In attacking Oli, Dahal ratchets up incendiary rhetoric, only to draw flakCivil society members say the House dissolution move is wrong but taking violent means to find a solution to it will be equally wrong, as it will put the country on the slippery slope.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a two-time prime minister and a former rebel leader, is known as a masterly orator. There was a time when people would gather in thousands to listen to him—it was during those days when his Maoist party had just laid down arms after a decade-long insurgency, in which around 13,000 people lost their lives.
He was known as a leader who could hold the masses spellbound. He used to make rabble-rousing speeches.
Four years after signing the peace deal, in 2010, a year after he was forced to resign as prime minister, Dahal asked students at a programme to turn all the colleges into barracks. He would use every other occasion to deliver fiery speeches, branding other parties, especially the Nepali Congress and then CPN-UML, as reactionaries and conspirators. It looked like the revolutionary character still resided somewhere within him.
As parties played the game of musical chairs, while the Constituent Assembly struggled to deliver a constitution, Dahal continued to make a desperate push for returning to power. It took him eight years to return to power—in 2016 he became prime minister for a second time with the support of the Nepali Congress for seven months.
In 2017, he joined hands with KP Sharma Oli, the chairman of then UML. He and Oli in 2018 announced formation of the Nepal Communist Party, declaring themselves its chairmen. Nearly three years later, Dahal and Oli have fallen out with each other. The Dahal-led Nepal Communist Party, in which Madhav Kumar Nepal is the other chair, has taken to the streets to protest against Oli’s December 20 move of dissolving the House. Since then, Dahal has spent most of the time making scathing attacks on Oli.
But on Sunday, he ratcheted up his fiery rhetoric, taking many not only by surprise but also raising concerns if the former rebel leader had gone a bit too far.
“A vegetarian struggle is not going to work now,” said Dahal while addressing a function organised by All Nepal National Independent Students Union, a wing of the Dahal-Nepal faction on Sunday, insinuating that a violent movement is the need of the hour.
“We have anger and hatred for the counter-revolutionaries and we are eager to attack,” said Dahal.
Ever since the Maoist party joined mainstream politics in 2006, peace has by and large returned to the society, despite the country facing political instability.
The one group that has been threatening to launch an armed struggle is led by Netra Bikram Chand, Dahal’s one-time disciple.
Observers and civil society members say Dahal may have his grievances against Oli, but there is no space for seditious statements like the ones he made recently in society.
“The wounds of many of the injured in the past are still fresh. We don’t need any violent movements again,” said Narayan Wagle, a former editor who is part of the Brihat Nagarik Aandolan. “Citizens are not going to be part of any movement that takes violent means to achieve a goal.”
After deciding to part ways with Oli following his House dissolution decision, Dahal and Nepal have been in a bid to seek support for their protest.
Civil society members and experts on constitutional affairs have called Oli’s move unconstitutional and undemocratic.
Protests by different parties, including the Nepal Communist Party led by Dahal and Nepal, against Oli’s move have been widely covered by the media.
As his party has announced a series of protests, Dahal is trying to seek support from various quarters—including the media and civil society—for his movement.
Observers say Dahal, along with Nepal and other leaders including Jhala Nath Khanal, seems to be under the wrong impression that all those who are cricisting Oli’s move are backing him. According to them, Dahal, who has failed to convince even his own party members what makes him and other leaders in his party better than Oli, has rather resorted to such inflammatory statements.
“Dahal has tried to provoke students and youths for a violent movement which is not just wrong but unacceptable,” said Charan Prasain, a human rights defender and civil society activist. “It’s concerning… it also reflects that Dahal has yet to internalise the fact that there are peaceful means of struggle also available to achieve the goal.”
But what is Dahal’s—or his party’s for that matter—goal?
Dahal started to have issues with Oli soon after he realised that the latter was not going to honour the gentleman’s agreement reached in May 2018—at the time of party unity—that both will lead the government in turns.
Relations between the two gradually soured and Dahal in due course managed to get some senior former UML leaders into his fold. The calls for Oli’s resignation both as prime minister and party chair grew louder.
Oli has, not only in his public statements but also in the letter to the President recommending the House dissolution, mentioned that he was forced to take the step because his colleagues were not allowing him to work.
Observers say Oli’s move is out and out wrong, undemocratic and unconstitutional but that does not mean Dahal’s statements can be condoned.
Daman Nath Dhungana, a former Speaker and civil society leader, said the dissolution of the House by Oli is a trespass on, and gross violation of, the constitution but its solution must be sought through peaceful means and within the framework of the constitution.
“It seems Dahal wants to create a mood for the movement, but it is wrong to incite violence in the name of making a protest effective,” Dhungana, who has been equally critical of the Dahal-Nepal faction, told the Post.
At a recent event organised in Kathmandu, Dhungana had said that leaders of the Dahal-Nepal faction were equally to blame for the current political mess as until December 20, they were not only the mute spectators of Oli’s shenanigans but also part of it.
“If Dahal tries to make the struggle violent to counter Oli, he will be doing another wrong which will benefit only those who want to derail the system,” Dhungana told the Post.
Even though Dahal and Nepal in their public speeches have sought support for their protests to “protect the system”, they have failed to provide convincing arguments on how they can do it.
Dahal continues to face allegations that he upped the ante against Oli not because the latter was attacking the system but because he wanted to replace him.
While Oli has turned the conversation nasty and ugly, using derogatory remarks against his opponents, Dahal and Nepal too have been trying to match him, as though they are in some kind of a competition.
Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member of the Dahal-Nepal faction, said it would be wrong to read Dahal’s statement as part of any plan to stage an armed insurrection.
“The recent statements were meant to encourage the party cadres and members of the public to make our movement stronger and more effective,” Pant told the Post. “We don’t believe in violence. We have said we are ready to be baton-charged; we have not said we will attack anyone with batons.”
In Dahal’s defence, Pant added that the leader has made his stance clear from various forums that he would remain within the constitutional framework and he believes in a peaceful movement.
After criticism, Dahal on Tuesday tried to clarify his position.
Speaking at a gathering organised by Press Organisation, the journalists’ wing supporting the Dahal-Nepal faction, Dahal said he in no way called for a violent means of protest.
“We have already expressed our commitment to peaceful politics, multi-party competition and rule of law. And this commitment is our conviction, not any tactical rhetoric,” Dahal said. “But, if anyone tries to push the nation towards autocracy, it will be Nepali people’s duty to stop it at all cost.”