Behind the facade of UML’s pomposity lies some unease and discomfortParty’s statute congress ends setting sights on polls, but representatives say they have a big battle to fight in the form of elections, as everyone has turned against them.
The CPN-UML on Sunday concluded its first ever three-day statute congress, an event largely aimed at elevating current chair KP Sharma Oli to the leadership position once again with sights set on the upcoming elections.
Grandiosity and chest-thumping were in full display at Godavari in Lalitpur. But underneath the veneer of bravado there seemed to lie some kind of unease among the representatives, around 6,000 who came to the Capital from different parts of the country to participate in the party jamboree.
Multiple participants the Post spoke to on Sunday, including those who are said to be close to Oli, said that their party is not in a comfortable position when it comes to elections.
The party is under attack from multiple fronts, they said.
The UML is currently the largest party. It had swept the last elections in 2017 as it had formed an alliance with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). Both had later in May 2018 merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), the largest communist force Nepal had ever seen. Oli was the No 1 leader. The Supreme Court, however, in March this year invalidated the merger. And on August 26, Madhav Kumar Nepal, a long-time UML leader, decided to walk away to form the CPN (Unified Socialist).
A representative, who is a lecturer at one of the colleges in Kathmandu, said that the reason behind organising this pompous and expensive gathering is to show the party’s strength.
“There are concerns that some might join Madhav Nepal’s party and this can be a huge setback during elections,” said the representative who spoke on condition of anonymity. “What the leadership is trying to do at this time is—stopping people from defecting to Nepal’s party and boosting the members’ morale.”
According to the representative, the leadership is trying to ensure that the party must win the next polls anyhow, especially after seeing a split, as tough times are ahead.
After Oli was ousted by the Supreme Court, the UML leadership is trying to convince its members that the world has turned against it.
“Attempts are being made to weaken our party,” said Oli while addressing the representatives. “But we are growing in strength by the day.”
Oli also directed the representatives to make an all-out attempt to get 51 percent of the country’s population to side with the UML.
“[Our opponents] are trying to create confusion. More and more people are joining the UML. It is possible that 51 percent of Nepalis can be brought into the party,” said Oli. “I request all of you to bring all our friends, from the centre to the local level, who are confused, to our fold.”
As is his wont, Oli put on a brave face and tried to inspire confidence in the statute congress representatives. But as soon as the congress began, voices had started to grow, no matter how feeble, that attempts were being made to build a personality cult around Oli. And not many seem to be happy with that.
Participants say even though they don’t appreciate the culture of deification of an individual leader, they tried not to express their criticism, given the apprehensions and concerns about the upcoming polls.
“We are at war,” Bhanubhakta Dhakal, a Central Committee member and former minister, told the Post at the congress venue on Sunday afternoon. “Yes, there are questions over deification, but our sights are set on the upcoming polls. For now, our focus should be on how to win rather than questioning the leadership.”
The unease in Dhakal was apparent in many other participants the Post spoke to.
Most of them said they are in for a big battle as the party has split and most of the parties have banded together against the UML.
“We have to maintain our unity and strength until the polls,” said Dhakal. “Our leadership, as well as the party members, is well aware of the fact that everyone is trying to weaken us. We need to stick to what our leadership decides.”
Ishwari Rijal, also a Central Committee member, said the current political scenario was akin to the UML versus everyone else in the country.
“Everyone is attacking Oli. But despite that, he [Oli] is committed and he has not let the party down,” said Rijal. “So we believe our party will be in a safe position if it is led by Oli.”
Ever since Oli was defenestrated from office, he has launched a vitriolic attack on his opponents. He has branded the current government an outcome of an unholy alliance. Oli never misses an opportunity to describe the incumbent government as something “created through the court’s mandamus order”.
Oli, however, is not wrong. While overturning Oli’s May 21 House dissolution, the Supreme Court on July 12 ordered appointment of Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister. In the parliamentary system, a prime minister is elected from the House.
But Oli’s ouster was in the making for quite a while and many, including some within his own party, believe that only if he had not engaged himself in misadventures, he could have governed for the full term.
But that the largest communist party once he led and his UML have split, concerns are growing among party members how they will fare in the elections.
Gunaraj Kafle, a member of the party’s Province 1 committee, said that the UML had to organise a pompous event like this as there is the need to boost the morale of party members.
“It’s quite concerning that the party has seen a split,” said Kafle. “No matter what the leadership says, it’s us at the grassroots who know how a split can affect members’ mindset.”
Political analysts say the UML has put up a great show by organising the statute congress as it had become necessary given its fall despite being the largest party.
“But one thing is clear. The louder Oli speaks, the more it becomes apparent that there is unease in the party,” said Uddhab Pyakurel, who teaches political sociology at Kathmandu University. “The UML has been trying to establish a narrative for its members that it has faced a split but it is still the strongest party.”
According to Pyakurel, the UML’s statute congress is a pompous facade aimed at masking internal despair.
Hari Roka, a political commentator, said that the statute congress of the UML was solely aimed at projecting Oli as the ultimate leader.
“Oli wanted to show that he is the one who rules the roost in the party,” said Roka. “He wanted to give a message to the international community and political parties in the country that he is still powerful.”