War of words between Oli and Nepal continues as they drift apartThe future of UML is in the hands of the Supreme Court as its decision on House dissolution will indicate how factions led by the two leaders make their next moves, insiders say.
A tug-of-war has been going on in the CPN-UML for months. Party chair KP Sharma Oli, also the prime minister, has not only criticised and humiliated senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal but also on one occasion ousted him from the party. Nepal, who leads a faction within the party, has at times threatened to form a separate party, but he has not done so yet. The two adversaries, however, continue to remain in the same party, even though they do not miss a single opportunity to lash out at each other.
But if some recent developments are anything to go by, according to insiders and observers, a split in the UML is just a matter of time. Some second-rung leaders have been making a last-ditch effort to keep party unity intact, but the basis has weakened and the bitterness between the leaders has only grown, they say.
On Monday, Oli took on Nepal over the latter’s statement that he was offered the post of prime minister.
“Nepal has become a tail of Dahal. A few days back he said I have offered the post of prime minister to him. Am I bitten by a mad dog?” said Oli, evoking derisive laughter from his party members.
Nepal, along with 22 other UML members, is currently backing the opposition alliance which has pitched Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister. The alliance has filed a petition at the Supreme Court demanding House restoration and appointment of Deuba as prime minister.
“Madhav Nepal claims to be a senior UML leader, but how can a leader who is supporting the opposition party leader as prime minister be a UML leader?” said Oli. “Madhav Nepal is destroying the communist movement.”
Later in the day, Nepal responded to Oli’s remarks at a different function in Kathmandu.
“Oli’s language is worth pondering. Please keep that on record. The prime minister is at the top when it comes to violating basic civility.”
Oli’s scathing remarks against Nepal come days before a meeting of the UML aimed at taking the party to the stage it was before May 18, 2018. This will mean a broader call to the Nepal faction to decide if it wants to be under the UML party which existed before its merger with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre).
“The UML will dissolve the national convention organising committee of the party and revive the Central Committee,” said Rajendra Gautam, who is close to Oli. “We will announce a roadmap for keeping the party united. Those who are interested can join.”
But many say things have escalated badly and that the likelihood of Oli and Nepal remaining under the same party has diminished.
A member who spoke on condition of anonymity said leaders like Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Bhim Rawal, Asta Laxmi Shakya, Ram Kumari Jhakri and Rajendra Kumar Rai are unlikely to join hands with Oli.
Nepal so far has expressed his commitment to backing the opposition alliance, but given his nature of being risk-averse and indecisive, not many are convinced.
Nepal had aligned himself with Pushpa Kamal Dahal in the then Nepal Communist Party (NCP) to create a force against Oli. But on March 7, the Supreme Court invalidated the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and revived the UML and the Maoist Centre.
Even though Nepal has said on multiple occasions that he would form a party of his own, he has not yet broken his ties with the UML. In joint statements of the opposition alliance, Nepal signs as “senior leader of the CPN-UML.”
With Oli’s position becoming untenable, the Nepal faction now appears to be preparing to desert the UML. And much depends on the Supreme Court decision on Oli’s May 21 House dissolution.
As many as 23 lawmakers, including Nepal, from the dissolved Parliament have signed the petition filed by the opposition alliance led by Deuba against the House dissolution.
Leaders close to Oli say he will make utmost efforts to stop Deuba from becoming prime minister if the House is reinstated.
For that, according to UML leaders, Oli has two options–either make sure that the Nepal faction comes into his fold, or strip all the leaders from the Nepal faction of their lawmaker positions.
If Oli passes the trust vote with the support of the Nepal faction, he will stay on for a year and a half and if he loses it, the House would be dissolved again, according to people from Oli’s orbit.
“The present situation [in the party] is quite complicated after the Supreme Court's order [to invalidate the national convention organising committee],” said Pradeep Gyawali, spokesperson for the UML. “We are on a wait and watch mode.”
According to Gyawali, there is little chance of Nepal returning to the UML fold, as “he has been lured by the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre”.
“We have heard about a merger of different forces led by Nepal, Dahal and Upendra Yadav. We have also heard about pre-electoral alliances,” said Gyawali. “But the way the activities of Nepal and the opposition alliance are directed, I see a larger party unity within UML with Nepal and other leaders as impossible.”
Gyawali, however, believes that “some leaders” might come to Oli’s fold.
One of the leaders who deserted the Nepal faction to return to the Oli camp is Bishnu Rijal.
“If the Supreme Court reinstates the House, there will be pressure on Oli for party unification. In that scenario, he might even offer the post of party chair to Nepal,” said Rijal. “If the court passes an order to restore the House and appoint Deuba as prime minister, Oli will have to remove the leaders of the Nepal faction as lawmakers.”
According to Rijal, the UML’s unity fate largely depends on the Supreme Court’s verdict.
Nepal faction leaders, however, are not optimistic about Oli accommodating them in the UML.
“Oli’s calls so far have been an eyewash,” said Som Prasad Pandey, a leader close to Nepal. “Our leadership has already squandered the opportunity that we had to start afresh. There is very little chance of going with Oli now.”
But whether Oli will indeed accommodate Nepal and his faction’s leaders or oust them from the party, thereby relieving them of their lawmaker positions if the House is restored is still up in the air.
Hari Roka, a political commentator, said it won’t be easy for Oli to sack lawmakers, given a recent Supreme Court ruling on the removal of four provincial lawmakers of Karnali that the party’s National Convention Organising Committee’s decision is not valid and only that of the Central Committee is valid.
“Oli is left with limited options and alternatives after a series of Supreme Court orders in the recent past,” said Roka. “If Oli removes Nepal faction leaders, it will be illegal. And he is not going to offer the post of party chair to Nepal. Oli is taking the country towards a disaster.”