Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Madhav Nepal's dilemma

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Madhav Kumar Nepal, senior leader of the opposition party CPN-UML, is caught in the horns of dilemma. On the one hand, he cannot leave the UML to form a new party. On the other, it is anathema for him to remain subservient to Chairman KP Sharma Oli.

Bearing a grudge against Oli for treating him as a pushover in the party, Nepal played a vital role in toppling the Oli-led government. Based on the Supreme Court decision of stopping Oli to take action against floor-crossing members of parliament, Nepal-faction members voted in favour of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. This floor-cross has brought about a peculiar and unprecedented situation in Nepal's parliamentary history in which party whip does not hold any sway. It has also created a scenario in which UML is an opposition party but one faction of the party is still with the ruling coalition.

Knowing that he has not been given due respect, Madhav Kumar Nepal wants to quit UML and form a new party. But his loyalists including Bhim Rawal, Surendra Pandey, Ghanshyam Bhusal, Gokarna Bista and Yogesh Bhattarai have warned him that they cannot support him for the split of the party. Deep down Nepal himself knows that quitting the UML and its powerful electoral symbol sun will seal his political career. That is why leaders in Nepal-faction have decided to keep the party unity intact and not join Deuba government. But some of the MPs are not happy with this decision as they have hopes of becoming ministers in Deuba-led government.

Quitting the party that he nurtured form the very beginning is not a cakewalk for Nepal but remaining in the party at the mercy of Oli is also unpalatable option for him. Oli has called Nepal various names including traitor and has alleged him of committing treason. But he has stopped short of banishing Nepal from the party. Second generation leaders in the party have cooled down Oli to convince him of giving respectable space to Nepal in the party. Meanwhile, knowing that Oli has a vindictive nature, Nepal has asked to be made co-chair of the party. While distributing tickets of the election candidates, Nepal wants both his and Oli's signature to be valid. Otherwise, Oli may not give tickets to leaders loyal to Nepal.

Knowing that Oli has a vindictive nature, Nepal has asked to be made co-chair of the party. While distributing tickets of the election candidates, Nepal wants both his and Oli's signature to be valid.

The Supreme Court's decision on 2 August has effectively put Oli in a stronger position than Nepal. The court has upheld Oli's petition that effectively terminates the post of four provincial assembly members in Karnali Province who had flouted party whip to vote in favour of Mahendra Bahadur Shahi, Chief Minister of the Province and belonging to CPN-Maoist. This decision of the court seems to go against the precedent set by the Supreme Court itself to stop UML to take action against floor-crossing UML MPs. Although legal eagles can argue that the earlier court decision was based on Article 76(5) of the constitution that can bypass party whip, the overall issue of floor-crossing has been interpreted by the court in favour of the party with the recent decision. This decision has also effectively rectified the interim order issued by Justice Prakash Man Singh Raut to stop taking action against UML leaders not supporting Oli earlier. With this, Oli has received moral support to take action against floor-crossing MPs in the federal parliament.

To corner Nepal, Oli has launched preparations for conducting party convention on 20-21 November. The Standing Committee meeting on Sunday and Monday has fixed ward and local level conventions. With this, Oli has shown that he is prepared to move ahead whether Madhav Kumar Nepal comes aboard or not. Failing to take a quick decision on this matter will be harmful to Nepal because party cadres loyal to him will be frustrated and will ultimately join Oli faction, making Oli stronger in the party.

For gaining respectable position in the party, Nepal has asked Oli to make his own signature valid at par with Chairman Oli in all decisions and circulars. He has also asked Oli to guarantee the completion of the full tenure of the parliament. Nepal also wants Oli to self-criticize the decision to dissolve the parliament. But Oli does not want to take any of these actions. Oli became chairman of the party by defeating Nepal therefore he will not let the vanquished share equal power. Moreover, he is convinced that he took a correct decision in twice dissolving the parliament and any objection to it is unwarranted. Oli's rigidity has made Nepal think that he is more comfortable with Sher Bahadur Deuba and Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda". But he cannot join them while remaining in the party.

The clash of egos of two stalwarts will ultimately harm UML itself.

The clash of egos of two stalwarts will ultimately harm UML itself. Oli too is not as strong in the party as he projects because cadres loyal to Madhav Kumar Nepal are also in sizeable number in the party and hectoring them is not possible. In this situation, the clash between Oli and Nepal may continue till November when party convention will settle things. But Nepal and his loyalists being unable to join Deuba government may endanger its longevity.

Published on 3 August 2021

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