Dahal braces for tough grilling by Maoist party members over MCCSome hardliners in Maoist Centre want him to address too many issues, including the party’s U-turn on US compact.
After multiple postponements, the CPN (Maoist Centre) is set to hold its Central Committee meeting Friday, and discussions are likely to be dominated by the American grant agreement that was ratified by Parliament on Sunday following party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s nod despite opposition from several members of the top committee.
Senior leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha is at the forefront of the protest against Dahal’s decision to agree to vote for ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact despite the party’s anti-MCC posturing.
Shrestha as well as leaders including Lila Mani Pokhrel, Giriraj Mani Pokhrel, Dev Gurung, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Lekhnath Neupane and Anjana Bishankhe have strongly opposed MCC compact’s ratification.
Some of them made some strong public statements and even threatened to quit the party. They are now cornering Dahal who has defended the grant’s ratification, arguing that the party’s demand for amendments was addressed by the passage of the interpretative declaration.
After vacillating for weeks, Dahal on Saturday had given his nod for the grant’s endorsement following an agreement among ruling parties to add the interpretative declaration to the compact.
Those opposing the ratification have said that the interpretative declaration won't have any legal recognition and was brought just to deceive the people as the US had earlier said the agreement cannot be amended.
Lila Mani Pokhrel, one of the fierce opposers of the American grant, said he would raise the MCC ratification issue at the Central Committee meeting. He said that he is not with any faction in the party, not even with Shrestha.
“I will fight my battle alone,” he told the Post.
The Central Committee meeting is likely to come as a headache for Dahal, as those opposing the MCC compact are going to fire a salvo of accusations.
Dahal decided to support the compact’s ratification to avoid a possible breakdown of the ruling alliance. Only in December, he got his political document, in which he fiercely criticised the MCC compact, passed in the party’s general convention. On February 16, amid government preparations to table the compact, the Maoist Centre’s Parliamentary Party decided to quit the coalition if it was moved forward in Parliament.
While defending the compact’s ratification at a press conference on Monday, Dahal even said that those who are opposing it could quit the party, hinting particularly at Shrestha.
The Shrestha-led faction has been continuously discussing ways to handle the situation, especially after a clear indication from the party chairman that the opposers could leave.
According to leaders close to Shrestha, discussions on multiple options have been going on, including whether to form a new party. But voices for continuing internal struggle are stronger, they say.
Also, it won’t be easy for them to quit the party and form a new one, especially on the eve of elections.
Insiders say how far this struggle between Dahal and Shrestha will go depends on the party chairman’s moves. Immediately after his press meet on Tuesday, Dahal on Wednesday had reached out to Shrestha.
After Dahal’s persuasion, the Shrestha-led faction agreed to join the Central Committee meeting.
“We have decided to attend the Central Committee meeting on Friday but we will see how the situation evolves,” said Girirajmani Pokhrel, a lawmaker of the party and a senior leader close to Shrestha. “We will make a decision after taking part in the meeting.”
Dahal and Shrestha had fallen out with each other some two and a half decades ago as well after differences over launching the “people’s war”. In 1996, Dahal formed the Maoist party and launched the war, while Shrestha led the CPN (Unity Centre). Shrestha joined hands with Dahal after 13 years in 2009, three years after the peace deal that ended the decade-long conflict.
Dahal, who faces criticism for running the party as his fief, may have to answer a lot at the Central Committee, but it all depends also on how fiercely the members present themselves, according to observers.
“Not only the Shrestha-led faction but many other leaders will also question Dahal’s ever-changing stance on MCC,” said Hari Roka, a political economist. “If Dahal failed to convince them they could decide whether they could remain with him or not.”
According to Roka, there are chances of Shrestha parting ways with the party after the Central Committee meeting but it will also depend on how Dahal addresses the concerns related to the MCC.
During the general convention also, criticism of Dahal was flying, but he ultimately managed to subdue his party members with rhetoric like self-correction and revolution.
That the opposers in his party are not in a position to break away immediately keeps Dahal in a somewhat comfortable position, but cracks in the party may not bode well for the Maoist Centre which is in a precarious situation ahead of elections.
Dahal is desperately seeking an electoral alliance with the Nepali Congress, and at such a time, a split in the party would come costly.
Dahal so far has managed to keep himself—not his party—at the centre of Nepali politics, but an election failure could end even his political relevance.
Insiders rule out an immediate breakdown of the party but they say Dahal needs to do a lot of convincing.
Dahal has not been able to pick party office bearers even three months after the general convention. Even the Central Committee is incomplete.
Leaders close to Dahal say those opposing the MCC compact are using it as a bargaining chip, and the party chair could exploit it to his benefit.
Critics in the party lack political heft to extract anything from Dahal, according to them.
“We stood against the MCC therefore we don’t know how the party will react to us during the Central Committee meeting,” said Anjana Bishankhe, a Central Committee member who had urged the party to vote against the MCC compact during Sunday’s meeting of the House of Representatives. “The chairman’s public image is negative although we in the party view him positively.”
According to leaders participating in the meetings called by Shrestha, they are of the view that ending their relationship with Dahal would be beneficial given his conflicting stances on a crucial issue like the MCC compact.
“Most leaders have said they don’t have respect in the party and the party is being run on whims instead of rules. So we should not be taking the blame for endorsing the MCC and betraying the nation,” said a leader close to Shrestha, adding, “We have suggested quitting the party.”