A cautious Congress keeps close eye on communists in view of Dahal’s wilesMaoist Centre chair’s active initiatives to build a left alliance in the name of socialist centre cause suspicion, with some wondering if it’s former rebel leader’s latest subterfuge.
CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal knows how to keep others on tenterhooks.
Despite the commitment by the Nepali Congress, the leader of the ruling coalition of which the Maoist Centre is a key partner, Dahal has made it keep a close eye on his recent maneuvers.
“Of course we are cautious and keeping tabs on recent developments after Dahal’s active initiatives to create a left alliance in the name of socialist centre,” said a Congress leader.
“Socialist centre” is an idea initially floated by Baburam Bhattarai, Dahal’s former deputy in the Maoist Centre. Until Dahal was in a comfortable position, he ignored Bhattarai, but now, after he fell out with CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli to play second fiddle to Congress, he is pushing for a socialist centre.
“If we analyse Dahal’s nature, we find that he is unstable and never sits quietly and idle,” said Min Bishwakarma, the newly appointed Congress whip. “Since the Nepali Congress has decided to aim for a majority from the next elections, Dahal’s desperation has increased and he is now working to create a new front.”
Dahal’s left front idea as of now is minus the UML. Many understand this as his tactic to keep both the Congress and UML in check.
A Congress central member said until Dahal wants to rope in Bhattarai, CPN (Unified Socialist), a party formed after splitting from the UML, and Janata Samajbadi Party, by keeping the UML out, the Congress need not worry.
The Janata Samajbadi, however, does not seem to be interested in Dahal’s left front.
“Our chair [Upendra Yadav] is not keen on being part of a new political front that is emerging as a mini-alliance within the ruling coalition,” said a leader close to Yadav. “Anyway the idea looks far-fetched… Bhattarai was recently expelled from the party by Yadav so how can they come under the same roof now?”
After severing ties with the Maoist Centre in 2015, Bhattarai had formed Naya Shakti, which he merged with Yadav’s party in 2019.
Amid the developments, a cautious Congress believes as long as Dahal does not join hands with the UML, it will be comfortable in the upcoming elections due later this year.
“Dahal is clearly trying to make a hard bargain. He has even spoken of sharing the prime ministership by turns,” said Bishwakarma. “If he launches a left front, I believe seat-sharing will be even easier, at least for the Congress.”
A Congress assessment of the upcoming polls suggests the party can win at least 77 out of 165 seats under the direct election system if parties fight elections independently, without any alliances.
Insiders say Dahal has an uncanny tendency to switch sides whenever he sees advantage for himself. In 2017, he ditched the Congress to join hands with the UML. When he fell out with Oli, he came to the Congress last year for a rescue.
As of now, the UML seems extremely reluctant to accommodate Dahal but has not ruled out an alliance if he quits his association with the Congress.
Amid this, some UML leaders are sending feelers to the Congress for going to polls under their own understanding.
Another Congress central member said that some second-rung UML leaders have been advising them to terminate the alliance with Dahal and the CPN (Unified Socialist) and go to polls together.
“We are getting offers from UML leaders for splitting 50-50 seats between them and Congress. This will reduce the Maoist Centre and Unified Socialist to 5-10 seats each,” the Congress member told the Post. “This move will formally establish a two-party system in Nepal. But we have yet to consider the UML proposal as we have our commitments to the current coalition.”
Maoist leaders, meanwhile, say the Congress need not worry about the formation of a new political front that excludes the UML.
“The source of fear in the Nepali Congress is that we may unite with the UML. We are not going to do so,” said Haribol Gajural, a senior Maoist leader. “The UML has not abandoned its regressive political ideology. There are no prospects of our party uniting with the UML.”
According to Gajurel, the Maoist Centre’s political objective is yet to be achieved and the socialist centre idea looks good to establish what it actually aims for.
“We have always been viewed as an unstable political force. Some leaders blame us for being opportunist too. We want to change our image and we need to establish that we are a stable and predictable political force,” Gajurel told the Post. “The chairman is taking this step of forming socialist centre so as to give clarity to what we actually want to achieve. The core objective is to create a new reliable and trustworthy political front.”
Some Nepali Congress leaders like Minendra Rijal have publicly been saying and writing in various media outlets that Nepal cannot sustain so many political parties and only three political parties or forces—Nepali Congress, UML and a socialist alliance—will be enough.
A section of the Nepali Congress believes that the making of a new socialist front or alliance will not come as a disadvantage for the Congress.
Since Deuba and Dahal share good working rapport, it seems Deuba is more confident about the Maoist chair, especially after his return from New Delhi, according to some Congress leaders.
Dahal was in Delhi last week on a three-day visit. It was during his stay in Delhi, in an interview with the Post’s sister paper Kantipur, he said that “at some point, the issue of prime ministership on a rotational basis will be raised.”
Congress General Secretary Gagan Thapa said that he has not gone into details of Dahal’s new plan of a new front as the idea neither has any shape or clarity.
“The formation of such an alliance may, however, create pressure on the Nepali Congress. We will keep a close watch on how this new political front emerges and what difference it will make in national politics,” Thapa told the Post. “We don’t know yet what it is, but it looks like the idea of a socialist centre is Dahal's last resort to remain relevant. The rest will become clear only when it takes a shape.”