In ruling party, war between two chairmen is raising the spectre of a splitThe battle of egos has reached the tipping point with Oli calling for delaying the Secretariat meeting and withdrawal of Dahal’s political document. Dahal has refused to oblige.
The conflict in the ruling Nepal Communist Party has reached its peak. A meeting of the Secretariat scheduled for Wednesday has become the bone of contention, with two chairmen—KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal—having diametrically opposite stances. Oli has called for delaying the meeting by a few days while Dahal appears firm on holding the meeting on Wednesday.
“We have a crucial day tomorrow, as one faction is demanding postponement of the meeting while the other is bent on holding the meeting,” said a Standing Committee member who did not wish to be named. “If the meeting is held without Oli’s consent, the rift will further widen.”
In the nine-member Secretariat, five members—Dahal, senior leaders Madhav Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal, party vice-chair Bamdev Gautam and party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha—are pressing for the meeting on Wednesday.
Party General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, Ishwar Pokhrel and Ram Bahadur Thapa, however, are with Oli, who is trying to stop the meeting at any cost.
Oli on Tuesday morning sent Poudel to Khumaltar to “convince” Dahal to delay the meeting and withdraw his political document.
Dahal’s political document, presented on Friday, has irked Oli no end, party insiders say.
In his paper, Dahal has made some scathing remarks against Oli.
Saying that Oli’s activities are ‘inexcusable’, Dahal through the document demanded Oli’s resignation as party chair and the prime minister.
Dahal has alleged that Oli refused to implement the September 11 Standing Committee decisions, failed to control Covid-19, left both the party and the people in despair, went against party’s political programmes and the election manifesto, ignored good governance and pro-people conduct and did not comply with the norm that the government should run as per the party’s guidelines, among others.
Oli needs to “make a sacrifice” for the sake of the party, the constitution and the federal democracit republic, according to Dahal’s 19-page document. In his political document, Dahal has said that Oli failed on both fronts—the government and the party.
After falling into crisis, Oli has been trying to woo some members of the Secretariat, especially Nepal and Gautam.
According to leaders close to the two leaders, Oli has sought their support offering the post of prime minister after the upcoming elections and chairmanship through the general convention.
But neither Nepal nor Gautam is going to desert Dahal, hence they refused, said the leaders.
The Dahal faction is pressing for settling all the outstanding issues through the party Secretariat. Members close to Dahal had held “informal” meetings of the Secretariat twice before Tihar and decided to ask Oli to agree to the Secretariat meeting. On one occasion, the Dahal faction had even made a request for the meeting in writing. Oli refused, saying party meetings cannot be held “just because a handful of leaders are demanding”.
However, Oli suddenly agreed for a Secretariat meeting. The change of heart came as a surprise, with Oli consenting for holding the meeting on November 13, even though the Dahal faction wanted it on November 12.
Oli’s consent for the meeting followed the Supreme Court’s ruling on a pending case related to Gautam. On November 11, the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court refused to give an interim order in Gautam’s case, clearing the way for Gautam, who was appointed to the National Assembly on September 17, to assume constitutional posts and become a minister.
There were speculations that the court reprieve to Gautam could tilt the balance in the Secretariat. But unlike in the past, Gautam, who is known for switching sides frequently, appears to be standing firm and sticking with the Dahal faction.
With Nepal, Khanal, Shrestha and Gautam owning up Dahal’s 19-page political document, Oli is currently on a sticky wicket.
Oli has employed Poudel, the party general secretary, to hold talks with members of the Dahal faction to convince them to create an environment of consensus, which according to insiders means delaying the scheduled meeting and prompting Dahal to withdraw his document.
Leaders close to the Dahal faction say since Wednesday's meeting was decided by Friday’s Secretariat, it should be held as scheduled.
“The ball is now in Oli’s court. Since the problems that we are seeing are the results of his behaviour and way of functioning, it’s incumbent upon him that he gives a way out,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member close to Nepal. “If he [Oli] fails to provide an outlet, only then will party leaders seek some other solution.”
According to Pant, all the outstanding issues should be taken to the Standing Committee after discussing them at the Secretariat. Then a Central Committee meeting, which has been scheduled for November 30, will take up the issues if necessary, said Pant.
After Dahal’s refusal to delay the meeting, Oli on Tuesday afternoon held a meeting with his confidantes—Poudel, Pokhrel and Standing committee members Subas Nembang and Prithvi Subba Gurung.
Later in the evening, Dahal went to Sheetal Niwas to meet with President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
According to Dahal’s private secretariat, President Bhandari suggested that Dahal manage the conflict in the party and not let the party split as he was the one who could avert it.
In response, Dahal told the President that she should convey the message to Oli instead, as Oli is not only all powerful in the party but also the cause of all the problems, said a member of Dahal’s secretariat.
Dahal, according to his secretariat, had gone to Sheetal Niwas at the invitation of Bhandari.
Sheetal Niwas’ interest in the party matters has been criticised from within and outside the ruling party in the past as well. A day after Friday’s Secretariat meeting, Oli too had gone to meet with the President.
Insiders say Dahal’s meeting with the President on Tuesday is “meaningful” as it came again at a time when relations between Dahal and Oli have been frosty.
The Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which was born out of the merger between then CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) in May 2018, has once again reached a situation where party unity appears to be in danger.
On Monday night, Pradeep Gyawali, a Standing Committee member and foreign minister in the Oli Cabinet, said on Twitter that party unity is in crisis.
“Party unity is in crisis, but efforts to protect unity are also on,” Gyawali wrote on Twitter. “We hope clouds of difficulties will go away. [I] have a request for comrades, let’s debate at policy level; let’s not indulge [ourselves] in accusations and counter-accusations.”
Though the party is vertically divided, both sides are trying hard to not let the party split—or at least to not appear as the cause for the split, according to insiders. So one of the chairs has to make concessions, they say.
In the past, Dahal has caved in, ultimately letting Oli prevail, but this time around, Dahal does not seem to be in a mood to give up, according to a leader close to Dahal.
Matrika Yadav, a Standing Committee member, said Dahal has already made clear before leaders close to him that this time around he is not going to relent.
“Dahal has said that Wednesday’s Secretariat meeting will be held even if Oli refuses to participate,” Yadav told the Post. “He has said that many might be under the impression that he would withdraw the political document but he is not going to do so.”
If Dahal indeed holds his ground, it will all depend on Oli’s response.
Leaders close to Oli said there is realisation on both sides that the party unity must be protected.
“We have told both the chairmen to create an environment where they can hold discussion before the Secretariat meeting is held,” said Nembang. “Both the chairs will be held responsible if the party splits. I believe the two chairs will assess the situation seriously and make their decisions accordingly—in the larger interest of the party.”
As of Tuesday night, uncertainty loomed over Wednesday’s Secretariat meeting, as both sides appeared to be sticking to their guns.
“Since [Wednesday’s] meeting was fixed by the Secretariat on Friday, the same party committee has to sit and decide whether to continue or postpone it,” said Shrestha, the party spokesperson. “We cannot imagine Oli not attending the meeting tomorrow.”