As ruling party readies to elevate Bamdev Gautam to vice-chair, not everyone is on boardWhile leaders from Gautam’s camp argue that he is essential to the party, others question why one individual is getting so much importance.
The ruling Nepali Communist Party is set to amend its statute to elevate senior leader Bamdev Gautam to the post of vice-chairman but many insiders are questioning the rationale behind giving undue importance to one individual. The leadership— particularly co-chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal—even appears ready to send Gautam to the National Assembly, say insiders.
Gautam, who lost the 2017 parliamentary elections from Bardiya, has of late emerged as a key player in the party, as the significant clout he exercises can change party dynamics.
Oli, at a secretariat meeting in the third week of August, tabled a proposal to make Gautam vice-chairman, a post not included in the party’s current statute.
Once the party’s standing committee meeting, which has been called for Sunday, and the central committee approve an amendment to the party statute, the deck will be cleared for Gautam’s elevation.
Party members, however, are divided over Gautam’s proposed elevation.
A section of leaders says that the party “desperately needs” to give Gautam a concrete role, given his seniority and the instrumental role he played in the merger of the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre. However, others say amending the party statute just to favour one individual will set a wrong precedent. The party has already defied the established norms of communist parties around the world by having two chairpersons.
General Secretary Bishnu Poudel said that the party has realised the need for a vice-chairman to facilitate effective work delegation.
“After searching for the right candidate for some time, we zeroed in on Gautam,” Poudel told the Post. “The decision was taken unanimously at the secretariat meeting.”
According to Poudel, the party needs to recognise the contributions Gautam has made over the years.
But there’s more to it than meets the eye, say insiders.
Gautam was on the best of terms with some party leaders, including Oli, but after his election defeat, he blamed them for the loss, souring relations.
About a year after the party merger, Dahal, who was getting increasingly concerned about his lack of responsibility, started to cultivate Gautam. Dahal simultaneously also tried to woo Madhav Kumar Nepal, who had been sidelined by the Oli faction.
With Gautam and Nepal on his side, Dahal was in a comfortable position, said ruling party leaders. But this concerned Oli, who proposed that Gautam be elevated to vice-chairman in order to wean him away from Dahal.
According to one party leader, Gautam’s elevation suits Oli, as he will be able to maintain checks and balances when Dahal chairs party meetings in his absence. Dahal loses hardly anything by having Gautam as his deputy, the leader said. Last month, a secretariat meeting decided to let Oli run the government for the full term and Dahal to lead the party as executive chairman.
But not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement.
“This whole arrangement is bizarre,” said Lekhnath Neupane, a central committee member. “We are going to amend the party statute just for one leader. We do not even know the rationale behind his appointment [as vice-chairman].”
Gautam, for his part, has started portraying himself as a senior leader. In a recent interview with Rastriya Samachar Samiti, the national news agency, Gautam said that he would become prime minister if “the country needs me”.
“For that, an amendment to the constitution is required and the party should be ready to do it,” Gautam told the news agency. The constitution only allows a member of the House of Representatives to become the prime minister. As Gautam isn’t an elected Member of Parliament, he will most likely be inducted into the National Assembly, and for a National Assembly member to become prime minister requires an amendment to the constitution.
Another senior Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leader said that Oli and Dahal probably want to give Gautam some role in the party to recognise his contributions to party unification, but he is not essential to the party.
“I know the secretariat has proposed Gautam as vice-chairman, but I don’t know the actual reason behind it,” said Beduram Bhusal, a standing committee member. “I have not seen any difficulties the party is facing without a vice-chairman.”
Bhusal maintained that a leader does not need a position in the party if they really want to work.
“I don’t see any special reason for his appointment,” he said. “And I don’t see what problem he has without the vice-chair post.”
Gautam’s elevation to vice-chair might not be necessary and some leaders fear that it will only serve to set the wrong kind of precedent in the ruling communist party.
“We do not know what kind of political culture we are setting up,” said Neupane, the central committee member.