Congress to wait for Oli, Janata Samajbadi and Maoist Centre moves before making its ownAn alternative government with the Nepali Congress at the helm only if the Maoist Centre withdraws support to Oli and he fails to strike a deal with Janata Samajbadi Party.
With 63 seats in the 275-member House of Representatives, the Nepali Congress could lead the new government. But not just yet as there has been no headway in that direction.
The party has, therefore, for the moment opted for a strategy to watch the moves of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Janata Samajbadi Party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) on government formation.
If the Maoist Centre decides not to withdraw its support to the prime minister, who chairs the UML, or if the Janata Samajbadi Party decides to support the CPN-UML government in the case of the Maoist Centre withdrawing the support it had given in February 2018 when Oli became prime minister, Nepali Congress leading the government will be a moot point.
But given this uncertainty, Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba has personally deployed his close aides like Prakash Sharan Mahat, the party’s joint secretary, Gyanendra Bahadur Karki and Ramesh Lekhak to hold talks with Oli, Samajbadi party and the Maoist Centre. Deuba himself is also talking informally with the Janata Samajbadi leadership through Sharat Singh Bhandari, a senior Samajbadi leader, according to two Nepali Congress leaders privy to the developments.
If the Nepali Congress were to form the next government, it would need the support of both the Maoist Centre with its 53 parliamentarians in the lower house and the Janata Samajbadi Party with its 34 (two suspended).
For the moment, however, Congress seems to be in no hurry to take a decisive step.
“There is ample time to discuss the government formation,” Congress General Secretary Purna Bahadur Khadka told the Post. “And in my opinion, for two weeks, there will be no concrete development or agreement.”
Nepali Congress leaders are also aware that attempts are on to give continuity to the incumbent Oli government with the support of Maoist Centre or there could be another prime ministerial candidate from within the UML and the Maoist Centre.
According to a number of Congress leaders, UML leaders Bishnu Poudel, Subas Nembang, Shanker Pokhrel, Ghanshyam Bhusal, Yogesh Bhattarai and Maoist Centre’s Barshaman Pun, Janardan Sharma are in talks to give continuity to the incumbent Oli government if possible and keep the unity between the two parties intact even though they have separate identities now.
Leaders of the UML and the Maoist Centre confirmed to the Post on condition of anonymity that such talks are indeed going on.
The Supreme Court on Sunday scrapped the May 2018 merger between the two parties as the unified party had chosen a name—Nepal Communist Party (NCP)—that already belonged to another party registered with the Election Commission.
“Let the constituents of the Nepal Communist Party—UML and Maoist Centre—go different ways or the relationship between them be clear,” said Khadka. “We are also closely watching the ongoing talks between Oli and the Samajbadi Party and between the Maoist Centre and the Samajbadi Party as well as the dynamics within the UML.”
Leaders like Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal, who were opposed to Oli in the Nepal Communist Party and even more so after Oli dissolved the House of Representatives on December 20, a move the Supreme Court later called unconstitutional, are back in the UML fold and have vowed to fight against Oli’s unilateral ways.
“Once the scene is clear, our party’s role will be evident,” said Khadka. “We are at the centre of Nepali politics and so our role will come at the end”.
Nepali Congress leaders are also well aware of party President Deuba’s close relationship with Oli.
“A large section of the party leadership still has suspicions over Deuba’s role,” a senior Congress leader who did not wish to be named told the Post. “Deuba’s consistent support to Oli that is manifest time and again is another core crisis of our party. We still feel there must be some tacit understanding between Deuba and Oli and that is why Deuba is not opening his cards.”
Then there is the role of the new kingmaker—Janata Samajbadi Party.
With just 270 valid votes in the House of Representatives—two lawmakers from Congress, two from Samajbadi Party are suspended and one UML lawmaker has died—Oli, with 120 UML lawmakers, can survive with the support of the Janata Samajbadi Party.
“JSP leaders are increasingly cozying up to Oli,” the senior Nepali Congress leader said.
Although a task force formed by Oli and another by the Janata Samajbadi Party are meeting frequently and could strike a deal, Nepali Congress leaders are, on the other hand, aware that it will not be easy for Oli to pardon Samajbadi lawmaker Resham Chaudhary who is serving a life sentence for his role in the 2015 Tikapur incident in which nine people were killed in a riot.
The second of the party’s two key demands is an amendment to the constitution.
“Chaudhary was convicted by the court so it is not easy for Oli to release him under any pretext,” a Nepali Congress leader said. “As for the constitutional amendment, Oli and the JSP need also the support of the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre.”
Given the legal and political complications to fulfil the demands of the Janata Samajbadi Party, Congress leaders continue to be hopeful.
“Since JSP has emerged as kingmaker in new power politics, it has created obstacles by putting forward conditions one after another,” Narayan Khadka, a leader close to Deuba said. “For Oli, JSP is a compulsion but with us, it could be a comfortable alliance.”
But even if Janata Samajbadi leaders were to be convinced that siding with Oli could yield a better political outcome for them, it is not a given as such a decision of the party will be unanimous.
“Within the JSP too views are divided with senior leaders Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav dead set against going with Oli in the next power sharing deal,” the leader said. “In that scenario, JSP is likely to split and consequently Oli might face trouble.”
Then the Nepali Congress could move in.
“It is then that our role will come, and this will be a decisive factor in the formation of the next government,” said the senior Congress leader.
But even after that, Congress leaders, including Deuba, are well aware that forming a government will not be an easy task.
“It is my personal view that Deuba is not giving much attention to government formation and replacing Oli because in his formal and informal initiatives, he could have realised that government formation is a Herculean task,” Pradip Poudel, a central working committee member of the party said. “If there was something to share, he would have called party meetings but there is nothing to share at the moment. Meanwhile, informal consultation will continue but at a decisive level, Nepali Congress is not moving anywhere.”
Congress leaders feel that it is futile for the party to take any steps towards government formation in the immediate future.
The Nepali Congress will need both the Maoist Centre and the Janata Samajbadi Party to join hands with it and if that situation arises, Oli can pull the rug from under the alliance’s feet.
“Oli may offer the premiership to Mahantha Thakur to save his bid and to stop us. They could run a rotational government that might be a safe deal between them,” said Narayan Khadka.
But he continues to be hopeful.
“We could jump in anytime if talks between Oli and JSP fail,” said Khadka.