There’s a semblance of calm in the ruling party, but the storm is not over yetIf not addressed well, at least three issues can easily upset the applecart, say party insiders.
After months of tug-of-war, the ruling Nepal Communist Party on Friday achieved quite a feat, as its secretariat meeting at one stroke appointed chiefs of 32 party departments. Even the decision on the hotly contested School Department was taken swiftly. Nor was there much of a debate on who should lead the organisation department, over which the former CPN-UML and the Maoists were sharply divided.
Since coming into being after a merger between the UML and the Maoist Centre in May last year, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was going through a turmoil, as different equations and dynamics were emerging at the behest of various factions.
But suddenly on Friday, there was a semblance of calm.
The current arrangement could work well for the party, say party insiders, but this could also be the calm before the storm. At least three crucial issues are likely to emerge sooner rather than later, they say.
The first issue is Bamdev Gautam’s appointment as the head of organisation department and his promotion to the post of vice-chairman. That aside, Gautam, who lost the 2017 elections, is likely to be fielded in a by-election. A victory will take him to Parliament.
How a leader who was defeated in the 2017 election emerged as victorious in the party has surprised many. Until a few weeks ago, Prime Minister and Co-chair KP Sharma Oli was not keen to hand over the organisation department to Gautam, while another Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal was making a pitch for him. Relations between Oli and Gautam had also soured last year following a debacle when Gautam was preparing to stand in a by-election after making Ram Bir Manandhar, the lawmaker from the Kathmandu-7 constituency, step down.
Party leaders say Oli and Dahal must have made a compromise on Gautam to balance power in the party.
“But to promote Gautam to the post of vice-chair, the party statute needs to be amended,” said Beduram Bhusal, a standing committee member. “In our party, some decisions that are being made have surprised even us.”
Even if Gautam’s appointment is not going to have a direct effect, according to sources, it could give rise to yet another crucial issue.
At Friday’s secretariat meeting, Jhala Nath Khanal, a former prime minister and former CPN-UML chair, reiterated his claim for the third rank in the party. Currently, after the two co-chairs, Madhav Kumar Nepal enjoys the third seniority in the party.
Oli was quick to respond that the issue would be discussed during the next meeting, which was scheduled for Saturday but did not take place because of the leaders’ “hectic schedules”.
Nepal, on the other hand, riposted: “If we discuss this issue, we need to analyse almost every development from the day of establishment of the CPN-Marxist Leninist.”
In the ruling NCP, Nepal holds sway over a sizeable number of leaders and runs his own faction. Oli and Nepal were known as arch-rivals in the former UML, and their rivalry continues. Given a strong faction that Nepal leads, Dahal in the past months had tried to cultivate him, causing suspicions in the Oli camp.
Dahal’s maneuverings when Oli was facing criticism for the government’s poor performance and unilateral decisions in the party had made Oli feel cornered to some extent.
But while Dahal's actions—series of meetings and statements—came to the public domain, Oli played his cards close to his chest.
A secretariat member who requested anonymity told the Post that Oli pulled off quite a coup by managing to convince Dahal. According to a secretariat member, Oli must have dangled the bait of chairmanship to Dahal, thereby killing two birds with one stone, as the move will also help keep Nepal at bay.
“The way Oli and Dahal are working together is aimed at sidelining Nepal; it’s but obvious,” said the leader.
Oli and Dahal now are on the same page, but any move to promote Khanal would not go down well with Nepal.
Although leaders loyal to Nepal say they do not want to read too much at this point in time, they are watching the developments cautiously.
“The two chairpersons can corner Nepal, but they cannot weaken him,” said Bishnu Rijal, a central member who has close relations with Nepal.
Bhusal, however, is sceptical whether the two co-chairs are serious about the hierarchy issue. “Madhav Nepal has always been senior to Khanal, except on one or two instances,” Bhusal, who also has close relations with Nepal, told the Post.
The third issue that could cause a tempest in the party is the decision to let Ishwar Pokhrel lead the School Department. The former Maoists are not particularly happy with the decision. The department went to Pokhrel after one of the claimants to the post, party spokesperson Narayana Kaji Shrestha, agreed to settle for the Publicity and Publication Department.
Pokhrel, who represents the former UML, of late has been at the forefront to demand that the NCP should adopt the “people’s multi-party democracy” as its political ideology. Even though the NCP’s political document says the party will follow “people’s democracy” until the unity convention finalises its party line, Pokhrel has managed to garner support for the UML ideology of the “people’s mulit-party democracy”.
The Maoists, who have agreed to relinquish their “21st century people’s democracy” principle, believe the NCP should adopt a “refined” political ideology by finding a middle ground between their line and the UML’s.
Among the former Maoists, there are also concerns that Dahal, who looks quite obsequious to Oli, could even agree for the “people’s multi-party democracy” if that plays to his benefit.
“Dahal these days is guided by his personal interests rather than ideological positions,” a former Maoist leader told the Post requesting anonymity.
Dahal who had kicked up a storm in the party a few months ago by talking about an agreement between him and Oli on leading the government by turns, according to the leader, is eyeing sole chairmanship of the party.
“He does not have any stance on party departments,” said the leader. “So if some issues are not handled delicately, they could upset the applecart.”