As internal rift within the party widens, the ruling Nepal Communist Party is yet to resolve the party merger issue. The leadership of Oli and Dahal will be remembered by how well they manage the internal rift.
--BY VISHWASH THAPA
Speaking at the first expanded meeting of the Lalitpur District Committee of the Nepal Communist Party on July 16, co-chairman of the ruling party Pushpa Kamal Dahal announced that all the remaining tasks related to party merger would conclude on the same day.
The secretariat meeting of the party which was supposed to pick the leaders for the districts to the core-party departments at the centre ended up just naming the in-charge and deputy in-charge at the district level. Among the 32-central party departments, the party failed to forge a consensus on the school-department as two secretariat members put up a strong fight for the position. Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Ishwor Pokharel, representing former CPN (Maoist Centre) and CPN-UML respectively, demanded the position, and as a result the plan to conclude the merger failed yet again forcing the leadership to set another deadline to conclude the merger.
On October 3, 2017, then UML and Maoist Centre, surprised the country through an announcement to form an alliance with a larger motive to merge the two parties into one. Not many had expected that Dahal, who had withdrawn the support to then UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli led coalition government in July 2016 publicly blaming him for political dishonesty, would join hands with Oli just a year later. The left alliance proved a successful election strategy for the two parties that jointly swept the polls in all three tiers. The public extended a huge amount of trust on the alliance hoping that the country would finally get a stable government after many years.
The electoral success the alliance tasted could not however be replicated when it came to the merger. The party is one legally, the different tiers of committees are in place and there’s a united secretariat, but there are still some crucial issues the NCP is struggling to resolve.
Though the party has 32 other departments, the organisational and the schools departments are considered very crucial at they are directly linked with shaping the party. The organisational department looks after the party committee right from the village level to the ward level. From the distribution of the membership to the delegation of authority, they all fall within the ambit of the school department. Bam Dev Gautam, a secretariat member, who enjoys a decent relationship with both the chairs, is almost sure to lead the department. “Both the chairs and the secretariat has okayed my demand to lead the organisational department,” Gautam told the journalists, after a secretariat meeting last week. Nobody strongly challenged Gautam’s demand making him a sole contender for the position.
But many influential leaders, most importantly Pokharel and Shrestha, haven’t stopped their claims while standing committee members Ghanshyam Bhusal and Bedu Ram Bhusal too are busy justifying their claims publicly. “I have a huge contribution in deciding the policy, principle and ideology of the party. My claim for the position, therefore, is natural,” Ghanshyam Bhusal told the journalists in Butwal on July 25.
Experts on Communist ideology say that the school department is important as it is responsible in shaping the opinions of the cadres through ideological discourse and conducts trainings to leaders at all levels on the political ideology the party carries. The direct linkage with the rank file one enjoys as the head of the department, provides the opportunity to strengthen one’s position within the party. A stronger position within the party cadre means a stronger bargaining position for the top position. This will also help broaden the vote-base if one needs to contest the voting during the general convention. The general convention of the united party is due to be held within a year.
While longing for the better position within the party is a strong pulling factor for Pokharel and Shrestha, this is also an opportunity for a comeback. Pokharel, who was general secretary in the then UML, was looking for the retention of the position in the united party. Both the supremos however, preferred his junior Bishnu Paudel for the position, over him. His dream was shattered yet again when he got the Ministry of Defence and not the more powerful Home or Finance Ministry.
Having felt undermined twice, Pokharel is in no mood to comprise this time. His aides have taken to social media claiming he is best suited for the position. “Knowing how to coin beautiful words to get media attention doesn’t make one qualified for the position. There is something called contribution and ideology which counts for the party leadership,” Lokendra KC, press advisor to Pokharel wrote on Facebook.
On the other hand, Shrestha who lost the election is desperately looking for a concrete responsibility in the party and the school department is the best option. The party insiders say the school department at this point of time is more important as the united party is yet to fully resolve the party ideology issue. After much brainstorming, the party for now has adopted “people’s democracy” as the guiding principle, putting the demands from the two sides on hold for now. “People’s multi-party democracy” propounded by Madan Bhandari had been the guiding principle of the UML and while the former Maoist, which called its armed war as “people’s war”, had been adopting “21st-century people’s democracy” as the party principle.
The 10-member committee assigned with drafting the political document of the party has left the party’s general convention to take the final decision on the matter. The two sides will debate on people’s multi-party democracy and 21st-century people’s democracy. In a clear sign that the ideological dispute has not ended in the party, Minister for Communication and Information Technology, Gokul Banskota, in his weekly press briefing on July 25 said the party has already embraced people’s multiparty democracy and the general convention would take the final decision on the matter. Banskota’s words haven’t amused the ears of the former Maoists.
Seemingly, the party has fixed the leadership in the districts but the dissenting voices are gradually becoming stronger. Dissatisfied with the deputy district in-charge, Ram Kumar Sharma from Mahottari has resigned from his position while the women and indigenous leaders within the allocation of the position are not inclusive.
While it is obvious that larger the party, more are the problems, the fact that the party hasn’t resolved the merger issue even a year and a half after formally uniting into one definitely isn’t good news. The leadership of Oli and Dahal will be gauged on how well they manage the internal rift. History will decide on which side they fall; success or failure.