Fresh bout of political instabilityThe former Maoists are frightened because a fair investigation into conflict-era cases would send hundreds among them behind bars.
By now, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the co-chair of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, seems to have amply realised that the current prime minister and other co-chair KP Sharma Oli will not hand over the premiership to him in May next year, as agreed by the two before forming the government. Dahal and Oli had not only agreed to unite the parties they headed then, the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) respectively, to form the Nepal Communist Party; but Oli had also vowed to hand over power to Dahal halfway through the government's five-year term.
In the light of Oli's demeanour and public ostentation, Dahal's desperation and restlessness, therefore, have visibly increased. In a bid to create political pressure on Oli to relinquish power as per the agreement, Dahal 'leaked' the agreement document to the media. He now indulges in frantic lobbying and consolidation of his support base, within and outside the Nepal Communist Party. Dahal hopes to capitalise on the utter disenchantment—of Nepal Communist Party heavyweights like former prime ministers Madhav Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal and former deputy prime minister Bamdev Gautam, among others—towards Oli's highhandedness and monopoly in running both the party and the government. But Prime Minister Oli appears determined not to care for any such 'distractions' and abdicate because of anybody's wish. Instead, he has his political armoury ready to thwart all possible bids to unseat him from the hot chair.
Tighten the noose
As it is, Dahal enjoys majority support neither in the Nepal Communist Party central executive body nor in the NCP parliamentary party, even after the strength of his potential in-party allies like Nepal, Khanal or Gautam is accounted for. Besides, Oli has made all preparations to credibly threaten Dahal by initiating a corruption investigation if the latter continues to irk the former. Another aggressive strategy Oli may undertake is to tighten the noose around Dahal's neck by restarting the now-stalled process of truth and reconciliation that involves the incidents of thousands of atrocities and apolitical killings during the decade-long civil conflict under his leadership.
The approximately Rs7 billion withdrawn from the state coffers by Dahal and his confidantes a decade ago to 'distribute' to former Maoist combatants is yet to be settled, which may at any time constitute a powerful case of embezzlement of state funds. It was also alleged that the number combatants then sheltered in the camps was also significantly exaggerated by him to extract an undue amount from the state treasury. On the truth and reconciliation front, Dahal and his entire former Maoist brigade are so frightened that even a marginally fair investigation into conflict-era cases would easily send hundreds among them behind bars. Oli recognises this soft spot and knows where and when to hit.
Besides, the corruption control ombudsman mechanisms like the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority and the National Vigilance Centre are filled by executives who pledge personal loyalty to Oli. Even the principle of separation of powers has now, for all practical purposes, been severely compromised under Oli's one-upmanship. Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons are now defunct largely for lack of political cooperation for them to take their five-year-long exercise—whatever little they had done—to a logical conclusion. The political loyalty of the to-be-appointed office bearers into these commissions is critical to the way the investigation process moves forward. Dahal is extremely keen to let this entire process fizzle out and is thus reluctant even to resuscitate these commissions. Oli wants them to remain as the Sword of Damocles dangling above Dahal's head. This was perhaps the only insurmountable fear that led Dahal to surrender his entire party to Oli's mercy. To reiterate, the fundamental sources and the extent of that particular anxiety still remain intact while Dahal’s political clout has drastically eroded during the last two years.
These developments cannot simply be discounted as routine and mundane political tugs-of-war between power-hungry politicians since it smacks of another round of disgustful political instability in the country. Despite the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Maoists in 2006, a splinter of the same guerrilla group, under the leadership of Netra Bikram Chand, is still operating underground and recently has started to call nationwide strikes and carry out hit-and-run attacks and bomb blasts in several parts of the country. Former Maoist commander Netra Bikram Chand, aka Biplab, appears to be encouraged by the precedent set by Dahal's catapult to power straight from underground warfare. Pervasive impunity for possible crimes against humanity during the Maoist insurgency is the real incentive to armed groups like the one led by Biplab. This is how the government's imperviousness to take the truth and reconciliation process to a conclusion by convincingly ensuring justice to the victims is proving to be one major breeding ground for the next round of instability.
Incessant quarrelling among the constitutional forces, particularly infighting within the ruling party, are exacerbating the sense of instability. Such bickering severely affects the government's performance and augments public disenchantment with the political system itself. It provides room to armed groups to capitalise on this repellent effect and attract unemployed youths into their fold.
After a costly and protracted two-decade-long political transition, the hard-earned political stability now stewarded by strong governments at the centre as well as in the provinces, ideally, should have been able to deliver the much touted 'peace dividend' to the country. One undeniable source expanding the sense of security and stability is the unquestionable efficacy of the government. But, unfortunately, the priorities of the government are grossly misplaced and directed at curtailing key democratic freedoms, which may soon force the public to curse the stability itself. However, the importance of stability can hardly be summarily undermined. But instead of devoting their entire energy to correct the inefficiencies of the government and enhancing efficiency, lack of unity of purpose among the top hats of the ruling party itself is unfortunate for the country, to say the least. The country cannot bear the brunt of another bout of political instability, whether it is engendered from within the ruling party or from without.
Wagle is a professor (adjunct) at Kathmandu University School of Management. He tweets at @DrAchyutWagle.