Gautam holds the key as Oli finally agrees to hold party Secretariat meetingAfter the Supreme Court cleared the way for Gautam to become minister, there are chances he may switch sides but insiders say he won’t leave the Dahal camp this time.
Beleaguered within his own ruling party, for chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli the Supreme Court decision clearing the way for party vice chair Bamdev Gautam to join the government could not have come at a more opportune moment.
Oli can stave off the immense pressure he is under from the rival faction in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) if he can bring Gautam on his side by offering him a ministerial portfolio that is attractive enough for him.
Following the Supreme Court decision, Oli was even quick to reach out to Gautam.
“Oli telephoned Gautam Wednesday evening and congratulated him after the Supreme Court decision,” said Surya Thapa, Oli’s press adviser.
But the Gautam camp has said that he will not join the Cabinet unless the party decides so.
“He is very firm on his position not to join the government. He is following the party system and party charter,” said Balaram Baskota, a central committee member close to Gautam. “As of now, Oli has not made him any offer and he is also not changing his camp.”
Having Gautam on his side is important to Oli.
The vice chair has historically been known to vacillate between the Dahal and Oli camps.
In the nine-member Secretariat, a top decision-making body of the Nepal Communist Party, Gautam holds the key for majority although he cannot provide much leeway in the 44-member standing and the 441-member central committees.
The Secretariat is meeting Friday after Oli finally relented following much pressure from the opposition faction to agree to a meeting.
“Much will depend on Gautam’s body language during the Secretariat meeting on Friday,” said a standing committee member close to the camp opposed to Oli. “The Oli faction seems confident that if a ministerial position is offered to him, Gautam will join the Cabinet.”
But the Supreme Court in an interim order on September 23 had said that he should not be given additional constitutional responsibility since he had lost elections. On Wednesday, the constitutional bench did not issue a stay order, clearing the way for him to join the Cabinet.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other party chair, met Gautam on Thursday to ensure that he continues for the moment to be in the anti-Oli camp.
The months-long controversy in the party had seemed to be settled when the two chairs called a truce on September 11 after they decided to abide by the recommendations of a six-member panel that had suggested ways to resolve differences.
Despite Prime Minister Oli agreeing to consult the party in making important decisions, as per the panel’s recommendation, he went on allegedly making unilateral decisions.
His opponents cried foul.
But Oli, on his part, has been standing firm on his decisions and even threatened his opponents with a ‘big action’. But after repeated calls, Oli finally agreed to a Secretariat meeting.
Ahead of the meeting on Friday, Gautam’s press coordinator Bishwamani Subedi quickly refuted speculations that he will join the Cabinet.
“That Comrade Bamdev Gautam will be a minister, the internal equation will change are hundred percent rumours,” Subedi said in a statement.
On the other hand, Oli’s confidantes have continued to woo and flatter Gautam. Referring to Gautam, Shanker Pokhrel, chief minister of Lumbini Province and a close ally of the prime minister, said on Facebook, “The special contribution made in political movements and the experience gathered is also expertise.”
He even said that the Supreme Court had been wrong to take sides on a political decision, referring to the interim order of September 23.
The signals coming from the Gautam camp have been mixed. According to Baskota, it is up to the prime minister how he approaches Gautam.
“All depends on how the prime minister comes forward and makes an offer to him,” Baskota, Gautam’s ally, told the Post.
Earlier Gautam had been eyeing the Ministry of Finance but party General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, who is also a Secretariat member and close Oli ally, had already been given the portfolio.
“Oli has some other options left to offer Gautam,” said a standing committee member close to Oli. “Oli has kept the Defence Ministry for himself so if negotiations between Oli and Gautam go well, Gautam can lead the Defence Ministry or any other ministry barring some ministries.”
A Cabinet reshuffle, a longstanding demand by the Dahal faction, is expected after Tihar.
But Gautam may have his own grudge against Oli.
Despite a Standing Committee decision back in February 26 to nominate Gautam to the Upper House, Oli did not recommend Gautam as he used the nomination as a bargaining chip in the party.
But in July Oli managed to win over Gautam when he reached the latter’s residence in Bhaisepati with his wife Radhika Shakya in tow.
Subsequently, the ruling party on September 3 decided to nominate Gautam to the Upper House.
But even if Gautam is offered a plum ministerial position and he agrees to join, the discord within the party may not be over soon.
“It does not make any difference whether he will become minister or not,” Gautam’s long time political friend and Standing Committee member Beduram Bhusal said. “There are other fundamental differences inside the party.”
“His position matters in the Secretariat,” Bhusal said. “Otherwise, he cannot influence the vote in the Standing Committee and the central committee. Therefore, I do not think that much difference will be made even if he switches camps and joins the Cabinet.”