Mayoral candidate of CPN-UML in Pokhara Deepak Paudel is suffering due to the bitter competition between Deputy General Secretary Prithvi Subba Gurung and Chief of the Organization Department Khaga Raj Adhikari.
A video purportedly showing closed-circuit television footage of Paudel, who is close to Gurung, shoplifting at a jewelry store became viral less than 24 hours after he was picked as the mayoral candidate became viral on the social media.
Many UML cadres close to Adhikari, who hails from Kaski, were involved in actively sharing the video.
Setopati has not been able to independently verify authenticity of the video while no police complaint was filed at the time accusing Paudel of stealing the gold chain as claimed in the video. Paudel himself has claimed that the person captured in the footage is not him and the video has been shared for character assassination.
Gurung has long been able to influence UML politics in Kask despite hailing from Lamjung due to reported insolence of Adhikari. Paudel was made Pokhara coordinator of CPN, formed after unification of UML and CPN (Maoist Center), when Gurung was Gandaki incharge of the unified party despite protest from the Adhikari faction.
Gurung became more influential after he became chief minister of the then Province 4 and started staying in the provincial capital Pokhara. He managed to get Man Bahadur Gurung from his faction elected Kaski chairman in the recent district convention.
The two factions were working extremely hard to get the mayoral ticket this time. Gurung wanted one out of Paudel, Bhim Karki, Pushpa Jyoti Dhungana and Mina Gurung picked the mayoral candidate while Adhikari wanted to recommend former mayor and current provincial lawmaker Krishna Thapa and Darshan Lama.
The party looked set to decide about the mayoral candidate through voting among the party's cadres in Pokhara this time but the election was stopped in the final hour on condition of recommending all contenders for candidacy. Both the factions accused the other faction of cancelling the election fearing a loss.
Paudel was finally picked the mayoral candidate by the party's secretariat meeting held at the residence of Chairman KP Sharma Oli on Saturday.
The active involvement of UML cadres from the Adhikari faction in sharing the video Sunday shows the level of acrimony between the two factions in Kaski. The Adhikari faction wants to get the candidate changed before the deadline for filing nominations expires Monday evening.
A UML leader confided with Setopati that UML can defeat the ruling coalition in Pokhara but not with a controversial candidate like Paudel pointing that the party has to fight anti-incumbency and allegations of destroying natural heritage of Pokhare when it led a very strong government in the province and the mayor was also from UML.
A central leader claimed that Paudel was picked candidate by Oli himself due to his cloase relation with Paudel when he was jailed in Pokhara during the Panchayat regime. The leader claimed that the shoplifting controversy was raised even when the party was picking candidates during the last provincial assembly election.
The leader added that Oli had played down the controversy even then and did not make Paudel a candidate only because UML had to give the seat to Maoist Center as per the electoral alliance forged bwteen the two parties with promise of unification after the election.
"Oli's wish is seen in giving him the ticket now. The candidacy cannot be changed without consent of Oli," the leader stressed adding that Oli may not change the candidate even after the latest controversy.