Oli and Dahal’s struggle to wrest control of party plays out over Bamdev GautamThe party Secretariat, at Dahal’s behest, nominated Gautam for the National Assembly but Oli preempts the decision by nominating Yubaraj Khatiwada for a second term.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s rejection of the party Secretariat’s decision to recommend Bamdev Gautam for the National Assembly draws new battle lines in a drawn-out power struggle with Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Hours after a Secretariat meeting of the Nepal Communist Party on Wednesday decided to send Vice-chair Gautam to the National Assembly, party Chair Oli said that he would not nominate Gautam to the Upper House, as the push and pull between Oli and Dahal, the other chair, continues.
Preempting the Secretariat’s decision, Oli had already decided, on Tuesday, to recommend Yubaraj Khatiwada, the finance minister, for another term in the National Assembly. It was widely believed that Gautam would replace Khatiwada in the Upper House, as the latter’s two-year term ends on March 3.
The government has already recommended Khatiwada for the National Assembly, Oli told senior party leader Madhav Kumar Nepal at a meeting in Baluwatar on Wednesday afternoon, according to a party leader who has close relations with Nepal.
Oli had called Nepal for a meeting to express his dissatisfaction over Gautam’s recommendation by the Secretariat meeting. It was in that two-hour meeting that Oli informed Nepal of his decision to extend Khatiwada’s term, effectively squashing Gautam’s nomination, according to the party leader.
“At present, I cannot recommend Gautam’s name,” Oli said at the meeting, according to the leader. “Before the party made its decision, I had already recommended Khatiwada’s name to the President.”
However, two sources close to the prime minister told the Post that Oli’s decision was less about Gautam and more about Khatiwada, as some party leaders have long wanted to remove the finance minister. A number of Khatiwada’s decisions have seriously affected some business communities and they have been lobbying to remove him. However, the prime minister is convinced that Khatiwada has maintained strict fiscal discipline, the party leaders said.
“Under the influence of some party leaders, attempts are ongoing to remove Khatiwada, which the prime minister does not want,” said one leader close to Oli. “This is not about preventing Gautam.”
But Gautam, who lost the 2017 parliamentary election from Bardiya-1, has long been seeking a ‘concrete role’ in the party. Earlier, he had managed to coax Oli into making him chief of the party’s organisation department. Later, Gautam again managed to convince Oli to elevate him to party vice-chair, for which the party had to amend its statute. But till that time, Gautam was still with the Oli camp.
In late December after a meeting in Bhaisepati, Gautam switched the camps, siding with Dahal and deserting Oli. Since then, Dahal has been lobbying to induct Gautam into the Upper House and pave the way for him to become prime minister, something that Gautam has long expressed a desire for.
Shyam Shrestha, an analyst who follows left politics, said that the present tussle between the two party chairs is a struggle to win Gautam’s confidence.
“Gautam is ambitious, so he wants to become the prime minister and not only an assembly member,” said Shrestha. “Dahal has given him his word so he is committed to elevating Gautam. Oli wants Gautam on his side but so far, he’s been unsuccessful. I think this new ruckus is the result of the recent emergence of the Dahal-led group, which is popularly known as the Bhaisepati alliance.”
Gautam’s recommendation is believed to have been largely at the behest of Dahal, who has managed to obtain a majority in the nine-member Secretariat, with Gautam, Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Ram Bahadur Thapa on his side. The decision follows a ruckus over a proposal to amend the constitution to pave the way for a National Assembly member to become prime minister, a plan that was pointedly targeted at Gautam.
According to leaders, when the Secretariat decided to send Gautam to the Upper House, Oli did not put up a challenge but said that “plots were being hatched” against him.
Oli’s decision to continue with Khatiwada does not pose a legal issue but it could strain already tense relations between the government and the party.
“There are no constitutional or legal hurdles,” Purna Man Shakya, a professor at the Nepal Law Campus, told the Post. “It’s up to the government if it wants Khatiwada back.”
But Oli could be pulled up by the party for not abiding by a decision taken by the Secretariat. The party’s recent Central Committee meeting had decided that the government must work hand-in-glove with the party.
Nepal reminded Oli of the Central Committee’s instruction, said the party leader.
“You should stick to the decision that the Secretariat has made,” Nepal told Oli, according to the leader.
Oli, however, was not convinced.