Central Committee meeting exposes divisions in NCP but leaders say it can also be a platform for putting differences to restMany in the ruling party believe the merger was a hasty decision which was made without taking a host of issues into account.
When the Nepal Communist Party first held its Central Committee meeting on May 24, 2018, its major—and only—agenda was to announce the unification of the party. After sweeping the 2017 elections, the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre had decided to unify. The party leadership said the unification process would be completed within three months. Thereafter, there was no Central Committee meeting until last week—for almost two years.
But the party is still struggling to address a host of issues related to unification.
“The ongoing Central Committee meeting should have been a platform for putting all the differences to rest, but instead, more cracks have opened up,” said a Central Committee member.
In the political document presented by co-chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, both admitted that the party was yet to be united—in spirit and true sense.
“Despite committing to completing the unification process within three months, the party has yet to achieve unity in a true sense,” reads the political document. “The party is yet to be institutionalised and different factions are still active. Betrayal and counter-betrayal continue to prevail.”
On Saturday, Surya Thapa, a central committee member, who is also the press advisor to co-chair and Prime Minister Oli, issued a statement, pointing out how factionalism was dragging the party.
Divisions were apparent during group discussions too.
“During group discussions, we actually saw the real situation. At least two factions were clearly poles apart on various issues; they seem to be using each other to their benefits,” said another central committee member who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
The leader, however, said it was expected because the party leadership hardly invested time to sort out the differences over the last two years.
Party members say differences have existed since the unification was announced but as disagreements between the top leaders continued, they did more damage.
According to Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member, not many in both the parties were convinced about unification two years ago—both were different ideologically and had completely opposite schools of thought.
It looked like a miracle when the two parties announced unification in May 2018, said Thapa.
“The leadership promised to complete all issues related to the unification within three months. But it has been almost two years,” said Thapa. “Where have we reached?”
According to multiple leaders, both from the UML and Maoist factions, the leadership described the fragile alliance of convenience as “unification” because it served their self-interests.
Oli wanted Maoist support in the elections to get himself installed as the prime minister. For Dahal, there was no option left as he was worried about losing his political relevance.
“It was definitely a decision taken in haste without giving much thought to how things would unfold,” Thapa told the Post.
“Our decision to unify was taken just ahead of elections. We indeed failed to hold necessary discussions on various issues,” said Yubaraj Chaulagain, a Central Committee member. “Both the parties had different working styles, our thought processes were different. Now things have become more intricate and complex.”
When the party had just united, there were two clear factions—one belonging to the UML and the other to the Maoist Centre—and they were led by Oli and Dahal. In recent months, three factions have emerged, and Madhav Kumar Nepal leads the third front.
According to leaders, the three factions are aligned so precariously and that any of the two coming closer puts the third in minority. This leads to a power struggle, which could hamstrung party’s unification process.
The genesis of three-way factionalism first started in August-September last year, when Dahal suddenly brought up a deal that he had signed with Oli during the merger. Dahal made public statements that as per the deal Oli and he would have to lead the government in turns.
Dahal started courting former UML leaders including Madhav Nepal, who was also getting increasingly unhappy with Oli’s style of running the party and the government.
Oli, however, continued to maintain a firm grip on the party and the government. But in early October, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Dahal’s trusted man for years, was forced to step down as House Speaker following allegations of attempted rape.
As the hunt for new Speaker began, Dahal upped the ante, demanding the post for one of the Maoist leaders—Agni Sapkota. Oli was in favour of Subas Nembang. After the winter session began in December, both Oli and Dahal drove a hard bargain. But in the end, Dahal won. A meeting at Bhaisepati at the residence of Bamdev Gautam, who has been proposed as vice-chair of the party, changed the dynamics, leaders say. Dahal managed to bring Gautam, Madhav Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal into his fold, weakening the Oli group in the party.
Central Committee members said the ongoing meeting will define the new power struggle. But there is no alternative to finding common ground, according to them.
“Any change in the existing setting, as factionalism continues, will have a long-term impact on internal as well national politics,” said Yubaraj Chaulagain, a central committee member.
However, a political analyst and former Maoist leader Bishwo Bhakta Dulal, who is usually known as Aahuti, said the fundamental problem of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is that it does not have an ideology.
“The two parties merged because they had shared interests,” Dulal told the Post. “Both gave up on their ideologies. Now they don’t have one.”
Hemraj Bhandari, also a central committee member of the ruling party, agreed that ideology is key, as it serves as a binding force, as the glue that holds everyone together.
“There was no discussion on ideological issues when leaders were talking about merger,” Bhandari told the Post. “Leaders of the two parties still have completely different understandings on various issues, which are leading to conflict. Suspicion continues to persist in the party.”