Gautam to the Upper House and then Cabinet may invite more trouble for Oli than succour, insiders sayOli may have decided to take Bamdev Gautam to the National Assembly and to appoint him a minister, but he is likely to delay this process until he falls into extreme crisis.
After the Nepal Communist Party Secretariat on September 3 decided to nominate Vice-chairman Bamdev Gautam for the National Assembly, it looked like he was one step closer to becoming a minister. However, party chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has yet to show his cards.
Party insiders say Oli will weigh options for some more time, even after Gautam is appointed to the National Assembly.
With the decision to appoint Gautam to the National Assembly, Oli on Friday bid farewell to one of his trusted men, Yubaraj Khatiwada, as the finance minister. Oli has kept the Finance Ministry with himself for now.
Insiders say Oli was under huge pressure from the other chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal to say goodbye to Khatiwada. In the meantime, Gautam was exerting pressure on Oli to abide by the February 26 party decision to nominate him to the National Assembly.
Sending Gautam to the National Assembly now could invite more trouble for Oli than earn succour, according to insiders.
“Oli will continue to keep his cards close to his chest for some time,” said a Standing Committee member who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Just while he has to deal with his opponent factions, he also knows Gautam's nature very well.”
Since losing the 2017 elections, Gautam has been in exercise to win a role in the party. He has on a number of occasions made his ambitions to become a minister–if possible to become prime minister–public.
“As soon as he is appointed to the National Assembly, he will demand a ministry as well as deputy prime minister,” the Standing Committee member told the Post. “Once appointed a minister, he may even disrupt the way Oli runs the government. Oli is not going to invite that trouble.”
As the party’s Standing Committee meeting has been scheduled for Friday, Oli now will have to work on a different strategy. The meeting will discuss the report presented by the six-member task force that was constituted by Oli and Dahal. The report has also recommended a Cabinet reshuffle.
During Friday’s Cabinet meeting, Oli told his ministers that there is no hurry to recommend to the President to appoint Gautam to the National Assembly and that he is not also for an immediate Cabinet reshuffle.
“Oli asked all the ministers to rather focus on their works,” a minister who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Post.
Those in the party who know Gautam closely say he is a lynchpin and a gadfly both.
Gautam had managed to force the leadership to amend the party statute to appoint him the vice-chair. At one point of time, he was exerting pressure on the party to amend the constitution, allowing a National Assembly member to become the prime minister.
Gautam is a key leader in the nine-member Secretariat as the faction he chooses to side with gives the majority.
Until a few months ago, Gautam, who was not happy with Oli for not abiding by the February 26 decision to take him to the National Assembly, had sided with the Dahal faction, tilting the balance in the Secretariat.
The Dahal faction then had upped its demand that Oli resign both as prime minister and party chair.
But on July 28, Oli visited Gautam’s residence in Bhaisepati and won him over, with the promise that he would take him to the National Assembly and make him a minister.
“Oli’s same promise now will become an albatross around his neck,” said another ruling party leader. “Gautam on his side will mean a strong position for Oli, but as soon as Gautam is taken to the National Assembly, he will keep on making so many demands that it would become difficult for Oli to handle.”
Gautam is already eying the Finance Ministry.
According to Gautam’s press advisor Bishwomani Subedi, Gautam is likely to join the Cabinet as senior deputy prime minister and finance minister.
“If not the Finance Ministry, he will not settle for less than the Home Ministry,” said Subedi.
Gautam has already served as deputy prime minister and home minister three times in the past.
If Oli were to give Gautam the Home Ministry, he would have to take Ram Bahadur Thapa out, which won’t be an easy decision, given the party’s internal dynamics, say leaders.
Party insiders say Gautam is known as a character who if given an inch will take a mile.
“Gautam is someone who has been desperate to have an active role in the party and if possible the government,” said Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, a Standing Committee member and former deputy prime minister. “Once he gets to join the National Assembly, he will start pressing Oli for more responsibilities and more authority.”
Whether Gautam can become a minister after his nomination to the National Assembly still remains contested, with legal experts having different opinions because he had lost the House of Representative elections.
Gautam, however, is confident that the constitution won’t bar him from becoming a minister once he is appointed to the National Assembly.
For Gautam to have the only seat in the Upper House, the Oli government has to make a recommendation to the President.
Firstly, Oli could delay Gautam’s recommendation to the Upper House, according to a central member.
“But even if Oli does so, I don’t think he will take Gautam to the Cabinet immediately,” the member told the Post. “Oli is not in crisis at this moment. He has a good opportunity to use Gautam as his trump card. He can play it when he falls in crisis.”
Until a few months ago, Oli’s position had become tenuous when the Dahal faction upped the ante against him. As many as 31 Standing Committee members had openly demanded his resignation.
But Oli managed to turn the tide against his opponents.
According to Matrika Yadav, a Standing Committee member close to Dahal, for now, Oli seems to be in a comfortable position.
“If Oli takes Gautam to the Upper House, he will have a majority in the party Secretariat. With many leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction currently maintaining a neutral position, the Standing Committee too is by and large balanced,” said Yadav. “With many aspirants, including Gautam, in the party for ministerial berths, Oli will face a tough time.”