Even as the Covid-19 crisis rages on, badly hindering party activities, Nepali Congress, the main opposition, has expedited the process of holding its 14th General Convention on 19-22 February 2021 in Kathmandu. The party’s top decision-making body is to elect new leadership from center to grassroots.
To prepare, the party is holding its Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting. In fact, preparations for the convention had started back in February but had to be put off following the Covid outbreak in the country. Though the dates for lower-level party conventions have changed, the previously set date for the general convention remains intact. Yet it will be tough to hold the general convention on time.
First, the Nepali Congress is yet to complete the integration process of its grassroots-level cadres in line with the federal structures. In the federal restructuring, many village development committees have been reduced to wards and new electoral constituencies for provincial houses have been created. Adjustment of local leaders and cadres to this change has been difficult. Factional feuds have posed additional hurdle, as the party has to accommodate all factions.
According to NC Spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma, adjustment of cadres remains incomplete in over two dozens districts. The party has instructed those district committees to complete the task within the next week. Originally, all these activities were to be completed by the third week of April.
Renewal and updating of active membership is another uphill task that needs to be completed soon for the general convention to happen. Yet the party is yet to even send membership forms to all districts.
According to the new calendar, renewal and distribution of new active membership will be completed by December 15. This will be followed by village/town/ward level convention on December 21. The convention of 753 local governments happens on December 23, provincial-level electoral constituency convention on December 26, and district-level convention from December 28-31. After this comes provincial level convention on January 19, and last is the general convention on February 19-22. The party is undecided on how such a large number of cadres will gather in the middle of a raging pandemic.
Although NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba was hesitant, the party was compelled to come up with a fixed calendar due to relentless pressure from senior leaders like Ram Chandra Poudel and Krishna Prasad Situala. These leaders had been boycotting CWC meetings accusing the party president of delaying the general convention. Ever since the Congress was drubbed in 2017 parliamentary elections, Deuba has been under pressure to hold the convention as soon as possible so that party leadership can be handed over to someone else.
Besides Covid, constant floods and landsides will make party activities difficult in July and August. Similarly, in the winter that follows, mountainous districts will be covered in snow. Says a top NC leader requesting anonymity: “Party President Deuba agreed to hold general convention on time to deflect criticism that he is using the corona crisis as an excuse to extend his tenure.”
NC youth leader Madhu Acharya, who is thought of as close to senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel, says the party’s calendar is unscientific and it will be difficult to hold the general convention next February. “Due to floods and landslides, there can be no party-related activity in the next couple of months, and soon after that, there is Dashain and Tihar. Practically, it will be impossible to strictly adhere to the calendar,” Acharya says.
Yet the announcement of general convention dates signals that the process of electing new NC leadership has started, which is a vital message in the eyes of the party functionaries opposed to Deuba’s leadership. Party statute allows the CWC to extend its tenure by six months in case of an ‘abnormal situation’ in the country—and on current form the party is likely to take that option.
Incumbent President Deuba, 73, is looking to hang on, even after the 2017 electoral drubbing. Other party leaders wanted him to take responsibility and resign; but Deuba has refused to be scapegoated. At the upcoming general convention, his main challenge for party presidency could come from Dr Shekhar Koirala, who has been widely canvassing the country to drum up support. He believes he is the right scion of the Koirala family.
Ram Chandra Poudel, 75, feels other senior leaders have long cheated him out of presidency, and even of the prime minister’s chair. He reckons it’s now or never. Prakash Man Singh, another senior leader from the Poudel camp, also wants to fight for presidency. But if Poudel enters the ring, Singh is likely to settle for vice-president.