Congress weighs options as both Oli and Dahal-Nepal factions make overtures to itThe party has emerged as a clear beneficiary but its leaders are hesitant to make any move until a formal split of the Nepal Communist Party.
The Nepali Congress—or party President Sher Bahadur Deuba for that matter—is having a field day.
After the Supreme Court overturned Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli's House dissolution move and ordered the authorities to convene a meeting of Parliament by March 8, exercises have already started to form a new government. And the Congress party, the main opposition with 63 seats, has taken the centre stage.
Both factions of the Nepal Communist Party, led by Oli as well as Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal, have already reached out to Congress President Deuba.
Congress leaders, however, say they are in a wait and watch mode, basically because the Nepal Communist Party, in legal terms, has not split yet.
According to at least half a dozen leaders the Post spoke to, both from Deuba as well as Ram Chandra Poudel groups, there are still chances that the two factions of Nepal Communist Party might come together in the future.
"There is no reason for us to make a move at this point in time," a leader told the Post. "Technically, it's still the Nepal Communist Party leading the government. Had there been a formal split and two parties, not factions, we could have paid heed to the calls to form a new government."
Even though the top court’s decision came as a huge setback for Oli, he has shown no signs of stepping down.
His aides say he would rather face the House than resign.
Pradeep Gyawali, spokesperson for the Oli faction, told journalists on Wednesday that the House would be called within 13 days, as ordered by the court, but Oli would do whatever “is in the best interest of the country”.
If Oli does not resign, he is likely to face a no-confidence motion moved by the Dahal-Nepal faction, which claims to have 90 Members of Parliament on its side.
That leaves the Oli faction with 84 members in Parliament.
The Congress has both the options open—to side with either faction— in order to lead the government.
"The role of Nepali Congress will be defined based on how Dahal and Nepal will take forward their party," said Congress leader Minendra Rijal. “We have nothing to say in the change of the Parliamentary Party leader of the Nepal Communist Party. Yes, if the Nepal Communist Party splits and there is a situation, our party can consider its role in the formation of a new government.”
Technically, Oli is still the leader of the Parliamentary Party of the Nepal Communist Party.
How equations evolve in the coming days is not clear yet, but some say a legal split in the Nepal Communist Party is not required to form a new government—nor the change in the leader of the Parliamentary Party—if the Dahal-Nepal faction moves the no-confidence motion by proposing a certain leader as prime minister. And that could be someone from the Dahal-Nepal faction or anyone from the Congress party.
Dahal and Nepal reached Budhanilkantha on Wednesday afternoon to meet with Deuba.
After the meeting, Nepal told reporters that they requested Deuba to join hands in forming a new government.
“We requested him [Deuba] to come along as we believe the Congress, Janata Samajbadi Party and those forces who are against Oli’s regressive move must form an alliance,” said Nepal.
Deuba’s aide Bhanu Deuba said that the Congress president told Dahal and Nepal that he would get back to them after holding a discussion within the party. According to Bhanu, the Congress president has called a meeting of senior leaders and office-bearers at his residence on Thursday.
A leader from the Dahal-Nepal faction said that it’s natural for them to try to forge an alliance with the forces who fought against Oli’s regressive move.
“In that context, our chairs [Dahal and Nepal] met with Deuba today to discuss possible equations,” Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member of Dahal-Nepal faction, told the Post.
The Dahal-Nepal faction is also in a bid to woo the Janata Samajbadi Party, which has 32 seats in Parliament.
According to Congress leaders, the Oli faction too had reached out to Deuba on Tuesday, seeking the Nepali Congress’ support.
But Deuba has not given any concrete response, they say.
Subas Nembang, a Standing Committee member of the Oli faction, said that they are in regular touch with various parties.
“Through our Standing Committee meeting today we have decided to implement the Supreme Court’s verdict and take further steps after holding discussions with the parties,” Nembang told the Post.
But given the equations in his own party, Deuba is not in a position to take a decision on his own and without consulting with his party colleagues.
Ever since the House was dissolved, the Poudel faction had pressured Deuba to strongly oppose Oli’s move. Deuba, however, continued to maintain a softer stance, saying the party must wait for the Supreme Court verdict.
The rival faction in the Congress has already started initial discussions “to stop” Deuba from taking a bait from either faction of the Nepal Communist Party to become prime minister.
Congress General Secretary Shashank Koirala and former general secretary Prakash Man Singh, according to insiders, met on Tuesday over lunch and discussed ways not to let Deuba take any decision without holding wider consultations within the party.
Both Oli and Dahal-Nepal factions have been offering prime ministership to Deuba, and many Congress leaders believe that given the party president’s history, he is highly likely to take the bait.
Congress leaders say it will be better for the party to weigh options rather than make any move in a hurry. The Congress believes it should wait and see how the feud between the Nepal Communist Party factions evolves.
“It won’t be wrong to say that at this moment, we can join any government—led either by Oli or Dahal,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat, a leader close to Deuba. “But the point is since the Nepal Communist Party has not legally split yet, what if the two factions decide to bury the hatchet?”
That the Congress has become the kingmaker is something everyone in the party understands very well.
“We are not in a hurry to join the government or lead the government,” said Mahat. “Discussions within the party on government formation and other political scenarios are but a natural phenomenon. Let’s wait for the House to convene.”
Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.