Oli and Dahal blow hot and cold, as they play a game of brinkmanshipConflict in the Nepal Communist Party will continue for some time unless one of the leaders makes a decisive move, which is unlikely anytime soon, insiders say.
The ruling Nepal Communist Party, which has come so close to an implosion on more than one occasion since it was formed in May 2018, seems to have learned to live with one fact–keep fighting but find a way to resolve the differences.
After sharp divisions surfaced over the past few days, factions led by party chairmen KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal are once again trying to mend fences. In a bid to achieve that, Oli and Dahal on Thursday held a meeting at Baluwatar. But nothing substantial came from the meeting except the message, at least for the party members and cadres, that negotiations will continue.
Thursday’s meeting between Oli and Dahal took place after a gap of five days. Earlier on October 31, when they met, it was after a gap of 11 days and during that time, the situation in the party had massively deteriorated—to the extent that both considered the option of splitting the party.
Party insiders say though the party was on the verge of a split, there was realisation among the leadership that such a move would not help anyone.
“Both conflicting parties are weighing each other’s moves now,” said Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member. “So the kind of deadlock we are seeing today may go for some more time.”
But leaders in the party themselves are not sure for how long such a situation will continue. Some say it could linger until the party holds its general convention. Others say there has to be a “big” trigger for the party to face something drastic as a split.
After the Dahal faction, backed by senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, upped the ante accusing Oli of taking some unilateral decisions despite agreeing to not do so, conflict in the ruling party has escalated.
The Dahal-Nepal faction, which is not happy with Oli over some ambassadorial and ministerial appointments, is also seeking answers from the party chair and prime minister over his meeting with India’s intelligence chief on October 21.
After finding himself to have been cornered, Oli, according to leaders, also attempted to strike a deal with Nepal in a bid to break his alliance with Dahal. Nepal’s refusal, however, made Oli find some other ways to maintain his grip on the party.
On Wednesday, Oli held a meeting with some leaders close to him to make a push for adopting People’s Multi-party Democracy as the party’s ideology. Many believe the move was aimed at courting Nepal and other leaders from the former CPN-UML.
After the 1990s, the UML adopted “people’s multi-party democracy” as its guiding principle. Dahal’s Maoist party, which followed Maoism and launched a war against the state, however, wanted the 21st-Century Peoples’ Democracy. During the merger of the UML and the Maoist party, both had agreed to adopt a middle path and follow people’s democracy pro tem, leaving the party’s general convention to decide on the party’s ideology.
If one thing that can keep the former UML leaders together under one roof, it is the people’s multi-party democracy principle and, according to leaders, Oli is trying to use it as a trump card to break the alliance between Dahal and some former UML leaders, including Nepal.
Insiders in the ruling party—from both factions—however, say while Oli will keep on using all the tricks, the Dahal faction will not remain silent.
“The two factions will continue to weigh each other for a while as none knows who holds the sway,” said a Standing Committee member who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Our party is in such a quagmire that it can neither forge consensus nor part ways.”
Meanwhile, both Oli and Dahal have been constantly meeting or holding talks with leaders close to them.
A number of Oli’s confidantes including Bishnu Rimal, Surya Thapa and Bhanubhakta Dhakal, the health minister, recently had reached out to Pradip Nepal, a long-time communist leader who has not been active in politics of late, urging him to convince Madhav Nepal to join hands with Oli.
He also told his confidantes to continue the activities of Madan Bhandari Foundation, despite the party having directed to stop the activities of foundations named after party leaders.
Dahal too has been in close consultation with “his team”, including leaders who look after the party’s legal and organisational departments.
The meeting was attended by Law Department chief Raghuji Pant and Mukti Pradhan—joint in-charge of the department, Chief Whip Dev Gurung, who heads the legal organisation of the party, and Rudra Nepal, who heads Nepal Lawyers Association.
“We briefly discussed the possible ways Oli could take but the meeting was actually called for managing organisational issues,” said a participant of the meeting held at Paris Danda. But he refused to divulge the details.
Sources claimed that Dahal has been drafting a political document for the upcoming Central Committee meeting. The party recently postponed the meeting scheduled for October 30 for a month citing increasing cases of coronavirus.
Amid rising tensions in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Madhav Nepal’s role is crucial and his move—whether to continue siding with Dahal or switching to the Oli camp—can make a huge difference.
According to insiders, Nepal, as of now, has not shown any interest in breaking away from Dahal and that he has been pressing for following party procedures—that is holding party meetings.
Leaders close to Nepal say the only option is the party should move ahead by holding meetings even if Oli is against it.
According to them, no one can avoid party meetings and party decisions, even if that person is party chair or prime minister.
“Oli may have been refusing to hold party meetings and may have threatened to split the party, but these all are his pressure tactics which he usually employs against his opponents,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member.
“Party meetings should happen and they will happen sooner rather than later. It does not matter whether a particular leader wants them or not.”