A setback for Dahal as his allies from CPN-UML decide to return homeWith 53 seats, the Maoist Centre is now the third party in Parliament. And to make any substantial move, the Maoist chair has to look to Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party.
A day after the Supreme Court decision to revive the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) by not only invalidating the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) as a party but also annulling the UML-Maoist Centre merger, members close to KP Sharma Oli on Monday changed the boards at party offices in several districts. They replaced the boards of Nepal Communist Party (NCP) with CPN-UML.
Leaders of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal were at their wits’ end. By Monday evening, the group decided that it will abide by the court decision to “take” their own parties—the Maoist Centre and the UML.
The court decision may have “split” the leaders along the UML and the Maoist Centre lines, but it, in essence, effected a split in the Dahal-Nepal faction.
Dahal now will have 53 of the Maoist lawmakers and the Nepal side, along with around 43 lawmakers, would return to the Oli-led UML.
“Since there is no option than to abide by the court’s decision, we will have to join the Oli-led UML,” said a leader close to Nepal. “We, however, will continue to fight the Oli tendency by remaining within the UML.”
Analysts say the new situation could mean an existential crisis for Dahal.
“For Nepal and others who came from the UML, returning to the Oli camp won’t be much of a problem,” said Hari Roka, a political analyst. “It will definitely be difficult for Dahal.”
When Dahal’s Maoist Centre and Oli’s UML announced their merger in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party, many were not convinced, as both came from two different schools of thought. Some analysts had even said that the Maoist Centre was actually “acquired” by Oli.
The communist unity, as expected, was fraught with challenges. There were too many leaders with too many aspirations—starting from the top. Oli’s arrogance and Dahal’s ambitions clashed and in due course both the party chairs were baying for each other’s blood. As Dahal managed to win Nepal’s backing, Oli played his cards.
The party was sharply divided along the factions led by Oli as well as Dahal and Nepal.
And in a sudden move, Oli dissolved the House, attracting widespread criticism. The Dahal-Nepal faction took to the streets. When the Supreme Court revived the House on February 23, Dahal and Nepal took it as their victory. They celebrated their “win” by feeding sweets to each other. But the jubilations were short-lived. In a matter of days, the court has now brought about a split between Dahal and Nepal too.
With the court decision and Dahal and Nepal’s “decision in agreement” to go back to their own parties, Dahal’s Maoist Centre is now reduced to the third party in Parliament.
With just 53 seats at hand, the only way Dahal can challenge Oli is by taking the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party into confidence to support him.
In return, Dahal, however, has nothing to offer.
The Congress has not forgotten yet how Dahal betrayed it in the 2017 elections when he suddenly decided to join hands with Oli. The Janata Samajbadi Party sees no dividend in supporting Dahal.
Oli, on the other hand, is likely to woo both the Congress and Janata Samajbadi parties.
When the court overturned Oli’s House dissolution, it looked like he had lost the game but now he has emerged as a powerful leader after Sunday’s verdict, according to analysts.
Rajendra Maharjan, a political analyst who writes commentaries for the Post’s sister paper Kantipur, said that the court decision has dealt a major blow to Dahal and it will negatively impact his politics.
“The unification between the UML and the Maoist Centre had not completed even after more than two years,” Maharjan told the Post. “Dahal’s ambition to become prime minister prompted a split in the party.”
Sunday’s court verdict has given rise to multiple scenarios, and Dahal does not seem to properly fit in any of them.
The Congress party does not appear keen on joining hands with Oli in the government. However, if it does support Oli, this will at least come as reprieve for Dahal, as he will be the leader of the main opposition. And by virtue of being the leader of the opposition, Dahal can have some saving grace, as he will also hold a constitutional position, for the opposition leader is a member of the Constitutional Council.
Both Oli and Congress may try to deprive Dahal of that position also.
Another scenario is that the Congress, Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi Party could form a coalition government, according to Maharjan.
“But Dahal’s chances of becoming prime minister are slim in that case,” Maharjan told the Post.
Many say Dahal had decided to form an electoral alliance with Oli’s UML because he had foreseen a poll disaster. After emerging as the first party in 2008 Constituent Assembly elections, Dahal’s Maoist party was relegated to the third position in the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections.
By the time the general elections arrived in 2017, Dahal was struggling to maintain his Maoist party’s relevance. The electoral alliance with the UML worked. Dahal was staring at a political crisis but his party’s merger with the UML installed him as one of the chairs of the largest and strongest communist force the country had ever seen. He is now once again relegated to the leader of the third party in Parliament.
Even if the current political mess continues, the country will have to go to the polls next year.
Dahal and his Maoist Centre will have little or nothing to show to the electorate to seek votes, according to analysts.
Dahal’s party could be reduced to a much smaller force after the polls, said Maharjan.
One of the options Dahal could explore, however, is reorganising former Maoists who are scattered. Netra Bikram Chand, one of Dahal’s loyal lieutenants during the “people’s war”, has recently returned to peaceful politics. Though Chand had deserted Dahal charging the latter with deviating from the ideology and leaving the “people’s war” halfway, their union cannot be ruled out. After all, just like the UML leaders find their “ideology” as the glue to stay together, perhaps Dahal and Chand or even Mohan Baidya could find a common ground, according to analysts.
According to Roka, Dahal might find himself cornered at this time, but he would try to come up with an option to stay relevant in politics in the long run.
Even though the court on Sunday scrapped the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), it has left open the option for the UML and the Maoist Centre to unite again.
In an order of mandamus, the court has asked the Election Commission to take necessary steps in accordance with law if the two parties wish to unite.
But since politics is a game of immense possibilities, anything can happen, say analysts.
“For the time being, Dahal has definitely faced a setback,” said Maharjan. “But given the bitterness between Oli and Nepal who had a hard time finding a space in the party under Oli, a split in the UML cannot be ruled out. In that case, who knows, Nepal could become Dahal’s saviour.”