Ruling party top leaders spar over holding Secretariat meetingOli charges Dahal group with promoting factional politics and creating nuisance. Opponents accuse Oli of threatening to split the party whenever asked to call its meetings.
Tika R Pradhan
A shouting match, personal attacks and a widening rift. That’s what sums up the meeting between Nepal Communist Party chair KP Sharma Oli and the other chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his allies.
As per the decision of Friday’s “informal” meeting of the party Secretariat, Dahal, along with senior leaders Madhav Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal, party vice-chair Bamdev Gautam and party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha had reached Baluwatar to ask Oli to call the party meetings. The Dahal faction gave in writing their demand for the party Secretariat meeting.
What happened then was largely expected. Oli rejected the proposal.
“As party meetings have failed to take place despite repeated attempts of the executive chairman, we requested Oli for the meeting of the party Secretariat,” Shrestha told reporters after the meeting at Baluwatar. “But there was no word from Oli.”
When the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was formed, the leadership had agreed to have Oli and Dahal as two chairmen. However, a little later, Dahal started accusing Oli of running the party and the government unilaterally. After Dahal put pressure on Oli, the two leaders on November 21 last year reached an understanding that Oli would lead the government for the full term and Dahal would run the party as “executive chair”.
Instead, Oli, according to leaders, accused the visiting Secretariat members of promoting factional politics. While Oli charged Dahal with creating nuisance, the latter retorted saying the former was threatening to split the party every time he was asked to call its meetings.
According to a leader present at the meeting, there was a heated exchange of words between the leaders.
The leader said Gautam accused Oli of avoiding meetings and refusing to abide by party decisions. He also alleged that the whole party was suffering because of Oli’s unilateral working style. Gautam was on Oli’s side until a few weeks ago, but he has now switched sides and is currently with the Dahal faction.
Senior leader Nepal, according to the leader present in the meeting, asked Oli why the latter thinks he is always right and why he does not need to self-criticise which other leaders have never been reluctant to do.
After Oli’s refusal to hold the Secretariat meeting, Nepal proposed that “everything now should be discussed at the party meeting,” according to the leader.
Khanal strongly objected to Oli's highhandedness and his non-compliance with party procedures, said the leader.
The meeting lasted around two hours, but without any concrete outcome.
Insiders say since the leaders have now started making personal attacks on each other, the rift has widened further.
After the November last year agreement, Oli had again started to control the party and the government, leaving Dahal almost no space for maneuverings. This had led to the formation of the Dahal faction which until a few months ago was pressing Oli to resign both as party chair and prime minister.
A September 11 Standing Committee meeting, however, had tried to resolve the differences. Dahal was once again given the responsibility of executive chairman, saying he would run the party, and Oli would lead the government. Per the meeting, decisions were to be taken on the basis of consultation and consensus among the leadership.
The Dahal faction upped the ante after Oli defied the party decisions.
Questions are now also being asked why Dahal, in the capacity of the executive chair, is not calling the meeting.
Political analysts wonder if Dahal’s “executive chair” is just for the sake of it and he does not have the executive power per se to exercise in the party.
“This must be the first time that Dahal appears to be so weak in his political career,” said Shyam Shrestha, a political commentator who has closely followed Nepal’s leftist politics including the “people’s war” waged by Dahal’s Maoist party.
According to Shrestha, Oli’s threats that he would split the party may also have stopped the Dahal faction from making any bold move.
“But for how long? And as executive chairman, Dahal has the authority to call the meeting,” said Shrestha. “If he follows the principle of collective leadership, he should consult Oli. But if Oli is taking unilateral decisions, he should also assert his authority.”
Party insiders, however, believe that Dahal is hemming and hawing to take a decisive move, like unilaterally calling a party meeting, because all other Secretariat members who are currently backing him are leaders of the former CPN-UML.
Oli last week started discussions with leaders from Province 1 on whether the party should adopt “people’s multi-party democracy” as its ideology.
Even though the infighting is not for party ideology, many believe People’s Multi-party Democracy is something that works as a binding force for former UML leaders. Dahal is not sure if those former UML leaders who are backing him will continue to stay with him in the event of a party split.
Shrestha, the party Spokesperson, said that they had not gone to Baluwatar to plead before Oli for the party meeting but to convince him and seek his consent as he is the other chair.
“Dahal as executive chair has the authority to call the meeting but we believe in collective decisions and not unilateral moves,” said Shrestha.
After threatening to take a “big action”, Oli has even issued a warning that any formal meeting of the party without his consent would mean the declaration of a party split. Many believe Oli’s such threatening tones often put the opponent faction on the backfoot.
But Hari Roka, a political economist and commentator, said the Dahal-Nepal faction is unlikely to give in this time.
“This is probably their last request to Oli for holding the party meeting,” Roka told the Post. “Dahal and Nepal control the majority in the Parliamentary Party and party committees. They can hold meetings or take any other necessary decisions they want or even action [against Oli].”
Despite having the numbers, the Dahal-Nepal faction, however, does not seem to be too keen to make a push to the extent of a party split.
Given Oli’s style of working, even insiders say he can take some unprecedented decisions about which he has already hinted by warning of a “big action”. According to them, if push comes to shove, Oli might not hesitate to split the party or dissolve the House and call mid-term polls. The constitution, however, does not have any provision for House dissolution.
Roka said if the Dahal-Nepal faction cannot hold its ground firmly and fails to call party meetings despite all the recent developments, the leaders will cause the party system to collapse.
“Since Oli is refusing to call the Secretariat meeting, it has become now apparent that he cannot face even nine leaders in the party for his spectacular failure despite having such a strong mandate to govern,” said Roka. “Every action of Oli is against the existing system; he is bent on destabilising the system. He has no other option than to abide by the party decisions.”
Leaders close to Oli, however, say Oli is not averse to holding meetings and that he just wants to reach an understanding on some outstanding issues with Dahal before calling the party’s Secretariat meeting.
“Oli has told leaders that the party meetings can be held on an as-needed basis,” Subas Nembang, a Standing Committee member and Oli’s confidante, told the Post. “The two chairs should finalise the agenda and procedures before calling a meeting.”
According to Nembang, earlier Dahal too had agreed to Oli’s proposal. “But now he is pressing for holding meetings without finalising any agendas,” said Nembang.
After the rift grew between Oli and Dahal, the latter stopped his visits to Baluwatar, which otherwise used to be an almost daily affair.
Chafed with Oli’s unilateral moves, Dahal even started telling leaders close to him that there was no point in holding dialogue when the other side was not abiding by the agreements, according to insiders.
Over the last two weeks or so, Oli and Dahal have held one-on-one talks just once. On October 31, Dahal met with Oli after a gap of 11 days. He held talks with Oli again after five days.
Surendra Pandey, a Standing Committee member, said that sooner or later the party will hold a meeting regardless of whether Oli agrees or not.
“While Oli has not stopped displaying his stubbornness, Dahal has failed to put a squeeze on him,” said Pandey. “The executive chair has no option than either convincing Oli for the meetings or calling the meetings himself.”
According to Shrestha, the political commentator, the infighting in the Nepal Communist Party has gone too far.
“There has been a brazen display of absurdity under Oli—be it in the party or the government,” Shrestha told the Post. “Such things affect other leaders if they continue to leave everything at the hands of an autocrat. Since it could also impact their political future, they have to act. And they will act.”