Confusion and dilemma in Nepali Congress continues, now with eyes on leading government in provincesViews differed in the party over House dissolution. Now there are questions whether it should join hands with Oli or Dahal-Nepal faction in Bagmati and Province 1.
Nepali Congress is not in government in even one of the seven provinces. Such was the hammering the party got in the 2017 elections. But now with the Nepal Communist Party vertically split, it has a chance to join a provincial government and even lead.
The opportunity, however, has brought further confusion within the Nepali Congress and put it in a dilemma.
The party is already divided in its response to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the House of Representatives and hold snap polls on April 30 and May 10 with one section believing that it must oppose the dissolution and another section maintaining that it should wait for the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the dissolution.
Meanwhile, within the Nepal Communist Party, the split is being played out in the provinces with the faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal set to remove the chief ministers of Province 1 and Bagmati Province. But for that it needs the support of the Nepali Congress.
If the Nepali Congress supports the Oli faction, there are chances that Sherdhan Rai, chief minister of Province 1, and Dormani Poudel, chief minister of Bagmati, both from the Oli faction, could save their seats. Rai and Poudel are facing no-confidence motions filed by the Dahal-Nepal faction.
The warring factions of the Nepal Communist Party are seeking the support of the Nepali Congress in the provinces and the latter seems undecided.
Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba called a meeting of the party’s Central Working Committee members representing the Bagmati province on Thursday and discussed the way forward, two participants of the meeting told the Post.
A no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Poudel was tabled at the provincial assembly on Friday.
“At the meeting, Deuba said that whichever NCP faction offers the post of chief minister to the Nepali Congress, the party will extend support to that,” said a participant requesting anonymity. “Deuba is more inclined to going with Oli and if a ‘give and take’ between the Congress and the Oli-led faction of NCP goes well, the party is all set to lead the government in Bagmati.”
That would put a spanner in the works of the Dahal-Nepal faction’s plan to have Asta Laxmi Shakya as the chief minister. Following the elections in 2017, Poudel had pipped Shakya to the post.
“It seems that we are joining or leading the government in Bagmati,” Nabindra Raj Joshi, a central committee member who was present at Thursday’s meeting at Deuba’s residence said.
But it is not clear whether the Congress will support the Oli faction in Bagmati.
“We should be mindful that we were the opposition in the past and we are currently on the streets, protesting against Oli’s move,” said Joshi.
The party has not discussed what to do in Province 1.
Observers say that the Nepali Congress, rather than joining hands with Oli for short-term gains, should be leading the constituency that is angered by Oli's ‘unconstitutional’ move to dissolve the House.
“People view the current dilemma of the Nepali Congress as solely guided by its leadership’s greed for power and its position is influenced by how it will benefit from immediate access to power whereas it should work to safeguard the constitution,” said Bishnu Sapkota, a political commentator for the Post’s sister paper Kantipur.
Despite having called Oli’s House dissolution “undemocratic and unconstitutional”, Deuba has been reluctant to vociferously oppose the move and rejected calls within his party to take to the streets in protest, maintaining that the matter is for the Supreme Court to decide.
He has already rejected the proposal of the Dahal-Nepal faction to join the latter in protests together with the Janata Samajbadi Party, which was the third largest party in the dissolved House.
Deuba and the party’s senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel are poles apart on how to view Oli’s move.
While Deuba has been soft on Oli’s move and has been urging leaders and cadres to be prepared for the upcoming polls, Poudel and his faction have said that the Nepali Congress should launch street protests against the House dissolution until the move is corrected.
“At Thursday's meeting too, we found a similar kind of confusion and dilemma over the party’s stance in Bagmati Province,” a leader who wants to maintain neutrality said. “Deuba wants to assign the responsibility to the provincial parliamentary committee while Poudel is of the view that the decision should be taken at the centre or through the party’s Central Working Committee.”
After Thursday’s discussion, the party’s Bagmati provincial assembly leader, Indra Bahadur Baniya, has been summoned to Kathmandu to brief the party’s leadership on the ground situation in Hetauda, the capital of Bagmati Province.
“We see clear ideological differences in the Nepali Congress leadership. There could be pressure from cadres on the ground, there could be some geo-political factors in play,” said Bhojraj Pokharel, a former chief election commissioner.
“But its high command was always confused and in a dilemma. In my view, the leadership should struggle on the streets so that it will benefit the party whether the House is reinstated or elections are held.”
The party has issued a circular to all its 77 districts committees to help the Election Commission’s campaign to update voter lists and this means that the party is simultaneously working towards election preparations, according to some party leaders.
In case the Supreme Court does not reinstate the House, elections will have to be held for a new Parliament.
But those close to Deuba do not think there is any confusion within the party.
“We are not going to take any decision immediately on what to do in Bagmati Province,” said Ramesh Lekhak, a leader close to Dueba. “There is no question of having a dilemma on key national issues. Whatever decision we will take on national or provincial politics, we will do on the basis of consensus.”
Leaders from Bagmati Province too have laid stress on consensus and said short- and long-term views should be taken into consideration.
“We advised the party leadership to take the decision that suits the party best,” said Joshi. “Before taking any decision in such a fluid situation, we have to look after long- and short-term gains.”
But observers do not have much confidence in the current party leadership and are not surprised by its vacillation.
“Given the Nepali Congress leadership, given who it is led by, the situation is not a surprise. Unless the next general convention installs a more principled leadership, with at least a couple of younger leaders who have shown promise, I do not expect that the current Nepali Congress leadership has the legitimacy to garner wider public support,” said Sapkota, the columnist.
“The current leadership is so discredited that even if it takes a sound view on current political developments, its lack of legitimacy will make people question whether its position is valid.”