Ruling party’s Standing Committee meet begins with opening salvos from the two party chairsAlthough Wednesday’s meeting did not discuss anything substantial, Oli and Dahal both made speeches blaming the other for failures within the party and the government.
The long-awaited Standing Committee meeting of the ruling Nepal Communist Party is finally underway, with Wednesday setting the agenda for the rest of the meeting, which is expected to go until next week.
According to party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the standing committee meeting, which is being held after almost six months, will primarily deal with five issues—the Covid-19 response, border dispute, performance of the government and the party, completion of party unification, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Nepal Compact. The meeting will also discuss the mass killings in Rukum-West and the citizenship bill.
Although the opening day of the meeting did not dwell substantially on any issues of import, the party’s two chairs—KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal—traded barbs, signalling the reignition of an intra-party rivalry that has been characteristic of the Nepali Communist Party (NCP) since its formation.
In his opening speech, Oli, who is also the prime minister, accused executive chair Dahal and senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal of playing factional politics against him.
“Factional politics on the basis of majority has been leading the party towards indiscipline which almost caused the party to split during the last meeting,” a party leader quoted Oli as saying at the meeting.
Oli pointed to rival factions in the party that had refused to work to build consensus with him on crucial issues and, instead, were working to undermine his authority.
Dahal, along with senior leaders Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Bamdev Gautam and Narayan Kaji Shrestha, had attempted to call for Oli’s resignation in April, after Oli introduced two controversial ordinances.
Most senior leaders have their own gripes with Oli but almost all of them have complained, at one time or the other, of being sidelined by Oli while he takes unilateral decisions in both the party and the government. These disagreements had led to the creation of the ‘Bhaisepati alliance’, named after Gautam’s place of residence.
Oli narrowly managed to break the alliance by luring Gautam over to his side. But now, it appears that Gautam has once again joined Dahal and the alliance is back in form, ready to demand Oli’s resignation as prime minister, according to party insiders.
Oli had once again tried to lure Gautam back to his fold by offering him a deputy prime ministership and the ministry of his choice but Gautam had refused.
Dahal, meanwhile, charged Oli with continuing to run the party unilaterally, despite agreeing to allow Dahal more room to maneuver in the party as the executive chair.
“Either we have to part ways or we need to mend ways,” a party leader quoted Dahal as saying. “Since parting is not possible, we need to mend our ways, for which we must be ready to sacrifice.”
By ‘sacrifice’, party insiders believe that Dahal is preparing to ask Oli to step down as either the prime minister or the party chair.
Dahal also openly expressed regret at having “allowed” Oli to run the government for five years by accepting the post of executive chair. In November, the two chairs, in the presence of President Bidya Devi Bhandari, had agreed to allow Oli to run the government for the full term while Dahal would lead the party as executive chair.
The decision was never formally implemented, leading to resentment.
On Wednesday, Dahal said that both the government and the party were in crisis but Oli spent most of his time glorifying the activities of his government, alleging that both internal and external forces were working to split the party.
“There are issues but they can be sorted through internal discussions instead of blowing them out of proportion outside the party,” a Standing Committee member quoted Oli as saying.
Oli, who is aware of his rival faction’s machinations, has recently been trying to court more Maoist leaders. Oli is in a minority in the 44-member Standing Committee, with just 13 members on his side. As he is certain to face critical questions from most Standing Committee members, Oli has been attempting to shore up his position by attracting former Maoist leaders to his side.
Oli and his aides have been meeting a number of former Maoist leaders who are not happy with Dahal. Oli met Devendra Poudel, a former Maoist, at Baluwatar on Monday while Bishnu Rimal, Oli’s chief adviser, and Rajan Bhattarai, his foreign policy adviser, met with Poudel, Mani Thapa and Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, all former Maoists, at a hotel in Gaushala over the last few days to discuss cooperation with the Oli government, according to party insiders.
“I don’t think Dahal and Nepal will be able to beat Oli’s way of maneuvering,” said a Standing Committee member who was present at the meeting with Oli’s advisers.
But the Dahal-Nepal faction believes that the government and party cannot move ahead in the status quo.
“This time, we are not going to give up without ensuring change in the existing setting,” said Yubaraj Gyawali, a Standing Committee member who is close to Nepal. “The modality of the changes will be determined through discussions within the ongoing Standing Committee.”
According to Gyawali, the party and its leaders were paying the price for the Oli government’s incompetence.
“People have already started to take to the streets in protest against the government,” he said. “Without a course correction, the party cannot move ahead.”
According to party leaders, Dahal plans to weaponise the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) Nepal Compact against Oli. On Wednesday, Dahal made oblique comments about the MCC.
“It’s not a big deal to receive foreign aid but aid should not undermine national sovereignty and the Nepali peoples’ right to self determination,” Standing Committee member Dev Gurung quoted Dahal as saying. “We can only accept grants that will not affect our constitution, our laws and our independence.”
The MCC’s Nepal Compact has been languishing in Parliament for nearly a year due to the divisions within the ruling party. Many leaders, mostly former Maoists, believe that the MCC is part of the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy aimed at countering China in the region, and could undermine Nepal’s sovereignty.
But Oli and his supporters have pledged to pass the MCC through Parliament.
“Both Dahal and Nepal seem to be using the MCC to create pressure on Oli and it seems like Oli is now considering endorsing the Nepal Compact after minor amendments,” said Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member who is close to Dahal.