his guns and fought for party presidency, ultimately dividing the votes of the establishment faction.
According to party insiders, the two leaders never had cordial relations. The Poudel-Sitaula animosity dates back to the start of the peace process. When Sitaula became the chairman of Constitution Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly (CA) in 2014, Poudel, refusing to work under Sitaula, changed the committee. Similarly, Sitaula believes that Poudel and Singh prevented him from becoming senior minister in the late Sushil Koirala government.
Despite Sitaula’s candidacy, Poudel managed to get anointed as the official candidate from the side. But Poudel failed to organise his campaign to match the dexterity of Deuba’s organisation.
According to NC leader Puranjan Acharya, Poudel failed to communicate with his supporters at the time of election. “It seemed that Poudel failed to manage time to reach out to the convention representatives in the run-up to the election,” said Acharya. There was a conspicuous absence of leaders who wholeheartedly invested their time and energy in Poudel’s election campaign.
For instance, Madhu Acharya, Kavre district president, was only leader who openly and fully worked in Poudel’s campaign.
Even the establishment faction leaders, including Formulha Mansur, Laxman Ghimire and Kul Bahadur Gurung, joined the Deuba camp at the eleventh hour of convention after Poudel failed to keep them with him. The Deuba faction, however, was completely focused on election campaign. Deuba had a relative free-hand to rope in more leaders from the establishment camp, even where Deuba’s aides had ambitions, they were willing to give up to ensure Deuba’s victory.
This allowed Deuba to further consolidate his strength.
“Though there are capable leaders with Deuba, Arjun Narasingh KC was picked as general secretary with a view that he could contribute votes to Deuba,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat, a leader close to Deuba.
Given his age (he is 71) and presence of other hopefuls, Poudel is less likely to fight for presidency after four years. Key leaders who could lead the faction are Prakash Man Singh, Ram Sharan Mahat and Mahesh Acharya. And Krishna Prasad Sitaula will be there. Shashank Koirala is another leader who could become senior leader from this faction.
“The establishment faction leader could be either from Koirala family or Acharya and Mahat,” said Puranjan Acharya. Singh, Mahat, Sitaula and Mahesh Acharya, however, seem reluctant to accept Shashank as the supreme leader of their faction.
For Deuba, a three-time prime minister, it took more than a decade to turn the table on the ‘establishment faction’ dominated by the Koiralas.
After Poudel, the ‘establishment faction’ now lacks senior leaders who can challenge the Deuba faction in the next general convention. Another challenge is lack of unity among second-rung leaders of this faction.
Mahat, Mahesh Acharya, Sitaula or even Gagan Thapa (who fought for general secretary from Sitaula’s panel and lost) now have a challenge to remain united and build up their personality to become supreme leader of party from the ‘establishment camp’, according to party leaders.