The month of July saw a gradual worsening of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP)’s internal crisis, which has now peaked. Concerned with prime minister and party co-chair KP Sharma Oli’s ‘unilateral’ and dictatorial handling of both the party and the government, NCP leaders finally convened for a standing committee meeting on 24 June 2020. The meeting’s primary agendas included reflection upon Oli’s performance and a discussion of current affairs; however, the NCP supremo’s controversial accusation of his party leaders conspiring with India to unseat him and his move to get the president to prorogue the parliament infuriated the leaders. Suddenly then, Oli’s resignation became the primary agenda of the standing committee meeting, primarily among the members who belonged to the faction led by NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and senior leader Madhav Nepal.
The NCP dispute currently stands at a verge of a split. On one hand, the Dahal-Nepal faction is adamant on their demand for Oli’s resignation from either of the two posts, whereas on the other hand, Oli remains firm to quit neither. The journey back to this standstill saw several postponements of the standing committee meeting and back-channel and informal negotiations for compromise. Even China’s Ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi, met the NCP leaders and the president, allegedly in to mediate an agreement.  All the efforts to preserve the party unity seemed to have failed when PM Oli decided to ‘unilaterally’ call off the standing committee meeting scheduled for 28 July 2019. The Nepal-Dahal faction chose to hold the meeting anyway. Running out of options, Oli met NCP deputy chair Bamdev Gautam later on the same day for a ‘family dinner.’ On the same day, Gautam had presented a six-point proposal, in a bid to avoid party split, which some speculated to have brought Gautam closer to Oli. However, the party’s crisis has worsened, for the latest event saw 152 members of the Central Working Committee demand a meeting as soon as possible—a move that puts pressure on Oli to step down.
Since the erstwhile NCP–Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and NCP–Maoist Centre (MC) officially merged on 17 May 2018, Nepal Communist Party has experienced several rows, disagreements, and disputes. Most of those concerned the party’s organizational structure, management of the leaders, and Oli’s handling of the party and the government. However, none of them lasted for such an extended period, with Oli’s resignation as the cornerstone of the dispute. Either internal negotiations or self-criticism of the party leaders or intervention of external factors solved the disagreements in the past. However, the ongoing conflict has proved all the past efforts of reconciliation and mediation to be futile. And the futility only speaks of the cracks in the party unification, which has worsened due to PM Oli’s authoritarian tendencies.
The erstwhile NCP–UML and NCP–MC merged not due to their natural ideological affinity but rather due to the political necessity of the two parties and their leaders. While the Dahal-led NCP-MC suffered a massive electoral loss in 2013, leadership dealignment, and party split, NCP–UML also needed a solid electoral strategy to perform well in the 2017 elections. Realizing their necessities, therefore, the two parties first made an electoral alliance and later officially merged on 17 May 2018. Many analysts saw their unity as “a marriage of convenience” rather than “a result of conviction” because the merger would benefit only a few top leaders and serve their petty interests. Indeed, the unholy alliance and the unnatural unification soon exposed the party’s ideological crisis. Despite their shared heritage in communism, the two parties differed significantly on their acceptance of the Maoism, Leninism, and Marxism. NCP–UML’s adoption of the People’s Multiparty Democracy and NCP–MC’s firm rejection of it was the most pronounced difference between them. Despite the differences, the parties merged to increase their likelihood of power and an opportunity to share the spills. What lacked were enough exercise and preparation for leadership management in the party, which lies at the root of the occasional infighting within the ruling NCP.
Although Dahal claims the ongoing party dispute to be ‘an important ideological battle,’ it appears to be a crisis of leadership management. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, KP Sharma Oli, Madhav Nepal, Bamdev Gautam, Jhalanath Khanal, and other senior leaders in the party have led major blocks of their parties, have held essential ranks in the party, or even been the country’s prime minister in the past. For them to succumb to an individual who overlooks the existing party mechanisms and sidelines them entirely must feel humiliating. In addition to Oli’s ineffective yet dictatorial governance, rampant corruption by his people also concerns those who have not been a part of the club, for they find themselves inaccessible to both power and money. The intra-party dissatisfaction in Oli’s performance had remained for a long time. The fact that his resignation became the crux of the dispute only after he accused his party leaders of conspiring with India shows that this crisis also has to do with an ego clash among the Khas-Arya men in power. A slipping approval rating of PM Oli’s government only presents the needed opportunity for the disgruntled leaders to pour their frustration, for his performance and actions have upset the leaders and the people.
Dahal’s claim that the dispute is a serious battle of ideologies does have some ground, though. He asserted that it is now a high time to decide whether the party moves towards socialism or still dwells in capitalism. Indeed, the Oli government’s plans and actions have seemed to favor crony capitalists instead of helping the poor and marginalized. To completely overlook the ‘socialism’ factor—the cornerstone of the communist unification— is a matter of concern for all in favor of unity. Oli’s recent attempt to court Dahal for an early convention, with People’s Multiparty Democracy as a condition and the registration of the CPN-UML in the Election Commission further validates Oli’s lenience towards his old banner of multiparty democracy. From this perspective, the dispute is about party unification and its ideological clarity.
With the country likely heading towards a serious COVID-19 crisis and several socio-economic challenges, the ruling NCP remains at a standstill, trying to solve its internal issues. While Oli has displayed his unwavering reluctance to respect either of the major agreements—colloquially known as Jestha 2 and Mangsir 4 agreements—and cede either the government or the party chair, the Dahal-Nepal faction seems determined to reach a conclusion this time by hook or by crook. So far, internal negotiations and exercise for dispute settlement as well as external mediation have failed to yield any positive development. Unless Oli pulls some miracle, which he usually manages to do, the ruling NCP appears to have more challenges ahead, which is bad news for the entire country and its still consolidating democracy.
Author: Mahesh Kushwaha; Kushwaha is a junior research fellow at CESIF Nepal.