In Nepal Communist Party, the two chairs are the partyParty insiders say months-long wrangling has ended, for now, after Oli and Dahal reached some understanding, giving a semblance of calm to the party.
The dust has finally settled in the ruling party–or at least it appears so.
After months of squabbling, party chairs KP Sharma Oli, also the prime minister, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal have decided to bury the hatchet. The six-member task force the two chairs had formed submitted its report on August 22, basically addressing the concerns of both the leaders–that Oli will lead the government for the full term and Dahal will have an “expanded role” as party chair.
The party has called its Secretariat meeting for Saturday to discuss the task force’s report, which has made some other recommendations as well, including the party’s general convention in April and a Cabinet reshuffle.
Party insiders say the two chairs have basically returned to the November 2019 deal, which said Oli would lead the government for full five years and Dahal would command the party.
“There is nothing new in the task force report. Why does the party need a task force’s report just to suggest what the party chairs had already agreed back in November,” said a Standing Committee member who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It does not address the major concern of the party–establishment of the system.”
Multiple leaders the Post spoke to said they were convinced that the factional feud in the party was neither for the party system nor for principles and that it was all for power and positions. They, however, stressed that they never wanted the party to split because of the rift between the top leaders.
Until last month, the rift had widened between the two chairs to the extent that it looked like the party, formed in May 2018, was headed for a split. When Oli and Dahal announced the formation of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), born after the merger of then CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre), they had declared themselves as the co-pilots.
Since then, according to insiders, the party has by and large been run by the two chairmen; whenever the party has been in trouble, it’s because of the tussle between them.
Even when the fight between the two chairs was at its peak, the party’s second rung and youth leaders barely spoke. Most of the time, Oli and Dahal have been at the centre stage, with only a few leaders like Madhav Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bamdev Gautam having their say.
“In the Nepal Communist Party, the two chairs are the party,” said Prithvi Subba Gurung, a Standing Committee member and chief minister of Gandaki Province. “And this time around also, after the tussle reached the tipping point, they seem to have managed to find a middle path between them.”
Though some leaders like Nepal and Khanal have expressed reservations about the task force report, party insiders say their discontent hardly matters when the two chairs have agreed to stand together.
“We cannot please everyone,” said Pampha Bhusal, a Standing Committee member and a member of the task force. “Now things will gradually go to the Standing Committee as both chairs are positive about the report.”
Besides Bhusal, the task force had Surendra Pandey, Bhim Rawal, Janardan Sharma and Shankar Pokhrel as members.
Bhusal and Sharma represent former Maoists; Pandey and Rawal represent the Madhav Nepal faction while Poudel and Pokhrel are Oli’s close confidantes.
Though the 17-page report has made several recommendations, it has explicitly made it clear that a lack of proper work division between the two chairs created mistrust and internal conflict among the top leadership.
“Recurring problems in the relations between two chairs had negatively affected the activities of the party and the government,” states the report. “Oli will lead the government for the full term and Dahal will focus on the party's works with the executive role.”
Insiders say if the two chairs are in agreement, they can easily placate the Nepal-Khanal group with some changes in the ministerial portfolios. If need be, chief ministers could be changed, most probably in Bagmati and Province 5, according to the insiders.
Political analysts say it is not surprising that the task force has given the party reins to the two chairs, as they are the ones who are going to make decisions at least until the general convention.
“The two chairs have been decisive in almost everything since the party was born,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst who has followed Nepal’s leftist politics for decades. “There is no alternative to consensus between the two chairs until the general convention, as the party unity is all about power sharing.”
When the party unity was announced a little over two years ago, there were concerns from within the two constituent parties if “true unification” was possible as they came from two different schools of thought with their ideologies poles apart.
During the unification, the party had made an unprecedented decision that there would be two chairs, which too had raised quite an eyebrow, as both Oli and Dahal led their respective parties. While Oli had become UML chair through election, Dahal had led the Maoist party without opposition for the past three decades.
Over the more than two years since the unification, if any problem has arisen in the party, it is mostly between the two chairs, with Nepal once in a while challenging the leadership, especially Oli, his bete noire since the UML days.
Insiders say Nepal decided to side with Dahal not because he trusted the former Maoist leader but because he wanted to up the ante against Oli. There is no real fight between Oli and Nepal, as at the end of the day, what binds them together is their shared love-hate relationship, according to them.
Leaders close to Oli say the discontent expressed by Nepal at the task force does not really matter.
“Those who are opposing the formation of the task force must admit that they all were nominated by the two chairs,” said Subas Nembang, a Standing Committee member, one of Oli’s close confidantes.
Krishna Pokhrel, who teaches political science at Tribhuvan University, said there was no way Dahal would have made any move that could lead the party to a split.
“No one would have benefitted from the party split–neither Oli nor Dahal. There is no alternative for both to maintain the party unity,” Pokhrel told the Post.
Party leaders, however, are convinced that to save the party unity, the two chairs have to work in tandem, at least until the unity general convention.
“The two chairs are everything in our party, and their justifiable decisions will move the party forward,” said Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, a Standing Committee member. “Other leaders including Nepal and Khanal can raise concerns, but that won’t really matter as the task force has come up with a consensus report.”