Amid Oli-Dahal infighting, next generation leaders are by and large mute spectatorsAlmost everyone is guided by factional politics and there is a sense of insecurity among many that speaking against the leadership could deprive them of position and power, insiders say.
On the morning of November 18, Yogesh Bhattarai, a Standing Committee member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party and minister in the KP Sharma Oli government, tweeted: “The most difficult time!”
This summed up the mindset of the majority of leaders in the ruling party.
The faction led by party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal was pushing for holding the Secretariat meeting at any cost, while Oli, the other chair, was in a bid to delay it. The intra-party conflict had reached a tipping point, raising the spectre of a party split.
This is, however, not the first time the party is facing such a crisis. Since its formation in May 2018, after Oli’s CPN-UML and Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Centre) announced a merger, the Nepal Communist Party has been mired in factional politics.
Despite a deepening crisis in the party, with Oli and Dahal as well as senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal being on the forefront, the next generation, or youth leaders, have by and large limited themselves to harping on party unity or saying something that quite resembles Bhattarai’s tweet.
There has been no leader who has spoken their mind independently, finding fault with all three of the top leaders.
“There are some reasons why party leaders often maintain silence. The one that stands out is they are divided along factions,” said Thakur Gaire, a Central Committee member who rose in the party from student politics. “Leaders make opinions on the basis of an individual leader who protects them.”
It’s not that youth leaders do not say anything at all. But if they say anything on the current crisis, they are barely providing any assessment or insight. Their common refrain has been—that the party should not split... or it should remain united at any cost. That actually doesn't tell much, as none of the leaders from the next generation is offering any prescription to keep the unity intact.
Insiders say everyone within the party knows there have been wrongdoings on the part of the leadership—both Oli and Dahal. But so powerful they are that no one dares to call them out, for they fear retribution, according to them.
“Today, our youth leaders are in such a situation that they hesitate to speak their mind,” said Lekhanath Neupane, another Central Committee member who also rose in the party from student politics.
“They fear reprisal; they think speaking something against the leadership could deprive them of opportunities and benefits.”
Analysts and party leaders had told the Post in August that in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Oli and Dahal, the two chairs, are the party, hinting that they have hardly left any space for others to grow by employing different methods—threat, coercion and temptation.
Bhattarai, the minister in the Oli Cabinet, who also comes from student politics, on some occasions, had criticised the leadership, especially on the governance front. But since becoming the minister, he has been silent, and if he speaks, he says what appeases Oli.
It has been the same with Ghanashyam Bhusal, also a Standing Committee member and a minister in the Oli Cabinet, as well.
Bhusal in an interview with the Nepal magazine, the Post’s sister paper whose publication remains suspended now, in April 2018 had appeared extremely critical of the way Oli and Dahal decided to merge the party.
Their action is akin to the wizards who do sorcery from within a tent, Bhusal told the magazine.
About a year later, in an interview with Naya Patrika, Bhusal said the Nepal Communist Party “has just been announced, it has yet to be formed”.
In an interview with the Post last week in the context of the present crisis in the party and talks about leadership handover to the next generation, Bhusal said: “Leadership transfer is a must.”
“But if such things are being talked about just because a certain faction has fallen into minority, it simply does not work,” said Bhusal, referring to Oli’s position in the party and a recent proposal by Oli on leadership transfer to the next generation.
After finding himself cornered, Oli too has been saying that the leadership should be handed over to the next generation.
Bishnu Poudel, party general secretary and Oli’s close confidante, at the November 18 Secretariat meeting had also proposed that all Secretariat members make way for other leaders from the next generation.
But the question is whether the youth and next generation leaders in the party are ready and have the wherewithal to clear the mess, say analysts.
“The ruling Nepal Communist Party has a bureaucratic organisational structure,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst who has followed Nepal’s leftist politics for long. “Feudal mindset still rules the roost; leaders believe they should revere their masters and not criticise.”
Many in the ruling party, say insiders, are worried about their future and their concern is not whether the party remains united or splits. They are busy weighing options that serve them best, not the party, according to them.
“Top leaders have their individual interests and their activities have damaged the communist party’s procedures and system. But the second and third generations of leaders have failed to stop them,” said Gokarna Raj Bista, a Standing Committee member and a former minister.
“Time has come for us to call a spade a spade. It’s high time we built pressure on the leadership.”
Despite Oli and Dahal getting into a shouting match and personal attacks, no one from the second generation has publicly said it was wrong. Instead, they have been trying to defend their leaders, making it more apparent how divided the party is and who has their allegiance with which leader.
Bhusal, however, had a few months ago warned of a situation that the party leaders could stoop that low.
“Today, the actors of the Nepal Communist Party have just one path clear ahead of them: shaming each other and ultimately inviting shame for everyone,” Bhusal wrote in Kantipur in August. “In a way the party has everything, but it does not have the system. That’s why there’s nothing.”