Left alliance has an appeal to the communists. But can they pull it off again?Ruling coalition seems to be intact so far, but recent activities hint something is cooking with the leftist forces feeling encouraged.
Nepal’s left-leaning parties have always found a grand communist force a pretty appealing idea. An effort in 2017 had successfully culminated in the formation of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) after the merger between the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre).
Though Baburam Bhattarai, a former Maoist leader, too was initially planning to be part of the grand communist alliance, he later dropped the idea.
The NCP communists are currently scattered. Two major leaders of the party lead the Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist), after they broke up with CPN-UML led by KP Sharma Oli. The two parties are now in the ruling coalition led by the Nepali Congress.
As general and provincial elections are approaching, ruling partners are making an all-out effort to maintain their electoral alliance during the federal and provincial elections. And the UML is exploring options to break the coalition.
One way to break the coalition is forming a left alliance once again. Insiders say while all these communist leaders wish for such a united force, no one wants to make the first move, fearing that it could make them look inferior.
Amid all this, Bamdev Gautam, a former UML leader, has launched a new party—Nepal Communist Party-Ekata Rastriya Abhiyan. Gautam is one of the leaders who have been strongly making a pitch for bringing the communist forces together. Another leader who has been vocal about the idea is Jhala Nath Khanal, currently a senior leader in the Unified Socialist.
A Nepali Congress leader said they have noticed increased activities of late that appear to be aimed at breaking the current coalition and bringing communist forces together.
The Congress leader said it has come to the party’s notice that in recent weeks the Maoist Centre, the Unified Socialist and the Janata Samajbadi Party have held a series of meetings in an apartment in Lalitpur.
“Some external forces too seem to be trying to bring the communists together,” said the leader who requested anonymity, stopping short of clarifying who the “external forces” are. “The recent move of [Bamdev] Gautam to form a party also aims to bring communists together. So things do add up.”
But one can infer that the Congress leader was hinting at the Chinese who in the past made an all-out effort to save the NCP. Recently, the head of the international liaison department of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) held virtual talks with Maoist chair Dahal and UML chair Oli.
According to a statement issued by the CPC, Liu Jianchao, the head of the party’s international department, told both Dahal and Oli that the CPC and the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the CPN-UML have similar concepts and feelings, and are willing to strengthen inter-party exchanges, promote party to party cooperation, enhance people-to-people bonds, and respect each other's core interests and major concerns while playing a role in promoting the healthy and stable development of China-Nepal relations.
Leaders from communist forces say that the left alliance is an idea no one denies but a move towards that at this time does not look feasible.
“The UML’s bid to break the coalition is but natural, as a desperate move,” said Beduram Bhusal, general secretary of the Unified Socialist. “But we are currently in talks to form a left alliance without the UML. That could be between the Maoist Centre, the Unified Socialist and the Janata Samajbadi Party.”
Senior leaders of the Maoist Centre, Unified Socialist and Janata Samajbadi have been regularly meeting to discuss strategies for the upcoming elections.
According to Bhusal, the UML has been sending some proposals to his party, the Unified Socialist, and the Maoist Centre for a possible poll alliance, if not a grand left alliance.
“But we are not in a position to forge any kind of alliance with the UML due to several reasons,” said Bhusal.
UML leaders, however, deny putting out any feelers. The main opposition has been saying that it would contest general and provincial elections on its own. It, however, is currently in talks with the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, led by Mahantha Thakur, and Janamat Party, led by CK Raut, who once led a secessionist movement. Both these parties, however, have small bases.
The Congress leader said the party is well aware of the goings on.
“Recent activities show that something is cooking,” he said. “Since we were busy with our own party affairs, these things have not been discussed in detail yet.”
Congress President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is making an all-out effort to keep the coalition intact so as to go to polls under an alliance. Despite criticism from among his party members, Deuba managed to bulldoze his decision to fight the May 13 local elections under an alliance. Both the Congress and the Maoist Centre benefitted from the decision. The Unified Socialist and the Janata Samajbadi did not, and were left dejected.
Deuba clearly does not want a repeat of 2017 when the communists swept elections, leaving the Congress to leak its wounds after a heavy defeat.
The Janata Samajbadi is currently teetering on the edge, as differences between its chairs Yadav and Bhattarai have reached a tipping point. They are on the verge of a split. It is not clear how it could impact the coalition, but some say political dynamics could change as Bhattarai and Dahal too are in talks for a possible reunion.
Though UML chair Oli has on more than one occasion said that causing a split in the ruling coalition is not difficult, he has not revealed how that can be done. He once even said that given the way the communist alliance was formed all of a sudden in 2017, a repeat cannot be ruled out.
Pradeep Gyawali, a deputy general secretary in the UML, however, ruled out a left alliance citing the circumstances.
“Since Dahal is comfortable with Deuba, I don’t think there is any possibility of a left alliance,” said Gyawali, who is considered close to Oli. “But seat-sharing won’t be easy for the coalition partners.”
According to Gyawali, the Congress needs to contest the elections alone, not because that will make it easier for the UML but because the way it is planning elections under an alliance of coalition partners promotes unhealthy politics.
Asked if his party leaders are in talks with other communist forces like the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist, Gyawali said there’s nothing unnatural.
“It’s quite normal for [political] parties to hold dialogue,” said Gyawali. “Political rivalry may be there, but parties do engage with each other.”
Shyam Shrestha, a civil society member, said there is still a fifty-fifty chance of a left alliance and it all depends on how the Nepali Congress treats the Maoist Centre when it comes to electoral seat-sharing.
“I think if the Congress provides a justifiable number of seats in the upcoming polls, the Maoist Centre will remain in the existing coalition. But if the Congress tries to drive the Maoists into a corner, there could be an electoral alliance between the UML and the Maoist Centre,” Shrestha told the Post. “There are concerns in the Congress that it should not concede more seats to the leftist parties and the UML seems to be reaching out to the Maoist Centre.”