Despite some opposition, Oli appears to have prevailed in the UMLSome leaders are upping their ante on the basis of 10-point agreement which Oli has dismissed as irrelevant after Madhav Nepal split the party.
While inaugurating the joint conference of the party's ward committees on Saturday, CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli not only boasted of the success of the party’s statute congress but also claimed that the party no longer has any dissenting voices.
But party leaders, including Vice-chair Bhim Rawal and Deputy General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, have already started to speak up against the Oli leadership for refusing to implement the 10-point agreement and suppressing dissenting voices.
Dispute is brewing in the UML after Oli said on October 20 that the significance of the 10-point agreement, which opened the door for key members of the disgruntled faction led by Madhav Kumar Nepal to remain in the mother party, has lost its significance.
The statement by Oli, who has been trying to cement his position as the party’s unchallenged leader through the upcoming UML convention, has irked the leaders who chose to remain in the party and leave Madhav Nepal, who has formed his own party, CPN (Unified Socialist).
Oli’s dismissal of the agreement could create friction within the party, analysts and party leaders say.
“Now it is not necessary to repeat the 10-point [agreement] as a refrain anymore,” Oli said while addressing the party’s Bagmati provincial gathering on October 20. “The deal was made only for Madhav Nepal to come and to save the party from a split.”
On Saturday, too, Oli claimed that his strength in the party was consolidated after the departure of two leaders—Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Nepal.
Party insiders say Oli’s own supporters like Poudel, Subas Nembang and Prithvi Subba Gurung have started to warn that his unilateral move could continue to affect the party unity. However, Oli is not in a mood to listen to them.
Citing Oli’s reluctance in implementing the pact, the convener of the task force formed to implement the 10-point agreement, Bhim Rawal, tendered his resignation on Friday.
Meanwhile, some of Oli’s close supporters including General Secretary Ishwar Pokharel have been saying that the 10-point agreement cannot be implemented in its “exact form”, given the series of developments and changes in the party.
Bishnu Rimal, a close aide to Oli and a UML Standing Committee member, has publicly said the agreement has already been implemented and wherever there are problems would also be settled.
Oli’s reluctance to honour the 10-point agreement has created problems in the constituencies of leaders including Rawal, Asta Laxmi Shakya, Bhim Acharya, Surendra Pandey and Yogesh Bhatarai among others.
Leaders supporting the agreement in Sunsari district have formed a parallel committee of the party countering the one led by Rewati Raman Bhandari, claiming that the committee led by Ramesh Kumar Basnet, the district chair of the party, is the official committee as per the 10-point agreement.
Five Standing Committee members each from the factions led by Oli and Nepal had signed the 10-point deal on July 11 to ensure party unity, but Nepal refused to accept it. Based on their involvement in the deal, 10 senior Standing Committee members close to Nepal later refused to leave the party.
They include Vice-chairpersons Rawal, Asta Laxmi Shakya and Yubaraj Gyawali, Deputy General Secretary Ghanashyam Bhusal, Secretaries Yogesh Bhattarai, Gokarna Bista and Bhim Acharya, and leaders Surendra Pandey, Raghuji Pant and Amrit Bohora.
Negotiators from the Nepal faction were Rawal, who led the team, Bhusal, Bista, Pandey and Pant. Acharya joined the task force occasionally in the course of drafting the 10-point agreement.
The leaders had agreed to remain in the UML after Oli promised to implement the agreement and the party’s meetings including the Central Committee had adopted it.
Rawal countered Oli’s latest statement along with others including Bhusal. Rawal was the one whom Oli denied the charge of the party’s Sudurpaschim provincial committee, which he had retained even after the merger between the UML and the Maoist Centre to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in 2018. Oli instead elevated former Maoist Centre leader Lekhraj Bhatta, a Maoist who defected to the UML to provincial committee in-charge.
Bhanubhakta Joshi, a party leader representing the Sudurpaschim Province, who had sided with the UML along with Rawal, has already moved out claiming that the 10-point agreement won’t be implemented.
Analysts say the leaders who were close to Nepal have no strength to challenge Oli and defeat him in any way in the upcoming 10th national convention scheduled for November 26-29 but the line of division will remain.
“Oli seems keen to lead the party single-handedly, which was the root cause of the NCP division which also led to the UML’s split,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst who was a UML member earlier. “Oli’s statement on Wednesday indicates that everyone in the party must accept his leadership.”
Subedi said Oli knows well that the dissidents don’t have an option and he doesn't want to appear weak by embracing the agreement.
“There is a tendency within the UML leaders not to challenge Oli fearing that they could face retribution after the convention,” Subedi said.
Some leaders and analysts said either Rawal or Bhusal could continue to challenge Oli for the leadership of the party and the ideology, although Oli will continue to move ahead crushing them with an overwhelming majority in the party.
Oli didn’t allow the dissident views of Ghanashyam Bhusal to be discussed at the first Statute Congress of the party held on October 1-3 at Godavari, saying that his concerns would be incorporated to some extent. But that did not happen. During Thursday’s Standing Committee meeting Bhusal had said they were treated like ‘prisoners of war’.
Instead he cleared his way to become the sole leader of the party from the upcoming general convention by clarifying on the age limit of 70 years—once a leader takes the charge within the age limit that would mean s/he is eligible to complete the tenure.
Some political analysts said that due to the individualistic approach of some leaders who are against the Oli camp, it is unlikely that an alliance against Oli is possible in the present power balance inside the UML.
“I see a lot of individualistic behaviour inside the rival camp,” said Hari Roka, a political analyst. “Rawal can’t stand others, Pandey prides himself as an old communist hand, and Bhusal appears to have lost backers because several of his supporters and leaders joined Madhav Nepal’s party.”
According to Roka, Oli seems to be the undisputed leader at least for now.
“I see a very little chance of anyone forming an alliance against him,” said Rokka.
Oli supporters are confident that the party chair has prevailed despite some hiccups from the leaders who were close to Nepal.
“No one can challenge Oli in the present situation although everyone is free to contest the elections,” Ananda Pokharel, a leader close to Oli and Bagmati Province coordinator for the party, said.
“Some colleagues may throw their hats in the ring since we are a democratic party,'' said Pokharel. ''Since no one presented a different opinion in the statute congress, I don’t think there will be any serious opposition within the party against Oli in the upcoming convention.”
Rajendra Gautam, a lawmaker from Sankhuwasabha district, said there is no alternative to Oli at the moment and even if anyone dared to challenge his leadership, such a voice would be swiftly rejected.
“If someone had to challenge Oli, they should have done so during the statute convention but that didn’t happen,'' Gautam said, challenging those who are bracing to form a possible alliance against Oli.
But political analysts have said Oli’s bid to consolidate power may backfire sooner or later as rational leaders cannot accept the dictates of a leader for long.
During the Standing Committee meeting of the party that concluded Friday, not only Bhim Rawal and Ghanashyam Bhusal, but vice-chair Yubaraj Gyawali and Standing Committee members Raghuji Pant had also strongly raised the issue of 10 points besides Oli’s confidants like Bishnu Poudel, Subas Nembang and Prithvi Subba Gurung.
“I think there is some kind of spiral of silence within Oli’s style of imposing his decisions in the party which could burst sooner or later,” said Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst who has been following left politics for decades. “Once leaders fail to get respectable positions they would begin deserting Oli which is likely to happen during the party’s general convention.”
One Standing Committee member also claimed that Oli’s such behaviour would encourage more UML leaders to join the CPN (Unified Socialist) and those who were preparing to join UML to reconsider their plans. “Many of his supporters are fed up with Oli’s behaviour and this will hit UML hard in the upcoming elections,” said the Standing Committee member asking not to be named fearing retribution. “I fear UML may lose most of the seats in Province 2, Kathmandu Valley and Sudur Paschim besides the eastern part of the country.”
Oli has clearly indicated his favour towards Standing Committee member Shankar Pokharel, whom he made chief minister of Lumbini Province, to elevate as the party’s new general secretary. According to insiders, leaders including Ghanashyam Bhusal and Yogesh Bhattarai have been pushing Bishnu Poudel to counter Pokharel’s candidacy. Bhim Rawal has already shown his interest to stand against Oli’s candidacy as party chair.