Oli takes initiatives for talks with Chand party as he struggles to stay afloatThe government forms a team under Home Minister Thapa to hold dialogue with Communist Party of Nepal, an armed outfit led by Dahal’s one-time trusted lieutenant.
Amid political uncertainties, the government decided to move forward talks with the Communist Party of Nepal, led by Netra Bikram Chand, an armed outfit, in what many believe as Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s bid to fish in troubled waters. While bringing any armed group to mainstream politics is a laudable step, analysts say, Oli, who has lost his political legitimacy, is making attempts to stay afloat.
The Oli government, which by now has lost the moral ground to govern after the Supreme Court overturned its decision to dissolve the House, on Tuesday said that it has formed a team led by Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa to hold dialogue with the Chand party. Rajan Bhattarai, Oli’s foreign relations adviser, has been named the only member of the Thapa-led talks team. The Communist Party of Nepal, in response, also formed a talks team led by Khadga Bahadur Bishwakarma, with Udaya Bahadur Chalaune as a member.
As a first step, the Oli government, according to official sources, is going to lift the ban that was imposed on Chand-led party’s activities, calling it a criminal outfit, in March 2019.
At least two leaders close to Oli said that though the talks team has been formed under Thapa, the prime minister himself has for quite a while employed his own channels to reach out to Chand and his party.
According to a leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Oli has been making efforts at political consolidation by attracting constituencies from across the spectrum—from rightists to ultra-leftist forces to conservative groups.
After the Supreme Court quashed Oli’s December 20 House dissolution move on February 23 and ordered authorities to call a Parliament meeting within 13 days, Oli has lost moral grounds to remain as the government head. He, however, has not resigned and has been putting up a brave face.
Since Oli apparently is in a minority in the Parliamentary Party as well as the 441-member Central Committee, he has been making an all-out effort to cling on to power.
As per the court order, the President has called the House meeting for Sunday.
The Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Madhav Kumar Nepal faction is planning to move a no-confidence motion against Oli, but it lacks the numbers. Unless the Nepali Congress supports it, the motion will fail.
Oli, hence, is making attempts to prove his relevance, according to analysts.
“I think this is Oli’s yet another strategy to create a situation for himself to remain in power,” said Narayan Dhakal, a writer who follows the leftist politics. “The Chand-led outfit has suffered a huge loss in the last one year or two. So Chand is also looking for some political settlement. Oli seems to be in a bid to use Chand against Dahal.”
During the armed insurgency, Chand, a firebrand fighter, used to be one of Dahal’s most trusted lieutenants. But six years after the peace deal, Chand in 2012 parted ways with Dahal, saying the latter had deviated from the ideology and left the “people’s war” halfway. It was not just Chand; Thapa and Mohan Baidya, Dahal’s one-time mentor, too had deserted the Maoist party to form their own party.
But Chand decided to sever ties with Thapa and Baidya in 2014 and formed his own Communist Party of Nepal—this time shedding the “Maoist” tag—to launch what he called a “unified people’s revolution.”
In 2016, Thapa returned to the Dahal camp and then in 2018 became home minister in the Oli Cabinet. After Oli’s House dissolution move led to a split in the Nepal Communist Party, Thapa chose to stay with Oli.
The government’s Tuesday decision to form the dialogue team now would mean the old comrades in arms would be talking to each other.
At a time when Oli is trying to woo various constituencies, including former Maoist fighters as well as those combatants who were disqualified for being minors, his bid to initiate talks with Chand could help him gain some leverage against Dahal, according to analysts.
“But whether, even if the talks are successful, Chand’s presence in mainstream politics will make much of a difference in the larger national political landscape remains doubtful,” said Dhakal.
Some, however, say Oli will definitely be able to earn some brownie points if he is successful in bringing the Chand party into mainstream politics. Despite being an armed outfit with “revolutionary goals”, the Chand outfit had been involved more in criminal activities like carrying out arsons and extortions.
It managed to create a scare among the society in February 2019 when it detonated an improvised explosive device at the gate of the headquarters of Ncell, a private sector mobile phone company which had been the party’s target for years, in Nakkhu, Lalitpur. The Chand party once in a while used to attack telephone towers of the company in various parts of the country.
But in the February 2019 blast, one person died and another was injured. In March that year, it carried out another blast in Kathmandu. There was no casualty. But two back-to-back blasts prompted the government to impose a ban on the party’s activities.
The government then launched a crackdown on the Chand party. So far, over 2,000 Chand party cadres have been arrested. Last month alone, a charge-sheet was filed against over 40 members of the Communist Party of Nepal, including Chand, at Morang District Court for murdering a school principal in Miklajung Rural Municipality, Morang.
The Dahal-Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party, while saying that the formation of the talks team is a positive step, has warned that it must not turn into Oli’s political stunt.
“We were opposed to the decision of imposing a ban on Chand party’s activities,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, spokesperson for the Dahal-Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party. “If the intent behind holding talks is good, we welcome the move.”
Shrestha, however, doubted the talks will be successful.
“Both Oli and Chand are trying to play for their political gains,” said Shrestha. “Chand wants his cadres released and Oli wants to earn credit.”
Chand is a vocal critic of the parliamentary system, the way his mentor Dahal was once upon a time.
During talks, Chand is likely to put forth his own conditions, including round-table talks so as to determine how Nepal’s politics should move forward. This demand is similar to what the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, a pro-royalist, pro-Hindu force, has been saying for quite a while.
The Rastriya Prajatantra Party on Tuesday was quick to welcome the government move of forming a team under the home minister to hold talks with Chand.
The party said it’s high time an all-party meeting was held between Nepal’s political forces and the ousted king.
A leader close to Oli said that the prime minister wants to take all the forces along and that there is nothing wrong with that.
“Oli is trying to garner votes and sympathy from various sections—from former Maoists to conservative forces to some constituencies in the Madhes region,” the leader, a Central Committee member of the Oli faction who did not wish to be named, told the Post. “He has elections in mind.”
After dissolving the House, Oli had called elections for April 30 and May 10. While a rally, named “dhoti rally”, was organised in Kathmandu at his behest to woo the constituencies from the Madhes region, Oli was even making overtures with some royalist forces.
With the court order to restore the House, the April 30 and May 10 elections have been shelved, but the way Oli has been travelling to various parts of the countries and making speeches, makes it look like he is out on the hustings, seeking votes.
On Tuesday also, while addressing a mass gathering in Jhapa, Oli said if anyone dares to remove him from power, he would welcome that but he would certainly make a comeback with a two-thirds majority.
During his talks with people in his orbit in Baluwatar, according to a leader close to Oli, the prime minister keeps on repeating that the Dahal-Nepal faction won’t be able to secure even 10 seats in Parliament, that the Janata Samajbadi Party would split and that the only organised force that he would have to deal with is Nepali Congress.
Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba has been facing accusations from within his own party that he has been complicit in Oli’s every move, including the House dissolution.
The Nepali Congress on Tuesday described the government’s decision to form the team to hold talks with Chand as a positive step.
“The Nepali Congress is committed to resolving all outstanding issues through talks and the party believes that both sides would seek a solution under the purview of federal, democratic and republicanism set-up based on multilateralism and parliamentary democracy,” the Congress party said in a statement issued by its spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma.
The Congress party’s role will be crucial in defining Nepal’s political course from now on. With 63 members in Parliament, the Nepali Congress can either oust Oli by supporting the Dahal-Nepal faction’s no-confidence motion or give Oli a new lease of life by choosing to support him.
The Nepali Congress has been constantly in talks with both factions of the Nepal Communist Party, but it has been weighing options.
Some say Oli is in a bid to counter all the forces and his bid to initiate talks with Chand is aimed at balancing out his opponents for his political gains.
A Central Committee member of the Chand-led outfit told the Post that they have taken the talks initiative positively but it would be wrong to believe that Oli would be able to rein them in so easily.
The Chand outfit fears its fate could be like that of CK Raut’s force.
The Oli government had earned praise in March 2019, days before the Chand party was branded a criminal outfit, for bringing Raut to mainstream politics by making him quit his secessionist campaign.
There were talks that Raut would soon emerge in national politics. After quitting his campaign, Raut formed the Janmat Party, but he has been completely out of the scene.
The Chand party leader said that the formation of the talks team is just the beginning.
“We have our own political agenda,” said the leader who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying the government is yet to lift a ban on the party. “First the ban has to be lifted and then our cadres must be released. A political settlement is still a long shot. When real talks start, we will enter into our agenda.”