Analysis

NCP soap opera: An uneasy interval

Bindesh Dahal

Bindesh

Internal strife in the incumbent party NCP seems to have taken a pause for the moment.

The unending parleys between two chairmen Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” has not seen a logical conclusion as yet. But it appears that Prachanda has given in to Oli’s unbending stance.

Prachanda had made alliance with party senior leaders including Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal against Oli. During the Standing Committee meeting, this faction asked Oli to resign from both the PM and the party chair, citing his mismanagement that has been denting the party’s image. This demand irked Oli and he kept saying that he will not resign from his post as resignation will send an unsavoury message that he is an incompetent helmsman.

Oli addressed the nation Friday night in which he accepted that there were differences in opinion in the party. He urged the leaders to have patience and forbearance for the proper conclusion of the current dispute.

Prachanda, on the other hand, reached his constituency in Chitwan on Saturday and said that he was exercising maximum restraint and patience, saying that there would have been an accident if he made hurry. By uttering the word accident, he seems to have alluded to the spilt of the party.

In fact, Oli was so inflexible to rival leaders’ demand that he was mulling the split. In expectation of such a scenario, some of his loyalists had registered UML party at the Election Commission. To put the development in context, UML and Maoist Centre had merged to form NCP that is currently ruling the country.

Oli’s implied threat of party split seems to have dampened Prachanda’s excitement.

Let us indulge ourselves in a scenario in which the party is split. Oli will be the one and only leader of the new party with absolutely no chances of disloyalty and factionalism.

But power bargaining will continue in the new party as Prachanda, Nepal and Khanal will jostle to have the best position. Sources have been saying that Nepal wants to bag the post of the PM while Khanal angles for President and Prachanda aims to be the party chair. Even if this division of responsibilities seems smooth in paper, it does not factor in power bargaining that will certainly take place in the future. And Prachanda’s shifty nature raises the issue of credibility.

Coming back to reality, it appears that Oli and Prachanda have developed a written agreement in which both may have negotiated to further explain the previous agreement where Prachanda was given the responsibility of handling the party but he was unable to effectively wield power. Prachanda wants to enjoy the de facto executive role of the co-chair (so far he is the ceremonial chairman) and Oli may relent to it as this arrangement will stop Prachanda from demanding Oli’s resignation.

It had appeared that both the chairmen would keep digging their heels in for a long time but now they have relented. What factor made it possible? Is it due to the active role played by Chinese ambassador Hou Yanqi? Did the Indian spooks that have surreptitiously landed in Kathmandu any role in it? Is second-rung leaders’ claim in the credit for the thaw between two chairmen valid? These are some of the questions whose answers only the chairmen can provide.

Whichever force may have prevailed to break the ice between two top leaders, the party seems to have returned from the verge.

But it is a fact that Prachanda and other leaders are wrong in asking Oli to resign in the midst of the tenure. It is true that Oli and Prachanda had made an agreement a day before the party unification to take turns in assuming the post of the PM. But the second agreement in which Prachanda agreed to not stake claim to the post of the PM and remain executive chairman effectively put paid to the first agreement. The current debate is all about whether to return to the first or to the second agreement.

Oli-Nepal-Dahal

It should be clear as day that the existence of Prachanda and former Maoist party was in peril before the merger with UML to form the NCP. The pre-poll alliance between UML and Maoist Centre saved Maoists from being consigned to the dustbin of history. The alliance that facilitated the unification of the party proved to be a life saver for the career of top Maoist leaders.

Riding the wave of nationalism fortified by KP Oli’s undeterred stance against India during the blockade, the alliance secured landslide victory in the elections. (Oli has continued standing the nationalist ground even in the face of Indian disinformation campaign which has stooped to lower depths in the form of baseless and sleazy media reports.) In other words, the people’s resolute opinion was that Oli should lead the government for the full tenure. In fact the first agreement went against the popular opinion.

Therefore, Prachanda becoming the PM disregards people’s mandate. Moreover, changing of guard at a time when the country is going through diplomatic troubles does not spell well for the country. This critical time demands the house in order so that Nepal can stake its rightful claim against Indian encroachment on Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani in reality, a point ahead of cartographic assertion.

Upsetting the apple cart at this situation is completely unwarranted. Changing the leadership is valid only during the party convention. But it does not mean that Oli can be let go of the criticism for the utter mismanagement of COVID-19 response and overall governance situation.

Published on 13 July 2020

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