Dahal, Nepal desperate for joint movement but no one, including civil society, is keenAs court verdict nears, shows of strength seem to be modus operandi. While other parties continue to be suspicious of the Dahal-Nepal faction, civil society asks why join hands.
Political parties may have the wherewithal to put up shows of strength that have been a frequent sight ever since Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved the House of Representatives on December 20.
The latest was on Friday, when the Oli faction of Nepal Communist Party held a mass gathering in an effort to justify the dissolution, the constitutionality of which is being tested in the Supreme Court.
Before that, on the forefront of the protests has been the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of Nepal Communist Party with a series of demonstrations.
It had proposed to the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party, the second and third largest parties in the dissolved lower house, to organise joint agitation against the prime minister’s move. But they refused, arguing that the two warring factions could join hands again as their split is yet to be recognised legally by the Election Commission.
It is not only political parties that the Dahal-Nepal faction has been courting but also the civil society which has been protesting against the House dissolution almost every day since December 22 in a variety of ways including putting up street plays and cartoon exhibitions.
This is the first time that the civil society has been visibly active for a prolonged period since the 2006 people’s movement against the autocratic rule of then king Gyanendra Shah.
But the civil society has its own reservations about joining the protest with the Dahal-Nepal faction.
“Since a movement should be focused on a certain agenda, we have been repeatedly urging the political parties to come up with their common commitments,” said Yug Pathak, the coordinator of the Brihat Nagarik Aandolan, the group spearheading the civil society movement ever since Oli dissolved the House.
Pathak said since reinstating the House of Representatives and changing the government’s leadership is just a technical issue, there must be a convincing plan and commitments to ending the existing anomalies in society.
The civil society has been questioning excessive politicisation, a lack of internal democracy in political parties and the rule with the belief ‘might is right’ and the absence of provisions for leadership succession, among others.
“All these are gradually affecting the country's overall democracy,” said Devendra Raj Panday, who was one of those on the forefront of the civil society movement in 2006.
Recalling the movement of 2006, Panday said the objectives then had been institutionalisation of democracy, restructuring of the state, socio-economic transformation and on that basis—economic, social and cultural development.
“However, even a decade and a half later, not much has been achieved,” said Panday. “We have been telling the parties that they must apologise for failing to ensure the change the country needed.”
Despite the earlier snub from other political parties and the civil society, the Dahal-Nepal faction has not lost hope for a joint movement and seems to be intent on getting them on board.
On Friday, while addressing a section of journalists in Lalitpur, Dahal said there was a possibility of joint movement against the ‘regressive’ move of Oli from February 19 (or Falgun 7), the day the movement against the one-party autocratic Panchayat system was launched in 1990.
But he could not say in a concrete way that Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba had been convinced about it.
The Janata Samajbadi Party is also divided with Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai advocating a joint movement and the senior most leader Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato having different views.
According to senior leader Mahato, reinstatement alone won’t fulfill their demand of amending the constitution to incorporate the rights of Madhesi people.
In a bid to dispel suspicions that the two factions could get together again, Dahal repeatedly said that the ongoing protests by his faction should not be taken as an internal fight between leaders of the Nepal Communist Party.
Both Dahal and Nepal have been repeatedly saying through public platforms that the two factions of the ruling party will not unite, at least for some years.
“With these statements, actually the two leaders wanted to convince other parties and forces who are suspecting that they will join hands with Oli once the situation changes and goes in their favour,” said Keshav Jha, a central member of Janata Samajbadi Party.
But there is reason to believe that the fight is between the two factions with both organising shows of strength almost every day.
Friday’s mass gathering was a challenge to the Dahal-Nepal faction which had its own show of force in the Capital on January 22. Another mass meeting of the Dahal-Nepal faction is scheduled for February 10.
Oli on Friday declared that the next mass meeting of his party will be held in Butwal on February 13 and at Biratnagar on February 20.
The Dahal-Nepal faction seems desperate for a continuous show of force, especially in Kathmandu, as the ongoing hearing on House dissolution at the Supreme Court is going to end soon.
“We have been hearing from different quarters that Oli is in collusion with the Supreme Court and the Election Commission to have decisions in his favour. But once the people come out to the streets all those settings will not work,” Dahal said on Friday.
“I think Dahal was saying the joint movement would begin from the third week of February as the Supreme Court’s verdict could come by mid-February and then the situation could worsen which may help convince all the parties,” said Khimlal Devkota, a central member of Dahal-Nepal faction.
But for a joint movement to take place, the Nepali Congress must come on board. Although Deuba may appear reluctant for a joint movement now, the party will ultimately have to, even if the court verdict goes in favour of Oli, according to Nepali Congress leaders.
“Oli will then continue to take unconstitutional steps and elections may not take place,” said Pradip Poudel, a central member of Nepali Congress. “In that case, a joint struggle will be the only alternative.”
But whether the civil society will join it or not will depend on the white paper that they want the Dahal-Nepal faction to prepare.
“Political parties basically take to the streets to gain power only so they need to express commitments publicly about agendas after the success of the movement,” said Panday, who is currently mostly active on social media platforms.
But coming up with such a white paper may not be easy for a political party.
“We will hold discussions on the white paper, and it may take some time to prepare as there are limitations of the parties,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member of Dahal-Nepal faction. “Once it is issued, it needs to be followed properly.”