Factional gatherings signal cracks are further deepening in the ruling partyMeetings of Oli and Dahal camps are taking place in the lead up to the Standing Committee meeting as part of their preparations for the big showdown, insiders say.
As the ruling Nepal Communist Party is sinking in the mire of a deepening feud, its leaders are holding factional gatherings in, what insiders say, attempts to gauge their strengths.
With the next Standing Committee meeting scheduled for Sunday and a Central Committee meeting for December 20, factions led by party chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal are talking to leaders from their groups so as to devise their strategies.
So far, Dahal, backed by Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Bamdev Gautam and Narayan Kaji Shrestha, appears to have the upper hand as he controls the majority in the Standing Committee.
Dahal had managed to convene the Standing Committee on December 6 despite Oli’s dissension, which many say came as a victory for him. However, insiders say it’s too early to say if Oli has given up.
Oli has been resenting Dahal's document presented at the November 13 Secretariat meeting and demanding that the latter withdraw it. But leaders of the Dahal faction say after Oli presented his rebuttal at the November 28 Secretariat meeting, the documents have formally entered the party committee and that both should be duly discussed.
Amid this, Oli skipped the December 6 Standing Committee meeting, sending a letter, in which he not only chided his opponents but also alleged that they were trying to move the goalposts, sowing the seeds of division in the party. In the letter, Oli also appealed to the Standing Committee members to take prudent and informed decisions so as to save the party unity.
Leaders say the party is in a grave crisis and that only a miracle can now save its unity.
“Factional gatherings that are being organised by both sides are aimed at gauging their strengths and assessing the mood of leaders,” said Devendra Poudel, a Standing Committee member. “But such actions really don’t contribute to keeping the party unity intact. Yes, they might help the factions become stronger.”
Both factions are engaged in a blame game that they were forced to organise the gatherings because of their rivals. The Dahal faction claims that it started its own meetings because the Oli faction had such gatherings. But the Oli faction has said it was the opponent group’s action that prompted it to hold such meetings.
With bitterness growing between the two party chairmen, distrust is growing among the leaders along the factional lines, say insiders.
Distrust in the party has manifested itself in ways that risk a party split.
Pradip Nepal, a senior leader who is not active in party politics but is often consulted by leaders, said it has become difficult for the warring factions to remain under one roof.
“But they won’t split the party anytime soon,” Nepal told the Post. “They will remain in the party and they will run their own factions; their own fiefdoms within the party.”
After Dahal appeared to have the upper hand following the December 6 meeting, Oli is learnt to have tried to win over Nepal, offering the latter the post of party chair.
Insiders say Oli has been attempting to sow the seeds of distrust between Dahal and Nepal. This prompted them to hold a gathering of their own where they wanted to assure each other that there won’t be any betrayal from either side, according to them.
The Oli faction of late has been trying to restart the debate why People’s Multiparty Democracy, which was the guiding principle of the former CPN-UML, should be the ideology of the Nepal Communist Party. The former Maoist party adopted the 21st Century People’s Democracy as its guiding principle. During their merger, both the communist forces decided to have “people’s democracy” as their ideology, pro tem, until the general convention is held.
According to insiders, the Oli faction believes the People’s Multiparty Democracy, propounded by the late leader Madan Bhandari, could bring all the leaders from the former UML, including the likes of Nepal, Khanal and Gautam, under one umbrella.
In a meeting on December 1, Nepal, however, had said that Oli should stop thinking that the former UML leaders would come together just because he wanted.
Nonetheless, Oli’s bid to invoke People’s Multiparty Democracy has made Dahal and other former Maoists suspicious.
Insiders say just as trust begets trust, distrust begets distrust. The level of distrust among leaders is so high that the party is poised quite precariously, according to them.
According to a Central Committee member who participated in the Dahal-Nepal gathering, leaders during the meeting tried to assure that they are not going to betray each other.
“It was difficult to assure former Maoists that Nepal won’t defect to the Oli faction, while former UML leaders wanted assurance that Dahal won’t strike a deal of his own with Oli,” the central member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Post. “Both Dahal and Nepal now have decided to send a message to lower levels to keep their unity intact.”
In the ruling party, the three factions—led by Oli, Dahal and Nepal—are so perilously aligned that any of the two getting closer poses a threat to the other.
As of now, Dahal and Nepal together command a majority in the Secretariat, Standing Committee and Central Committee. Leaders close to the Dahal-Nepal faction say they hold sway over district committees as well.
If Dahal and Nepal continue to hold ground, things will be difficult for Oli, as he might have to resign either as party chair or prime minister.
Insiders say factional gatherings lately are part of their preparations for an eventual showdown.
Since no one wants to be seen as the cause of the party split, leaders are trying different means to show that they have the upper hand, according to a Standing Committee member.
“Basically it is also a technique to create psychological pressure on the rivals,” the member told the Post.