Ruling party wants to gag its leaders to suppress criticism and dissentIn a recent circular, the Nepal Communist Party has asked its members to refrain from making comments on the party, leadership, government and policies and warned of action if they fail to abide by the diktat.
Tika R Pradhan
Late on Monday night, at least two ministers told the Post that the Cabinet earlier in the evening decided to recommend to the President ruling Nepal Communist Party vice-chair Bamdev Gautam’s nomination for the National Assembly.
On Tuesday, however, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, also the government spokesperson, during a press briefing organised to make public Monday’s Cabinet decision,s did not mention Gautam's recommendation.
On Wednesday, the government sent a recommendation to the Office of the President to nominate him to the upper house. Gautam took the oath on Thursday.
It was not clear why a decision already taken by the party’s Secretariat on September 3 and then approved by the Cabinet on Monday had to be kept secret.
What, however, has become apparent is information from ruling party leaders lately has become scarce.
They either refuse to speak on party and government matters or ask for anonymity.
Insiders say the party high command’s control on what leaders and cadres say–via social media or to the mainstream media or through other platforms–has been growing of late.
The party earlier this week even came up with an intra-party circular, laying down some rules for the members on the do’s and don’ts and what to talk and what not to.
According to the circular, the tendency “to disseminate unauthorised, sponsored and false news” against the party is on the rise and that those involved in such acts would be held to account by the party command.
Insiders describe the issuance of the circular as an autocratic move.
“Trying to control the leaders and cadres, asking them not to air their views is basically called autocracy,” said Sudan Kirati, a ruling party central committee member and lawmaker from Bhojpur.
Nepal Communist Party (NCP)’s internal democracy has been on the wane ever since it came to power. Even when the government’s performance was facing criticism from various quarters, leaders were not allowed to speak their minds.
Leaders say firstly, the party was not even holding committee meetings where members usually express their opinions, and secondly, whenever meetings happened, they were barely allowed to say anything.
Back in April last year, ruling party leaders had told the Post that their voices were not being heard.
“Internal democracy in the party is gradually on the wane,” said Sher Bahadur Tamang, a lawmaker from the ruling party. “There is no room for us to interact.”
Lawmakers from the party say, unlike in the past, Parliamentary Party meetings or other organisational meetings have now become a platform for the party leadership to announce their decisions. Either Oli or the party’s other co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal make their statements, rarely allowing others to air their views, according to several leaders who spoke with the Post.
Insiders say a lot has changed over the past months and the party is becoming increasingly intolerant when it comes to what its leaders and cadres say in public.
Hemraj Bhandari, also a central member, says attempts to stop criticism in this time and age are just ludicrous and impossible.
“The more the party tries to suppress leaders, the more strongly the voices will come out,” Bhandari told the Post. “The party either has to allow the members to speak their minds by holding party committees or let them do as they feel. If we have to practise democratic norms, there can't be any control on leaders’ freedom of expression.”
The KP Sharma Oli administration, however, seems to have a big problem with freedom of expression. The Oli administration over the last two and a half years has tried to introduce a number of laws, attempting to curb free flow of information and freedom of speech. The Media Council Bill and the Information Technology Bill are some of the examples.
Insiders say the party leadership is now trying to launch a crackdown within the party.
“The party directs responsible comrades and all concerned to strictly stop the tendency of writing arbitrarily on social media against party policies, and leaders and cadres not to indulge in activities against the party’s interests,” states the circular issued on September 14. “The undisciplined acts of party leaders and cadres on websites and other digital platforms will also be controlled.”
Kirati, the central member and lawmaker, however, said as members of a communist party that follows Marxism, they are taught to criticise the wrongdoings.
“If the party does not want its members to criticise the leadership, then it must ensure that it does not get involved in any wrongdoing,” Kirati told the Post.
Until a few weeks ago, the ruling party was embroiled in a months-long internal dispute amid growing factional feuds. The faction led by Dahal was demanding Oli’s resignation.
Both the factions traded charges against each other. The party had even reached a stage where a split looked imminent.
Party insiders say the new circular could have been drafted in view of allegations and counter-allegations from the two factions when the factional feud had reached its peak.
“The problem is with the leadership. If they do not do anything wrong or they do not engage in unnecessary dispute, there is no reason for them to shut leaders and cadres’ mouths,” said another leader, also a central member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Subas Nembang, a close confidante of Prime Minister Oli, however, defended the circular, saying it was much needed given the statements and unauthorised quotes by various leaders to several media.
“How can a party run with such activities that are against leaders and the party?” Nembang told the post. “Such restrictions were necessary to save the party unity.”
The circular may have come at this time, but the party was in a bid to control its leaders for months.
Party members had told the Post last year also that the leadership was using fear and coercion to control them.
A Standing Committee member said he was wondering how the circular was issued suddenly without discussing it at any party committee.
“No discussion took place at the Standing Committee meeting held on September 11 on restricting leaders from speaking to the media,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member. “Statements with an intention to defame an individual or an institution on any media are punishable by law. But any attempt to restrict healthy debates on policies and expression of one’s opinion does not suit an open and democratic society.”
Political commentators believe that the top leaders of the ruling party are afraid of criticism and dissenting voices, especially because of the way the government is functioning and the two chairs are trying to run the party.
“There are many leaders from the former CPN-UML who are dissatisfied with Oli’s weak performance. The circular is simply an attempt to control the leaders,” said
Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst who has followed the country’s leftist politics for decades. “This is not needed to be included in the party’s circular, as anything offensive is punishable by law. So this is nothing but a control mechanism.”