One man’s political ambitions have kicked up a storm in the Nepal Communist PartyBamdev Gautam’s desire for power has created a furore in the ruling party, but leaders in the past have used him too for their own benefits, say insiders.
The party is clearly divided between two camps. Many wonder what makes Gautam exercise such an inordinate influence in the party. Those who know Gautam and have worked with him in the past say this is not the first time he has created a storm in the party.
A party leader said almost everyone knows Gautam’s lust for power, and at times, he himself makes a manoeuvre while at other times, leaders use him for their benefit, for they know that Gautam could go to any extent to fulfil his political ambitions.
Ever since the 76-year-old Gautam lost the 2017 parliamentary election from Bardiya-1, he has been desperate and has never been able to conceal his desire to exercise power, in whichever form possible.
“He may have been down, but he was never out,” one of Gautam’s close aides who did not wish to be identified, told the Post. “He is a senior leader of the party—fifth in the hierarchical rankings. He wants to become prime minister and he has never concealed this desire. I don’t think there's anything wrong with that.”
Gautam’s desire to become prime minister is not new. In the past, he has been deputy prime minister three times and has held ministerial portfolios, including the home ministry. But most of his contemporaries have made it to Baluwatar, including all of the other senior party leaders—Oli, Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal. Now, he feels he deserves to be the executive head, given his contributions to the ruling party and to its individual leaders, according to some party leaders close to Gautam.
Last week, a Secretariat meeting of the Nepal Communist Party decided to induct Gautam into the National Assembly, just days after a political furore over the ruling party’s plan to amend the constitution to allow a National Assembly member to become prime minister.
That plan appears to have been scrapped for the moment after members of a task force formed to amend the constitution distanced themselves from the planned changes.
Party insiders say the secret to Gautam’s political rise lies in discerning which way the wind is blowing.
Just before the 2017 election, Oli and Dahal were trying to merge the Maoist party and the CPN-UML to make one large communist force. Gautam played a crucial role in that party merger. Since then, Gautam has played both sides, initially siding with Oli, before jumping camp to Dahal. The relationship between Oli and Gautam, however, has always been bittersweet.
Before joining the Oli camp, Gautam was in the Khanal camp—Khanal was the party leader and had become prime minister.
During the CPN-UML’s ninth general convention in July 2014, Oli was not in the best of health and Gautam enjoyed a significant clout in the party. He threw his weight behind Oli to install him as the party chair. A little over a year later, Oli became prime minister for the first time in October 2015. But as soon as Oli took the helm, he forgot Gautam, say party leaders.
Gautam began to grow suspicious of Oli after his loss—by a small margin of 758 votes to a Nepali Congress leader—in the 2017 elections. Gautam could not believe it, as the CPN-UML and the Maoist party had forged an electoral alliance, and he blamed Oli’s aides for engineering his defeat. After a thumping victory for the two communist parties, Oli returned to power, leaving Gautam seething. Oli dismissed his demand to form a high-level committee to investigate his defeat, further cementing his belief that Oli was somehow behind his loss.
Oli became Gautam’s bete noire, and Dahal knew it.
In the unified Nepal Communist Party, Oli was enjoying the laurels of his victory—leading the government and the party single-handedly. Dahal was increasingly at unease. He wanted a concrete role and better say in the party, and Gautam knew it.
The two made natural allies against Oli, who was increasingly seizing hold of both the party and the government. Oli sensed this and his faction hatched a plan. In November last year, Gautam was made head of the organisational department at Oli’s behest, seconded by Dahal and Nepal. Oli even announced that Gautam would be made the party’s vice-chair, a post the party’s statute did not envision. Subsequently, he was elevated to the post.
Insiders said that for a person like Gautam, who knows how to play his cards right, things were turning in his favour.
Gautam upped the ante, demanding that the party send him to the National Assembly and amend the constitution for a National Assembly member to become prime minister.
By this time, Dahal had managed to wrest control of the party. On January 8, at a meeting in Bhaisepati at Gautam’s residence, Dahal managed to get Gautam, Nepal and Khanal on his side. In the nine-member Secretariat, Dahal and Narayan Kaji Shrestha, as former Maoists, were happy to weaken Oli, while Nepal’s relationship with Oli had already soured. For Khanal, being in the Dahal camp suited him more, as he aspires to become Nepal’s president.
Gautam happily deserted the Oli camp with an assurance that Dahal would back him for the National Assembly and eventually, the prime ministership. “The deal was that once Gautam becomes prime minister, which is his only wish, everyone else’s role in the party would be set for the long term,” a Gautam aide told the Post.
That’s exactly how Gautam functions, say analysts and leaders who know him. Gautam is a good strategist, according to them.
In March 1998, Gautam played a crucial role in splitting the CPN-UML over the Mahakali treaty with India. Gautam, along with some other key UML leaders, formed CPN-ML and became its leader. In the general election in the subsequent year, the party faced a drubbing, failing to win even a single seat. For Gautam, who had won in the 1991 elections, had emerged victorious in the 1994 midterm election and had become the home minister in 1997, the only option left was to return to the parent party.
In 2002, Gautam merged with the UML and became a Standing Committee member. He once again found a platform to flex his muscles.
After the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008, he became the deputy prime minister and home minister in the Dahal-led government.
“He likes to remain in power. He does not hesitate to go to any extent,” said Bijay Subba, a Central Committee member and a lawmaker.
Though some leaders say the current furore in the party may be because of Gautam, they add that top leaders too are equally to blame.
Gautam’s desire to become prime minister was first nourished by Oli and later, Dahal.
Now both Oli and Dahal are sparring.
“We have to see if what all happened over the past week was a storm before the calm,” said Subba. “Given new developments, Oli and Dahal might reach a compromise on taking Gautam to the Upper House and letting Yubaraj Khatiwada continue as the finance minister. There appears to be a semblance of calm. But who knows - it could be the calm before the storm.”