Dahal’s theatrics and his fixation with Bharatpur stoke discontent in partyInsiders allege Pushpa Kamal Dahal is all about his family and kin at the expense of the CPN (Maoist Centre).
CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal has an uncanny bent for political theatrics. Whenever he senses his or his party’s political relevance is at stake, he throws a warning—that the country is headed for deep trouble, or the constitution and federalism are in danger.
On Thursday, while addressing the election rally of the ruling coalition in Chitwan, Dahal came up with a similar warning, as he called for voting for the alliance candidates in Bharatpur Metropolitan City.
The ruling coalition, which is fighting the May 13 local elections under an electoral alliance, has fielded Renu Dahal as the mayoral candidate of Bharatpur. She is seeking a new term.
Renu is Dahal’s daughter. It did not take long for people to interpret Dahal’s warning as “the country would face a crisis” if people did not vote for his daughter.
Dahal, who led the decade-long people’s war that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, in recent years has been facing criticism within his own party for deviating from the values that the party once espoused.
Now his excessive push for his daughter in Bharatpur has made many wonder if the chairman even cares about the organisation and its core members.
“We talk about collective leadership in the party but no one actually practises it,” said Ganesh Sah, a senior leader of the party. “Everyone knows why our chairman is so invested in Bharatpur.”
Dahal has been encouraged also because Nepali Congress President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba also has thrown his weight behind Renu. On Thursday, while addressing the rally, Deuba sought votes for Renu.
Despite being the coalition’s joint candidate, Renu does face challenges,
largely because of a rebel candidacy by local Congress leader Jagannath Poudel. After Poudel refused to withdraw his candidacy despite the top leadership’s instructions, the Congress even expelled him. Now with several district-level leaders of the Congress rallying behind Poudel, the odds are that CPN-UML’s Bijay Subedi could tip the balance.
The coalition, however, has made Bharatpur a prestige issue, and it wants to ensure Renu’s victory. It’s natural for Dahal, not only because she is his daughter but also a party candidate, to make a push for Renu. And since Chitwan is Dahal’s constituency for federal elections, his daughter's loss may not bode well for him. Dahal won the House of Representatives seat in 2017 from Chitwan Constituency 3.
Insiders in the Maoist Centre say discontent has been growing in the party at the way Dahal has become all about his family and relatives at the expense of the organisation and members and cadres.
A central member who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the chairman is pulling out all stops to ensure Renu’s victory so as to save his constituency.
“Party members are not happy at all because the chairman is extremely obsessed with his daughter’s metropolitan city,” the member said. “He is acting as if the party does not need to win any other local units.”
Though the ruling coalition had decided to forge an electoral alliance among the five partners in all 753 local units, it was a tough task from the very beginning.
After weeks of struggle and haggling, the coalition partners could divide up mayoral and deputy mayoral seats in just 17 cities—six metropolitan cities and 11 sub-metropolitan cities.
Bharatpur is the only metropolitan city where the Maoist Centre has been allotted the mayoral candidate from the coalition.
“There are three reasons why Dahal is focused on Bharatpur—it's the only metropolitan city we’ve got to lead, his daughter is contesting for the mayoral post and he wants to keep his constituency secure,” said Indra Aangbo, a central member of the Maoist Centre.
The party has fielded 426 candidates for chief positions and 490 candidates for deputy chiefs.
The Maoist Centre has not organised mass meetings for the upcoming local polls yet. Dahal, however, managed to pull off a joint mass meeting of the coalition in Bharatpur.
With just 7 days to go for the polls, and since there will be a 72-hour silence period, there are only four days left for the parties to campaign. Dahal, insiders say, must be happy that a mass meeting has been held in Bharatpur, and he does not seem interested in organising any poll rally in other parts of the country.
Between Deuba and Dahal, the election alliance is a quid pro quo. The Maoist Centre, which allegedly lacks any agenda, wants to piggyback the Congress to win some local units to maintain its relevance. Deuba, who knows that a left alliance can be a setback for his party which eventually could affect his prospects of returning to power after the federal elections later this year, wants to keep the Maoist Centre engaged so that it does not join hands with the UML.
Analysts say for a leader like Dahal, who is a great manoeuvrer, it’s easy to exploit Deuba’s weakness. According to them, Dahal knows he has to ensure a win in Bharatpur even if the party loses in other places because he feels politically insecure.
“With no one to trust, Dahal has started to focus on his family members,” said Mumaram Khanal, a former Maoist leader who has emerged as a fierce critic of the Maoist party. “Bharatpur is the last resort for him to boost his self-confidence.”
Lately, he has been to Chitwan a number of times.
According to Nisha Adhikari, a secretary of the party’s Bharatpur Metropolitan City Committee, the chairman has been to Chitwan several times.
“I haven’t counted how many times though,” she told the Post over the phone from Chitwan. “Many national level functions have been held here in recent times which the chairman has attended.”
Party members say Dahal has done everything he can to ensure his daughter’s candidacy in Bharatpur while ignoring issues in other local units.
According to party’s Central Committee member and lawmaker Anjana Bishankhe, in her Chandragiri Municipality of Kathmandu, the party leadership directed the local committee to withdraw party’s candidates for mayor and deputy mayor for the sake of the alliance but did not bother to accommodate party’s candidates for ward positions. Also, there are no Maoist candidates for the two top executive posts in Kirtipur Municipality.
“I have not understood what kind of electoral alliance we have here and similar is the case at Kirtipur Municipality,” said Bishankhe. “Everyone knows where our party’s focus is.”
Khanal, the former Maoist who comments on political affairs, said that ever since the Maoist party started to deteriorate, Dahal has been facing an existential threat.
“And now he has started giving importance to himself and he seems to be in a delusion that the national politics revolves around him,” said Khanal. “He thinks that his daughter and he must win at all costs, even at the cost of the party. That’s why he desperately pleaded for an electoral alliance.”