With Oli’s tight grip on party and government, Dahal’s influence is waningPushpa Kamal Dahal led his Maoist party for almost three decades, including during the decade-long insurgency—without being challenged. But that changed last year.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal led his Maoist party for almost three decades, including during the decade-long insurgency—without being challenged. But that changed last year.
Based on a deal struck in October 2017, Dahal’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) formally merged with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), led by KP Sharma Oli, to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) on May 17 last year.
Since the merger, Oli and Dahal co-chair the party that has been ruling the country after the left alliance’s sweeping victory in the elections held in November-December 2017.
However, almost a year into the formal merger, there is growing unease in Dahal, a two-time prime minister, about losing his influence within the party as well as the government, leaders close to the former Maoist chairman told the Post.
“When the two parties came together, there was an understanding that Oli and Dahal would lead the government for three years and two years, respectively,” said a Standing Committee member close to the former UML. “But it does not look like Oli will abide by that understanding.”
Apart from leading the government on a rotational basis, there was also an understanding that the party’s unity general convention would be called within two years and elect the new chair on the basis of consensus as the party was in a transitional phase.
But leaders, particularly from the former UML, told the Post that the chances of choosing the party chair through consensus are slim.
The former UML has always chosen its executive body, including its chairman, through elections, while in the former Maoist party, there was no practice of electing the chairman.
“How can we choose the party’s chairman on the basis of consensus,” said Ghanashyam Bhusal, a Standing Committee member of the ruling NCP. “And I’m not aware that the upcoming convention would choose the party leadership through consensus.”
Former UML leaders, including Bhusal, also said that leadership on the basis of consensus will mean a violation of the voting rights of convention delegates.
“Dahal is struggling to stack the odds in his favour; he is battling to maintain his relevance,” said Hemraj Bhandari, a central committee member of the ruling party, who represents the former Maoist Centre.
Many party insiders believe Dahal’s decision to join hands with the UML was aimed at saving his party from being consigned to oblivion and re-establishing his relevance. But political analysts also say that Oli played the merger to his favour—to consolidate his power in the party and sideline other factions within the UML led by Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal. And in the course, Dahal appears to have received more than what he bargained for.
Currently, Dahal has control over neither the party nor the government.
Bhusal, the former UML leader, has long been saying that the one common thing that has kept the two leaders together so far is their personal ambitions. But, he said, Oli’s working style—maintaining total control over the party and government—is increasingly irking Dahal.
“With Oli increasingly becoming dominant over the government and the party, other leaders’—including Dahal’s—relevance has obviously diminished,” he said. “Oli is neither going to abandon the party chairmanship nor the prime ministership for Dahal.”
Bhandari says it would have been easy for Dahal to gauge his strength had the unification process completed because it would have given a clear picture as to who stands where in the committees.
“But the delayed unification process is making Dahal increasingly uncomfortable,” he said. “At least he would have been running the organisation had the unification process been completed. This would have later paved the way for him to lay claim to the post of party chair as Oli runs the government.”
After the Maoists entered mainstream politics in 2006, Dahal’s party had overwhelming support. In the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections, people voted Dahal to power. But just as the Maoist rebel leader was learning the ropes of running a government, Dahal had a run-in with then Army chief. He resigned after nine months in office.
It took him seven years to return to power, but it was a brief stint and as per his understanding with the Nepali Congress, he paved the way for Sher Bahadur Deuba to lead the government which oversaw the 2017 elections.
Now, communist party leaders say Dahal is just biding his time.
Dahal’s unease has been apparent in some of his recent speeches.
On Tuesday, while addressing a programme in Gorkha, Dahal said the current political fight was more difficult than the “people’s war”.
For the former Maoist chairman, leaders close to him say, the transitional justice sword hanging over his head has become a cause for discomfort.
Dahal is concerned about the government’s plan to conclude the process by taking the cases to a special court and holding the gross human rights violators to account.
Last month, an influential Standing Committee member of the ruling party told the Post that Dahal was not happy with the way the Oli administration was planning to take the transitional justice forward.
While Dahal is for concluding the process as early as possible by handing down some “symbolic punishment” to some individuals guilty of war crimes, the Oli administration is working on a plan to assign war-era cases to a special court.
The government has also pledged that it would amend the Transitional Justice Act-2014 in line with the Supreme Court verdict of 2015, which had struck down the provision of blanket amnesty.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali on Thursday reiterated in front of the international community in Geneva that there will be no blanket amnesty in the cases of serious human rights violations committed during the decade-long war.
Asked about the developments in the transitional justice process, leaders close to Dahal did not appear much optimistic.
“I have heard that things are not heading towards a positive direction,” said Agni Sapkota, a Standing Committee member in the ruling party. A former minister, Sapkota himself is facing the charge of directing a murder during the insurgency.
“Dahal seems to be in crisis,” the Standing Committee member close to the former Maoist chairman told the Post. “And he is getting increasingly insecure about his political future.