Chinese whispers, Sheetal Niwas and Nepal Communist PartyJust as conflict was escalating in the ruling party, the President intervened and China’s ambassador called on Oli. Despite reservations, Oli then attended the Secretariat meeting.
Until Tuesday night, ruling Nepal Communist Party chairmen KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal were baying for each other’s blood. They refused to see each other eye to eye. But on Wednesday, the party held its Secretariat meeting, the major bone of contention between them, and both of them were present in the meeting. The meeting ended with a decision that the next meeting will be held on November 28.
Not just observers and analysts but even some party members were baffled—as to how things changed overnight.
Multiple factors worked, say party insiders. However, multiple leaders the Post spoke with said they were not in a position to say how long such a tense situation in the party will continue.
A series of events took place since Tuesday morning and at least three stand out.
After Dahal refused Oli’s call to postpone Wednesday's meeting and withdraw his political document, President Bidya Devi Bhandari invited Dahal to Sheetal Niwas on Tuesday evening. The same evening, Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi met with Oli, who is also the prime minister. On Wednesday morning, Bhandari invited Oli to Sheetal Niwas.
The party’s Secretariat meeting was then held at 1pm, the time it was scheduled for, and concluded in about an hour, deciding that Oli will present his own political document during the next meeting 10 days later.
The roles played by Bhandari and Hou in the ruling party’s internal affairs have now become a talking point.
Even some ruling party leaders have taken exception to such a meeting between Oli and the Chinese ambassador, especially in such crucial times.
“This is not an appropriate time for both sides to meet,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member. “[After all], our party has its way of functioning.”
In the first week of July, Hou had held a series of meetings with several ruling party leaders. At that time also, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was in a deep crisis, as 30 of the 44 Standing Committee members were demanding Oli’s resignation. While the party looked headed for a split, the Oli government was staring at its fall. Hou had then met with President Bhandari also.
Though some media suggested Hou’s meeting with President Bhandari over the last few days, Tika Dhakal, senior media expert for the Office of the President, refuted such reports.
Nonetheless, Hou’s active engagement has once again raised questions if the ruling party indeed is functioning on its own. The Chinese ambassador’s meeting with Oli, later in the night on Tuesday, follows Oli’s October 21 meeting with the chief of India’s foreign spy agency—Research & Analysis Wing.
Oli has already faced a lot of criticism for holding such a meeting with R&AW chief Samant Goel at Baluwatar.
Nepali Congress leader Prakash Sharan Mahat, who is a former foreign minister, said such open meetings not only undermine national sovereignty but also invite competition among major powers.
“If we give such a leeway to one diplomat or one country, then others will seek similar treatment,” Mahat told the Post. “First, major powers are competing with each other and in this hour of crisis, everyone wants to expand their clout. Such activities also show that our foreign policy is not balanced, not consistent and not nuanced.”
Party insiders say no matter how Oli agreed to sit for the meeting on Wednesday—be it his meeting with Chinese ambassador or the President, the crisis in the party has not ended yet.
At the November 28 meeting, Oli is set to present his own political document, which is said to be a counter move to Dahal.
Dahal in his political document presented at Friday’s Secretariat has levelled a host of allegations against Oli. Dahal in his document has said Oli has failed on both the government and party fronts and demanded his resignation.
According to insiders, at Wednesday’s meeting, Oli said that Dahal’s document is a collection of lies and accusations. Insiders say Oli sought 10 days to prepare his own document, in which he will give answers to Dahal’s charges.
Those familiar with Wednesday’s meeting said that Oli and his supporter Ishwar Pokhrel took serious exception to Dahal’s political document, saying that they would come up with “a point-wise response” to Dahal’s allegations.
After the November 28 Secretariat meeting, the ruling party, according to spokesperson Naryayan Kaji Shrestha, will hold its Standing Committee meeting on December 3 and Central Committee meeting on December 10.
“All the documents including the one presented by Oli will be discussed at the next Secretariat meeting scheduled for November 28,” said Shrestha.
Though the party’s Central Committee was earlier scheduled to meet on November 30, it has been pushed to December 10.
As party meetings have already been scheduled, leaders say what worries them the most is intervention of external forces as well as Sheetal Niwas.
“After assuming the high office, the President is above the party. The President must not involve herself in internal matters of the party,” said Leelamani Pokhrel, a Standing Committee member. “I don’t know what transpired in her [President’s] meetings with Oli and Dahal, but what I know is she must not engage in internal party issues.”
Pokhrel also termed the Chinese ambassador’s meeting with Oli inappropriate if the issues that figured are related to the ongoing conflict in the party.
“An ambassador can meet the prime minister, but it’s not good to discuss the party’s internal matters with an envoy,” said Pokhrel.
Insiders say Oli’s presence in the meeting on Wednesday may look like the possibility of the party returning to a truce, but it is wrong to assume that everything is hunky-dory.
“Oli is on the defensive now. He had called a Cabinet meeting just when Dahal had called the Secretariat meeting so as to avoid the Secretariat,” said Matrika Yadav, a Standing Committee member close to Dahal.
“But later he postponed the Cabinet and decided to attend the Secretariat meeting. Multiple factors may have worked to make him change his mind, but there is one thing for sure—he cannot escape the party system and procedures.”
Anil Giri contributed reporting.