Between a rock and a hard place: Dahal has a choice to make between siding with Oli or NepalWhenever under pressure, Dahal vacillates, and such moves may do him more harm, as he needs to be clear how he wants to proceed at least until general convention, insiders say.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal is in a fix. He owes one to Madhav Kumar Nepal. But he will have to return the favour without upsetting KP Sharma Oli.
Earlier this week it was only after seven provincial lawmakers from the faction belonging to senior party leader Madhav Kumar Nepal withdrew their support to a no-confidence motion against him that Karnali Province Chief Minister Mahendra Bahadur Shahi, and a protege of party co-chair Dahal, was able to save his chair.
The political maneuverings played out in Karnali Province may largely be over except for some provincial positions to be settled, but the larger ramifications are that the balance of power within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has been more visible.
“Once the seven leaders close to Nepal switched their sides in favour of Shahi, the dynamics in the party at the centre has changed,” said a Standing Committee member close to Dahal. “Therefore, Oli immediately called the leaders from Karnali to the centre.”
Last month, party chairmen Oli and Dahal had agreed to patch up their differences to settle the discontent that had been brewing in the party, mainly because of Oli’s disinclination to consult other leaders within the party before making important decisions, for almost a year now.
Last month, a six-member panel of leaders had recommended a Cabinet reshuffle at the centre and change in provincial government leaderships as a measure to take senior leaders Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal into confidence.
The position of the Karnali chief minister was not one of those under review since he belongs to the former Maoist camp. Under review, instead, were those led by former UML leaders especially in Province 1 and Bagmati. Sudurpaschim Province is the second province ruled by the former Maoists.
But instead, 18 of the 33 provincial assembly members of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in Karnali–eight of the Oli faction, seven of the Nepal faction and three of the Dahal faction–filed a no-confidence motion on October 11 against the Karnali chief minister charging him with incompetence.
According to Surendra Pandey, a member of the party’s Standing Committee and a member of the six-member task force, the no-confidence motion was filed with hints from the central leadership.
“I don’t think provincial leaders would dare to make such a move without the nod from the centre,” said Pandey.
Dahal has another reason to be unhappy with Oli in recent days.
While he wanted a total Cabinet reshuffle with all the ministers being asked to resign and new ministers appointed, Oli last week, unilaterally according to the Dahal camp, appointed three new ministers to fill some vacant positions instead.
“Dahal had given the nod to make Bishnu Poudel a minister but he was for reshuffling the Cabinet en masse but Oli took a unilateral decision appointing ministers only from his camp,” said Leelamani Pokhrel, a Standing Committee member.
The Oli faction contradicts this argument.
During the latest Secretariat meeting, according to a leader close to Oli, the prime minister had told the leaders that he had already discussed with executive chairman Dahal about filling the Cabinet vacancies and also those in constitutional bodies.
“After several rounds of talks, the two chairmen had decided to fill the vacant positions and think of a reshuffle after Tihar,” said Subas Nembang, a Standing Committee member. “Since the two chairs have an understanding on appointments, Dahal had given the nod to the prime minister for filling three vacant seats.”
This understanding, if it was one, was not to the liking of Nepal, Oli’s nemesis within the ruling party now and in the UML before it merged with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) to form the Nepal Communist Party in May 2018.
According to a Standing Committee member close to Nepal, the senior leader was surprised to hear that Dahal had agreed for the recent reshuffle and suspected that Dahal’s recent hobnobbing with Oli was for sharing the constitutional appointments while ignoring his faction.
Nepal was also irked by the decision of the two chairmen on the name and capital of Province 5 as Lumbini and Rapti Valley-Deukhuri without consulting him and dividing vice-chancellors’ positions at different universities among Oli, Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba, the leader of the main opposition.
Being suspicious of the activities of Dahal, the Nepal-led faction was seeking an opportunity to “teach him a lesson” and the brewing dissatisfaction among members of the Karnali provincial assembly came as an opportunity for Nepal to show the clout he enjoys, according to the leader close to Nepal.
“Nepal had been aware of the brewing plot to unseat Shahi in Karnali but had kept quiet,” the leader told the Post.
Even some leaders from the former Maoist party admit that Dahal is in trouble.
“Dahal is in soup now as Shahi has saved his chair by promising three positions for the Nepal group,” said Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member. “By calling provincial leaders to Kathmandu, Oli is trying to break the possible alliance between the Dahal and Nepal factions.”
Dahal met leaders close to Nepal along with Chief Minister Shahi on Thursday in the presence of Nepal.
On Friday, Dahal met with Yamlal Kandel, deputy leader of the parliamentary party of Karnali Province, at whose initiation the no-confidence motion against Shahi was filed. Gulab Jung Shah, who was sacked by Shahi, and Karnali Province secretary of the party Maya Prasad Sharma were also present. Shah is from the Oli camp while Sharma is from the Dahal camp.
On Saturday, Oli met with the leaders from Karnali.
Oli has asked them to abide by whatever decision the two chairs come up with, according to Sharma.
Through the Karnali fiasco the three main leaders have attempted to strengthen their positions in the party, insiders say.
“If the Dahal and Nepal factions join hands, they can change the existing equations in all six provinces as they have near two-thirds majorities,” said a Standing Committee member close to Dahal.
For Dahal, even while he may have been able to save the position of his protege Shahi for the moment, in the long run, he has to decide whether to side with Oli as there are bigger things at stake, including some ministerial berths, according to party insiders. But if Nepal loses trust in Dahal, the latter won’t be able to challenge Oli, they say.
“If Dahal was for addressing the Karnali crisis together with Oli, he should have done that and stuck with Oli at least until the general convention,” said Devendra Parajuli, a Central Committee member. “He is blowing hot and cold. He sided with Nepal when the Karnali issue came up. But he is now back to Oli’s side.”
According to Parajuli, after switching sides and forging agreements with Oli, Nepal has lost confidence in Dahal.
“So Dahal is now clearly in a very difficult situation,” said Parajuli.