| Kathmandu |
Updated: July 1, 2020 7:36:31 am
Two years after Nepal’s two major left parties joined hands to form the Nepal Communist Party, laying a basis for power-sharing, a rift between Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and former PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, has raised questions about the future of their unity.
Oli, who steered a recently passed Constitution Amendment Bill endorsing the country’s new map that includes territories with India, has been projecting Prachanda as conspiring to dislodge him. When New Delhi mediated a peace process in 2006 bringing insurgency to an end, Prachanda was the key figure. Now, Oli accuses India of instigating the effort to topple him.
“The activity in Delhi, a certain section of politics in Nepal and their collaboration is meant to dislodge me for my stance on the border dispute. Nobody should think they will succeed in dislodging me,” Oli said at a programme on Sunday.
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And Prachanda said at a meeting of the party’s standing committee last week: “It was a mistake on my part to have given up on the turn-by-turn Prime Minister agreement.”
Six months ago, Prachanda made a statement that he has agreed to let Oli continue for the five-year term, apparently after Oli assured him that he would function as party chief with all executive authority. However, Oli takes all major decisions and exercises the party chief’s duties, reportedly without informing Prachanda at times.
Until a general convention takes place, both are chairpersons of the NCP. At the time of unification, Oli headed the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and Prachanda the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists.
Oli, at 69, is three years older than Prachanda. A school dropout, Oli was imprisoned at age 22 for the murder of Dharma Prasad Dhakal, a farmer in eastern Nepal, during the Naxalite movement. He spent 14 years in prison from the early 1970s before getting a royal pardon in the mid-1980s. His election to Parliament in 1991 launched his rise in politics.
Prachanda, like Oli, entered underground politics during his student days in the mid-1970s. When a multi-party democratic system began in 1990, Prachanda chose not to join and instead launched armed insurgency, adopting Maoism in 1996 with an avowed objective to finish the monarchy and multi-party democracy including ‘revisionist’ Communists. Oli was among the strongest critics of Maoists all through the insurgency, which left 17,000 people dead.
When the conflict ended in a peace process in 2006 — with New Delhi’s mediation — Prachanda emerged as the hero. Oli was sceptical about the transition from a Hindu kingdom to a secular, federal republic, and famously said: “You will not get to the US riding on a bullock cart.”
But the transition to coalition rule also brought the two leaders together. They decided to contest the 2017 elections together and merge after the results, with Oli projected as PM. They won 174 seats in a house of 275. Since then, it is Oli who has emerged a hero, especially after he stood up to India against the blockade, and signed a trade understanding with China.
Why they fell out
Differences between the two leaders were visible right from the beginning. Oli needed a President who could protect him in a crisis, and chose Bidhya Devi Bhandari, his long-time ally in UML’s factional feud. Prachanda, for his part, needed a Speaker who could protect his group from disqualification as House members if the unity broke, and got Agni Sapkota elected as the new Speaker after K B Mahara quit following a sex scandal.
Last month, Oli brought an ordinance that said 40% support in the party working committee or in the parliamentary party would qualify as a split (rather than both) and not attract disqualification of House membership. “Many in the party misunderstood it, but it was actually to give an easy exit to the Prachanda group,” an adviser to Oli said. The ordinance was however, withdrawn following allegations that Oli was out to split opposition parties to secure a two-thirds majority; his government is short by nine members.
Factionalism within the party has not been based entirely on previous associations. The nine-member central secretariat, which has the seniormost party leaders, is seen as heavily weighted against Oli. Besides three former PMs — Madhav Nepal, Jhalnath Khanal and Prachanda — three more leaders have opposed parliamentary endorsement of a $500-million grant from Millennium Challenge Corporation, which they say is part of US security interests. Oli commands enough support in Parliament as the opposition Nepali Congress has pledged its support.
The two camps, today
“Although Oli is in a minority in the standing committee, he will not have to resign immediately, but there will be a clear message given to him that he has only few months, perhaps not more than three or four months left,” an influential leader of the party said. “If he goes now, he will blame us — that we removed him with Indian support as he was taking up the border issue with New Delhi.”
According to Prachanda, Oli has hinted at times that “we should part ways if working together is not possible”. At the inaugural session of the standing committee, he said he had been hearing about the likelihood of coups of the “Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh models” — which is being widely interpreted as implying that Oli may use the Nepal Army to take total control.
From Oli’s camp, former Communication Minister Gokul Baskota has said — many felt it was at Oli’s behest — that Prachanda may be investigated for a corruption case as he is accused of appropriating money meant for Maoist members during the peace process of 2008-2013. Besides, many in Oli’s camp have demanded that Prachanda and his followers be tried for human rights violation during the conflict.
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“Well there are these issues, ultimately what both sides are demanding today is a consolidated party, and dignified power-sharing and that will be achieved,” said Manoj Jung Thapa, a member of the party central committee.
But with daggers drawn, Prachanda’s camp expects that Oli ultimately has to go. It is not clear if it is Prachanda who will succeed him, though.
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