With the new map endorsed, Oli braces once again for challenges from within the partyParty leaders had rallied behind Oli to present a united front in the border dispute with India, but they say their patience is fast running out.
Tika R Pradhan
The release of a new political and administrative map that includes territories contested by India had bought Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli some time. But now that the map has been endorsed by both Houses of Parliament and by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, in-fighting within the ruling Nepal Communist Party is likely to resurface, especially since Oli, who is also a party chair, has yet to mend his ways, say party leaders.
Party leaders and even the opposition parties had all rallied behind Oli in the wake of a border dispute with India over Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani. The fiasco culminated in the release of a new map and its subsequent incorporation into the constitution on Thursday.
Politicians had refrained from speaking out against Oli and his government in a bid to present a unified front to India but with the map passed and India occupied with China after a violent clash that led to at least 20 Indian deaths, party leaders have begun to reassert themselves.
“The prime minister has again resumed his habit of running the government unilaterally,” said Hemraj Bhandari, a central committee member. “Leaders have not been speaking out because of the map but their patience is running out.”
After scathing criticism from party members of his unilateral ways, Oli, in the secretariat meeting held in April, had pledged to run the government in consultation with the party. But recent decisions show that old habits die hard.
On Tuesday, Dr Dibya Singh Shah, Oli’s personal physician, was appointed the dean of the Tribhuvan University’s Institute of Medicine, despite Shah being much lower on the seniority list for the position. The decision prompted criticism from party leaders, who said only Oli’s confidantes get the appointments even if they were not capable, said Bhandari.
In anticipation of criticism, Oli has also been escaping the party meetings, say leaders. Despite around 20 Standing Committee members, on April 22, making a written demand for a meeting, Oli has managed to put it off at least three times. He even called off the secretariat meeting twice recently.
“Oli has been avoiding party meetings because he cannot face party leaders,” Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker Ram Kumari Jhakri told the Post.
A standing committee meeting has been called for June 23, but Jhakri does not believe it will take place either.
“If a standing committee meeting was held, leaders would question Oli on many issues, including the poor performance of the government in its response to Covid-19.”
Oli only has 13 members on his side in the 44-member standing committee. They include Bishnu Rimal, Subah Nembang, Satya Narayan Mandal, Raghubir Mahaseth, Prithvi Subba Gurung, Kiran Gurung, Shankar Pokhrel, Pradeep Gyawali and Chhabilal Bishwokarma, General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, and Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel.
The ruling party is also divided over the US-led Millennium Challenge Corporation, which is once again in the headlines for its alleged military links to Washington. In the nine-member party secretariat, Oli has Pokhrel, Poudel and Thapa on his side. But Thapa is not likely to support him on the MCC. Most opponents to the MCC are former Maoists, including Thapa.
“As a member of Oli’s cabinet, Thapa has to support Oli on issues related to the government, but he won’t be part of the MCC,” said Maheswor Dahal, a central committee member who is close to Thapa.
According to Dahal, who is also a former Maoist, Oli and his advisor Bishnu Rimal have come out heavily in favour of the MCC—the only remaining crucial agenda after the government’s policies and programmes, budget and the map, which have all been resolved. But Oli is in the minority in most party committees and will see opposition.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other party chair, is in favour of passing the MCC only after adjustments to some clauses as per the recommendations of a committee led by senior leader Jhala Nath Khanal. The Dahal camp now includes senior leaders Khanal and Madhav Nepal, vice-chair Gautam and party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha.
Gautam has once again switched sides to the Dahal faction after allying with Oli in March. Gautam’s support had broken what had come to be known as the ‘Bhaisepati alliance’ where Dahal, Nepal, Khanal and Gautam had gotten together to demand Oli’s resignation as prime minister in the wake of a controversy over two ordinances.
But on Thursday, Bishwamani Subedi, Gautam’s press advisor, said on social media that Gautam was no longer with Oli.
“There are uncountable differences among the party leadership against KP Oli’s working style,” Subedi wrote on Facebook. “He [Gautam] is not with the prime minister on various issues, including the MCC.”
Many in the party believe that Gautam is airing his views through Subedi, who was also critical of Oli’s style of governance.
“A collective reaction is expected soon against the non-implementation of the party’s decisions,” Subedi said.