A watershed moment for Nepal’s communist movement as UML nears a splitThe Madhav Nepal faction of the CPN-UML, the largest communist party in the country, decides to part ways with Oli, charging the chair with shenanigans.
The die has been cast.
Madhav Kumar Nepal, a senior communist leader and former prime minister, has made his move, and the CPN-UML is set to split. The stage has been set for an official break-up between Nepal and KP Sharma Oli, the current party chair and prime minister.
Nepal, along with 22 other leaders from the UML, on Monday gave their signatures to a court petition initiated by the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) against Oli’s Friday move of dissolving the House. On Friday afternoon, the Nepal faction had backed Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba for prime ministerial post.
An irate Oli has already expelled Nepal and 10 other leaders from the party and sought action against 12 more leaders. An hours-long meeting on Sunday evening between the leaders of Oli and Nepal factions hit a cul-de-sac.
Now Nepal is preparing to register a party of his own.
“Chances of reconciliation are slim now,” said CP Mainali, a senior communist leader and contemporary of Nepal and Oli.
Along with Nepal, another senior leader Jhala Nath Khanal too is set to break ranks with Oli. On Tuesday, the Nepal faction declared a war on Oli, making an appeal to all to join the campaign to end the latter’s ‘totalitarianism and authoritarianism’.
A split in the UML, many say, will mean a massive setback for the communist movement, and this could mark a watershed moment in Nepal’s communist history.
Insiders and analysts blame Oli for pushing the party towards its split.
Ever since Oli rose to the leadership position in the party—he was elected party chair in 2014 through the ninth general convention—he had started to demonstrate signs of running the party with an iron fist. Insiders say Oli would show little regard for senior leaders like Nepal and Khanal, both of whom led the UML party before him.
Nepal led the party as general secretary for 15 years from 1993 to 2008. He stepped down in 2008 following the party’s loss in the Constituent Assembly election. Khanal took over. During the eighth general convention of the party in 2009, the UML changed the leadership model, and accordingly Khanal became the party chair.
Oli’s highhanded attitude towards Nepal was more evident after the merger between UML and the Maoist Centre in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). At one point, Oli even relegated Nepal to the fourth rank. It was due to this reason thatNepal made an alliance with Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
But a March 7 decision by the Supreme Court scrapped the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and revived the UML and the Maoist Centre, thereby breaking the Nepal-Dahal alliance.
Nepal had no option than to stay within the UML, but Oli continued to squeeze space for him. However, Nepal, a risk-averse leader who has been described as a politician with poor decision-making, continued to vacillate.
Had the Nepal faction decided to back Deuba on May 13, Oli would have been replaced then and there, insiders say. It was only after Oli, following his reappointment as prime minister despite losing the vote of confidence, sought to become prime minister on Friday, the Nepal faction decided to make a move.
“The Nepal faction has now reached a point of no return,” said Mainali.
Observers and analysts say a split in the largest party will have larger implications for the national politics.
The formation of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) had resulted in the institution of the largest communist force in the country’s history. But the court broke it into two, and now if Nepal and Oli lead their own parties, it could mark the beginning of an end of the communists in the country, according to analysts.
Narayan Dhakal, a writer who has seen and been part of Nepal’s communist movements, said the immediate impact will be seen from the elections, whether they happen by the dates declared by Oli or next year.
“Votes will be divided between Oli and other communist forces led by Nepal and Dahal,” Dhakal told the Post. “Oli, however, appears to be least bothered about the communist movement, as he is more into hanging on to power. He is bent on destroying the system.”
Nepal has already described Oli as a traitor, who ticked all boxes of authoritarianism to demolish the party.
“Oli will be remembered as a traitor... a regressive leader in the history of Nepal for becoming the cause of the destruction of the communist movement in the country,” said Nepal.
Nepal’s communists, however, have a long history of breaking up and uniting. The CPN-UML itself had seen a split back in 1996 when a group led by Bamdev Gautam, along with Mainali, had formed the CPN-ML. But after failing to win even a single seat, most of the leaders came back to the UML, save Mainali.
Even today, there are over a dozen communist parties in the country.
The 2017 elections held after the promulgation of the constitution in 2015 had elected a House with nearly two-thirds communist members.
But the communists have once again fallen apart. Analysts say the situation could be favourable for the Nepali Congress, which faced an unprecedented drubbing in 2017, during the next elections.
The fate of the House currently is in the hands of the Supreme Court. If the court restores the House, Oli would be sent packing and Deuba would be at the helm.
Whether the current opposition alliance, which has parties of different ideologies, will continue until the next elections is too early to tell. Analysts hence do not rule out communists once again trying to gather together in the name of what they call “a comunist movement”.
The Congress and the Maoist Centre carry their fair share of tussle from the past.
“National politics will certainly see some recalibration and shifts after a split in the UML,” said Hari Roka, a political observer. “We have to see how these forces that have stood in favour of House reinstatement maintain their unity and chart out their strategy.”
Given the stark differences in the ideologies between the Nepali Congress and communist forces, analysts say, chances of Nepal and Dahal coming together cannot be ruled out in the future.
The Maoist Centre currently does not carry the Maoist ideology and the Nepal faction will have to decide what political thought it would pursue once it registers a new party. Oli’s UML will stick with its “people’s multiparty democracy”, which was initially propounded by the late Madan Bhandari as a programme. Ghanashyam Bhusal, who is known as one of the leaders to have contributed in making “people’s multiparty democracy” the UML’s ideology, is currently with the Nepal faction.
Party insiders say it will not be a good idea to have two parties with the same ideology.
Talks have been going on for quite some time among leaders with their tilt towards communism to form a larger social force. Even Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav of the Janata Samajbadi Party have been making a pitch for the same.
Both Bhattarai and Yadav too are part of the current opposition alliance led by the Nepali Congress in their quest to restore the House and unseat Oli.
“We are set to witness more political churning in the country and there are chances of union, loose or strong, among leftist leaders against Oli,” said Roka. But such an alliance’s viability will depend on what common minimum programme it can offer or what strategy it comes up with to address the people’s woes.”
According to Roka, a lot will depend on how soon the House is reinstated.
Mainali, the veteran communist leader, says Nepal’s communist movement indeed is facing a watershed moment.
“This is not the first time that any communist party has faced such a crisis and split. It happened in the past too. But this time around, things have gone out of hand,” Mainali told the Post. “The problem of Nepal’s communist movement is that leaders lack a strong ideological and political foundation. The present communist leadership should change their course, stop listening to foreigners and pay attention to their mentors, cadres and fellow comrades.”