In a new move, the ruling Nepal Communist Party tries to muzzle its leadersThe party has barred leaders from expressing dissent in public and from criticising the leadership and government.
The first-ever secretariat meeting of the ruling Nepal Communist Party presided over by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who co-chairs the party along with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, on Monday made a major decision to bar leaders from speaking against the party and the leadership.
More than a year after the formation of the party, Dahal on Monday chaired the secretariat meeting for the first time in the absence of Oli, who is in Singapore for medical treatment.
The move is aimed at reining in the growing trend of expressing dissent in the party in the wake of some major decisions that Oli had taken with the backing of Dahal, largely to assert more control in the party and sideline a faction led by Madhav Kumar Nepal.
The leadership which had been using fear and coercion to control party leaders since the formation of the party was increasingly unhappy over dissenting voices that were being made in public, on social media or other platforms.
The move is concerning, say party leaders.
“This decision will certainly have a negative impact on the party as many things are still not in place,” said Metmani Chaudhary, a central committee member. “I don’t think leaders are going to follow this decision; it will stifle leaders and make the party lifeless. Leaders are speaking because they are forced by the leadership’s actions; had the leadership been functioning systematically, nobody would have spoken out against them.”
Many say the decision was expected as the leadership was already working to this effect in the guise of maintaining discipline in the party.
On Friday, Dahal had said at a public programme that public statements being made by some leaders against the party were a matter of concern.
“The level of discipline has deteriorated in the party. Leaders are saying whatever they like without giving a thought to our collective interest,” said Dahal. “Now, the responsibility to correct such activities is on our shoulders.”
Internal row in the ruling party escalated around two weeks ago after the leadership suddenly decided to appoint chiefs of the departments after months of wrangling. Then Oli and Dahal not only promoted Jhala Nath Khanal as the third-ranking leader in the party but also elevated Bamdev Gautam to the post of vice-chairman, ignoring the party statute.
Khanal’s elevation meant Nepal was relegated to the fourth position, which irked the Nepal faction.
While Oli and Nepal traded barbs on Thursday just before the former flew to Singapore, leaders loyal to them had already started making statements in public, on social media and other platforms.
“In principle, the decision to restrict leaders from speaking out may be correct, but it cannot be fully implemented unless they are allowed to air their views in the party committees,” said Yubaraj Chaulagain, a central committee member.
The party has directed all its leaders, cadres and members to express their dissent in the party committees only and not to protest or criticise policy and leadership in public.
“The party will first seek clarification from those who write, speak or are involved in any activity that is against the party’s policy and leadership,” reads a press statement issued by the party undersigned by General Secretary Bishnu Poudel. “After that the party will start the process to initiate action against them.”
But discussions in the party committees are few and far between and their meetings are rarely held. Earlier, party leaders had alleged that the top leaders used to make their decisions known and dismiss the meetings, without letting committee members air their views.
Leaders say for them to give space to speak in party committees, meetings have to be held in the first place.
The party has so far called only one central committee meeting and two standing committee meetings in the last 15 months.
“This new decision can be implemented only in an ideal situation where party committees function fully and systematically,” Chaulagain told the Post.
The Nepal Communist Party-led government has been criticised since its initial days for its intolerant approach. One of the Oli administration’s earliest decisions to prevent people from holding protests in Maitighar Mandala had met with a severe backlash. It later backtracked on the decision. Around half a dozen bills introduced by the Oli administration have been controversial, for they have various provisions that aim to control free speech and press freedom.
“Now the party is trying to muzzle its own members,” said Chaudhary. “I wonder what the leadership is up to. Do they want to the NCP to function like the traditional Russian Communist Party?”
Jagannath Khatiwada, also a central member, said the move “to discipline” the leaders is fine if it is also applicable to top party brass.
“It will work only if co-chairs are also made to follow this rule,” said Khatiwada. “If it is aimed at reining in dissent and control lower-level leaders only, it’s nothing but a farce. Who knows this is just a tool to humiliate certain leaders. ”
Some leaders say the secretariat is free to take decisions, including the one which was taken on Monday, but the leadership must follow democratic principles.
“How can party members take ownership of the decisions that are taken by a handful of leaders without proper consultation?” said Ram Karki, a central member and former minister. “Who will take action against those leaders who violate the statute?”