Nepal: Year 2020 in Retrospect-Nepal Communist Party Causes a Political Storm
Dr Sangeeta Thapliyal

The intra-party feud within the ruling Nepal Communist Party has brought about a political crisis in the country. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved the Parliament, declared the dates for next elections, and those opposing the dissolution have approached the Supreme Court questioning the constitutional validity of the move.

The story began when the first general election under the new constitution had to be held. Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) had formed an electoral alliance in October 2017. It was decided to field candidates based on 60:40 ratio between the UML and Maoists for federal and provincial elections. The elections were held on 27 November and 7 December 2017, in which UML secured nearly 70% of the seats which meant a larger share of the pie. In the 275 member House of Representatives (lower house of the Parliament), UML had 121 seats, Maoists had 53 and the Nepali Congress had 63 seats. There were further negotiations between the two left parties on power sharing, leadership, allocation of key positions such as speakers etc.

The alliance partners merged their parties and formed Nepali Communist Party (NCP) in May 2018. The highest organisation in the party structure is Secretariat, which had 9 members, 6 from UML and 3 from Maoists. The Standing committee is a 43-member body, with 25 from UML and 18 from Maoists. The Central Committee of the newly formed party had 449 members with 241 from Oli’s party and 200 from Prachanda. Both Oli and Prachanda were declared as co-chairmen of the NCP.

It is said that China had played an important role in forging left unity. Oli had already established closer working relations with China after his relations with India had soured during his tenure as Prime Minister of Nepal in 2015-16. He had signed a number of agreements on defence cooperation, infrastructure buildup, and road and rail connectivity projects. Nepal became a member of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative in May 2017. However, the most crucial linkage was between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the NCP. In September 2019, a 50 member delegation of the CPC led by Song Tao, head of CCP’s International Department, visited Kathmandu to attend a two days workshop on Xi Jinping’s thought. The workshop was attended by 200 cadres of NCP apart from Oli, Prachanda and Madhav Nepal being present in the opening session. The delegation also met PM Oli and assured China’s support to Nepal’s economic development. The workshop was to exchange ideas and have interaction between the two parties and to create Nepali cadres aware of Jinping’s thought on socialism and development. China was projected as a success story on economic development. The workshop concluded with signing of a 6-point Memorandum of Understanding on exchange programmes and cooperation between the two political parties with ideational linkages. Nepali Congress had criticized the visit of CPC members expressing concern over the indoctrination of the NCP cadres by a country which did not have a political system based on pluralism, federalism, an open society and parliamentary democracy.

The workshop was held a few days prior to the visit of President Xi Jinping to Nepal in October 2019. After a gap of 23 years a Chinese President was visiting Nepal, the last was by President Jiang Zemin in 1996. During his visit the relations of the two countries were elevated to strategic partnership. Nearly 20 agreements, MoUs and Agreements were signed on various issues of bilateral cooperation. On the occasion President Jinping said, “We will develop Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional connectivity network and help Nepal realize its dream to transform itself from landlocked to lank linked country”. China agreed to provide Rs 56 billion assistance to Nepal over the next two years for development projects.

Continuing the ideological connectivity, the NCP and CPC had a virtual conference in June 2020. The role of the Chinese ambassador Hou Yanqi cannot be ignored in the increased bilateral cooperation. She is very dynamic and has been largely successful in making inroads in the political parties. She regularly met the party leaders whenever there was news of strains between them.

Strains in the newly formed NCP appeared sooner than expected. PM Oli was facing opposition from not only Prachanda but also from Madhav Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal; the leaders of erstwhile UML. There were allegations that Oli was bypassing the party standing committee before appointing people to the key positions in the provincial or central bodies. Madhav Nepal had submitted a protest note against Oli in the party secretariat in October 2018. Similarly, Prachanda had submitted a 19-page note against Oli in the secretariat on 16 November 2020. Oli in turn submitted a 38 page political document refuting charges of Prachanda on 28 November 2020.

The tussle between the leaders had become personal. Oli tried to deflect attention by internalizing external issues. He raised the issue of Kalapani and Lipulekh when India had published a new map depicting restructured boundaries of newly formed Union Territories of Jammu- Kashmir and Ladakh. Nepal again raised objection when Dharchula to Lipulekh road was inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in February 2020. In May, Nepal published a new map claiming Kalapani, Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura area. Even though PM Oli could get support of all the political parties on the issue of territorial sovereignty, the benefits were short-lived. Allegations on corruption, mis-governance and mishandling of Covid-19 were rampant. People came on the road against the government. NCP leaders demanded `one man, one post’.

PM Oli tried to bring in constitutional changes to counter opposition. In April 2019, two ordinances were proposed related to the political parties act and another on the Constitutional Council Act. Both the amendments were to consolidate Oli’s position and ease the functioning of the government. The ordinances were approved by President Bidya Devi Bhandari but repealed following growing opposition against them. However, on 15 December, PM Oli once again proposed the ordinance to amend Constitutional Council Act. President Bhandari approved it on the same day. The need for Ordinance was felt because Oli was unable to hold meetings in the absence of one member or the other. The council was a 6-member body and it was mandatory for all to be present for selection of members in key constitutional bodies. There was uproar by the political leaders from the opposition and NC. Sensing a vote of no confidence against him by the NCP parliamentary members, Oli dissolved the House of Representatives on 20 December and announced elections to be held on 30 April and 10 May 2021. Interestingly, he convened the Council meeting on the same day and approved 45 people for different constitutional bodies and sent it to Parliament Secretariat for approval.

The key appointment in question is the Chief Commissioner of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). Prachanda and Maoists have always been concerned about the cases of war crimes against them and have wanted to have a say in the appointment of the Chief Commissioner.

The dissolution of the house has brought in an atmosphere of political instability within the country. Seven cabinet ministers close to Prachanda and Madhav Nepal had resigned and some from the Maoist faction had crossed the floor to UML. NCP has removed Oli from the party co-chairman position and replaced him with Madhav Kumar Nepal. Both the factions claim to be the legitimate NCP and want to retain the party symbol. The issue is with the election commission.

Nepali Congress has issued statements against the unconstitutional act of the PM. However, it is also a house divided. Party President Sher Bahadur Deuba’s supporters want to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision and have expressed desire to go for elections. Ram Chandra Poudel and his supporters want to hit the streets against the dissolution of the house. There have been protests led by the Prachanda-Nepal faction or by NC. There are also protests in support of Monarchy and against secularism. NC leaders had alleged Oli to be supporting pro-monarchy, pro –Hindu rallies. There are others in Nepal who allege that Oli used nationalism in the previous election and now religion could be a populist agenda. Leaders from various parties have expressed apprehensions that elections may not be held on the stipulated dates. Some have questioned the neutrality of the office of the President. In this period of political instability such doubts and reservations fill the air further adding to chaos and uncertainty. There are 13 petitions filed in the Supreme Court of Nepal by lawyers and other civil society members challenging the constitutional validity of the Prime Minister’s move.

China had sent a four-member delegation led by Guo Yenzhou, vice minister in the international department of the CPC. They met Oli, Prachanda and other prominent leaders of the NCP. However, the division runs so deep that it was not possible to bring them together.

Ideology alone cannot bring unity amongst leaders especially with differing personalities. Prachanda and others considered Oli to be physically weak due to ailment but Oli has proven to be a tough leader. Secondly, Oli has confidence of being a mass leader with greater support than the Maoist leader. Thirdly, Oli has shown to the public at large that he could stand up to both the neighbours of Nepal. He has managed to create an image of a nationalist leader who is not allowed to work by incessant opposition and this is one of the reasons that one does not witness massive outpour against Oli’s move.

The very premise of left ideological unity was faulty. The two parties have different political history, struggle and orientation. Even in the Constituent Assembly their ideas and ideology were different such as on federalism. The left leaders came together for electoral gains rather than ideology. In fact the Maoists were in negotiations with UML on electoral alliance, while still in government as an alliance partner of Nepali Congress. The alliance was forged to counter Nepali Congress in 2018 elections that were further given push by China to create left unity in the country. The fissures within the NCP were due to power sharing and one -upmanship. In the thick of party conflict, Oli tried to reach out to the leader of the opposition Sher Bahadur Deuba and had a few meetings with him. Both the leaders have similar positions on parliamentary ratification of the United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact. After the dissolution of the parliament Prachanda and Nepal-Khanal faction of UML have come together. This is again a tactical alliance for narrow immediate interests to keep Oli out of power. It would not last long because ideology is not a glue to keep leaders together. Unlike China which has one party rule, Nepal has too many parties and too many prominent leaders to be accommodated within a party. It is certain that the left unity is broken.

There was a time when the Nepali media hardly wrote about China. With increased visibility and presence of China, the media has begun to critically assess Nepal’s relations with China. There have been reports of clashes between the local people with the Chinese nationals. The element of awe towards them is no more. It, however, does not mean that there would be a change of heart towards India.

In this political instability the official Indian position has been muted. The official statement says that, “it has noted the political developments in Nepal. These are internal matters for Nepal to decide as per its democratic processes”. In the past India has been one of the first countries to comment on political developments which were often considered as political interference in domestic affairs by those whose interests would get hurt by the Indian stand. India should not be seen as taking sides with any political actor. While the relations were seemingly strained during the territorial dispute, India continued to cooperate with Nepal in economic activity and during Covid-19 pandemic. Director of the Research and Analysis Wing, Indian Army Chief, Foreign Secretary and Chairman of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s foreign cell visited Nepal from September to December 2020. Nepal's Foreign Minister is expected to visit India soon. The visits have cleared misgivings and paved the way for engagements.

The issue of the house dissolution is in the Supreme Court of Nepal. All eyes are on the court’s decision regarding the constitutional validity of the PM’s move. It is a test for the constitutional bodies and institutions in the country be it the Election Commission or Supreme Court. Nepal has entered an interesting phase in its politics with the new constitution under test and scanner.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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Very Realistic and Good Analysis about resent political situation of Nepal .Thanks to Madam Sangita Thapaliyal.


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