The spectre of split hovers above UML even as Oli, Nepal hold talks in fence-mending bidThe factions led by party chair and senior leader refuse to budge from stances, thereby deciding to make their own moves.
After squabbling for months–even not hesitating to smear and mud-sling at each other–CPN-UML chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal on Monday came face to face.
Both were accompanied by a handful of their loyal leaders. They talked, they refused to budge from their stances and they decided to continue to meet again. They have not fixed the date though.
The meeting between the two arch-rivals came all of a sudden–amid talks of a split in the UML and about the formation of a coalition government by the Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi Party.
During the meeting, according to party leaders, Oli wanted the Nepal group to cancel its national gathering of March 17-18 and the latter wanted the party chair to withdraw the March 12 decisions of amending the party statute, inducting 23 Maoist Centre members into the Central Committee and relieving leaders close to Nepal of their responsibilities.
“Oli was not ready to withdraw his unilateral decisions made on March 12,” said Bhim Rawal, a Standing Committee member of the Nepal group. “We are ready to reconcile if Oli withdraws the March 12 decisions. Or else, we will go ahead with our decisions.”
But another Standing Committee member, who is close to Oli, said that the party chair wanted Nepal to make a self-realisation that the latter had made a mistake.
“Oli told Nepal that the latter did everything possible to ruin his political career,” the Standing Committee member told the Post requesting anonymity. “Nepal turned aggressive. Oli was of the view that it was because of the [March 7] court decision, he got a new lease of life.”
Until then, Nepal, along with some other leaders from the UML, had sided with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, attempting to unseat Oli.
Now Oli appears to be strong in the UML party, but his political fate is still uncertain, as Dahal has been making attempts to forge an alliance with the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party to oust him as the prime minister.
“Oli is feeling insecure. His move of inducting Maoist Centre leaders into the Central Committee without informing us and trying to validate it shows how insecure he is now,” said Ghanashyam Bhusal, a Standing Committee member from the Nepal group who was present at Monday’s meeting. “The more a person becomes autocratic, the more insecure they feel.”
Monday’s meeting came a day after the Nepal group, in response to Oli’s March 12 decisions, issued a statement, accusing Oli of failing to maintain even the fundamental decorum of a general member of a communist party.
As many as 11 leaders from the Nepal group alleged that Oli was trying to end the communist movement. The Nepal faction on Sunday also approached the Election Commission, asking it not to validate his March 12 decisions.
Irked at Oli’s “unilateral” decisions of March 12, the Nepal group has started forming its own parallel committees. The ongoing conflict in the UML has raised the spectre of a split.
Just as Nepal and other leaders have put a brave face on their return to the UML fold, Oli is increasingly concerned that a party split could make his position as prime minister untenable. Courting the Nepal camp is likely to serve him best as with 120 seats of an intact UML in the Parliament could help him retain power if he can secure the support of the Janata Samajbadi Party, which has 34 lawmakers (two suspended).
Subas Nembang, a close confidante of Oli, described Monday’s meeting as “positive”.
“All the leaders were in favour of utilising the opportunity given by the court to unify the party,” Nembang, also a Standing Committee member, told the Post. “It’s true that we could not arrive at a conclusion, but we have agreed to continue such dialogue.”
Later in the day, Nepal briefed central members close to him about his meeting with the Oli faction held earlier in the morning.
“When Oli invited me for talks, I had thought that he might have realised his mistakes and was ready to patch up. But he actually made annoying comments,” Dilu Panta, a Central Committee member, quoted Nepal as saying during the briefing. “We have decided to go ahead with the party’s national gathering on March 17-18, women’s gathering on March 19 and youth’s gathering on March 20.”
Leaders say Oli had initially invited Nepal to Baluwatar for the meeting, but after the latter refused, the meeting was arranged at the party headquarters in Dhumbarahi.
Political observers say since the bitterness has grown so much between Oli and Nepal that the likelihood of UML remaining a united party is very low and that it could implode anytime.
“I don’t think the party will remain united when the real game of government formation starts,” said Hari Roka, a political economist. “The Nepal faction will certainly make a move to topple Oli.”
According to Roka, Oli’s decision to hold talks with Nepal was nothing but a tactic to create pressure on the Nepal faction.
“Today’s meeting by Oli was held not to ensure unity, but to put pressure on the Nepal faction and to assert that his opponents have to remain under his domination,” said Roka. “Oli seems to be under the impression that the [March 7] court decision has given him an all-out authority to run the party.”
The Nepal group has said it won’t attend the meeting of the Central Committee called by Oli on March 20.
There, however, are many leaders within the UML who believe that the “communist movement” must be protected.
Bhusal, the Standing Committee member from the Nepal group, said a split in the party could have an impact on larger national politics, as it will affect government’s stability as well.
“But the way the conflict has escalated, it looks like the party could see a vertical division, even if there is no formal split in the immediate future,” said Bhusal.
According to Roka, the conflict in the UML could continue for some time before it sees a split because of multiple factors, including its long legacy, a strong organisational base and its leaders who have invested a lot in building the party.
“And above all, no one wants to easily give up their access to state resources which is possible only when they are in the party,” said Roka. “A conflict could also arise over the ideology and its clarity after some time, as many leaders are for going beyond the people’s multi-party democracy.”