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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 45, New Delhi, October 23, 2021

Personalities split Nepal’s communist parties | Anil Sigdel

Saturday 23 October 2021

22 October 2021

Author: Anil Sigdel, Nepal Matters for America

The alliance between the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist and Leninist) (CPN-UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN-MC), which won a landslide victory in the elections three years ago, has now fractured into three different political parties. The merger between the CPN-UML, led by then prime minister [KP Sharma Oli [1], and the CPN-MC, led by former rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (known as Prachanda) [2] — which unified almost all strands of communists in the country into a long-awaited single party — has broken [3] after only three years. The opposition Nepali Congress has now taken government. [4]

The CPN-UML, the largest communist party, suffered a painful blow as senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal [5], who had been general secretary of the party and prime minister of the country in the past, left his long-time rival Oli, current party chairman and erstwhile prime minister. Nepal took with him several leaders and registered [6] a new party called the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Socialist).

The source of the turmoil is the inherently uneasy co-existence among revolutionary elders within the CPN-UML, and between the CPN-UML and the Maoists. Leaders have engaged in bitter recriminations since the break away.

Prachanda, who was co-chair of the unified party together with Oli, blamed Oli for not enabling a real unification. Oli argues that Prachanda intended to destroy the CPN-UML by breaking its traditional democratic political course. According to one of Oli’s close aides [7], Prachanda pushed Oli to officially align with him when he issued [8] a strong condemnation of the United States over the Venezuelan crisis.

Oli is overly confident due to his increasing popularity for standing up to India and getting closer to China [9]. His subsequent electoral success, the rhetoric of stability and prosperity and the merger between CPN-UML and CPN-MC has led him to consolidate power with a more personal style. Oli defeated Nepal [10] in the ninth General Convention of the CPN-UML in 2014 to be elected as chairman.

Nepal took Oli’s behaviour towards him as disrespectful and insensitive. His antipathy to Oli led him to split the party by siding with Prachanda and other disgruntled party leaders within the CPN-UML and even the opposition Nepali Congress to topple his own party’s government. Oli continued unabated while his rivals bet on his weakened health and possible death. Oli tried to hold on to power by unconstitutionally dissolving the parliament [11]. He labelled [12] Nepal a ‘combination of greed, conceit, frustration and jealousy’.

Unable to manage factional politics and chart a clear path, Oli antagonised many presumed heirs over the appointment of ministers and other high-level positions, and purged others who disagreed. Patronage networks, cronyism and coterie have determined outcomes rather than collective leadership, although such practices are not unique to Oli. According to Oli [13], since the split with Prachanda, the new CPN-UML has consisted of many members of the unified Nepal Communist Party that remained in the CPN-UML, and managing that situation has antagonised his ambitious older CPN-UML colleagues.

The CPN-UML vice-chairman Bam Dev Gautam [14] also finally resigned [15] by submitting an emotional letter that resents Oli’s ‘negative attitude and style, continuous insult of senior colleagues’, and criticises Oli for never following the political guidelines of the party. Former CPN-UML chairman Jhala Nath Khanal [16] also went with Nepal. But party ideologue Ghanashyam Bhusal and his dissident colleagues later deserted Nepal and came back to Oli’s CPN-UML, indicating the fact that the dispute was not entirely a matter of policy or principle but also personal interests. It was not only Oli’s fault, as was claimed by his detractors.

To be sure, ideological divergences and convergences do exist among these different communist strands and parties, and they manifest themselves quite often. For instance, on the question of not ratifying [17] the US government Millennium Challenge Corporation grant for US$500 million, they converge. The parties’ policy documents continue to clearly mention their antipathy towards ‘Western capitalist imperialism’ [18]. In terms of the relevance of Marxism-Leninism, they diverge. But the leaders’ style and interests, in this case Oli’s, make the real difference. Despite some radical undercurrents, these communist parties and leaders have accepted a pluralist democracy.

For his part, Prachanda, who has sought to run a shadow government that keeps him at the helm, has again succeeded to disrupt. But even he doubts that the new developments will be in his interest in the medium or long term. He has recently likened himself to China’s Mao Zedong in that he fears he will be alone in a few years.

In the meantime, Oli remains confident that, in the next elections to be held in a year and a half, the mainstream CPN-UML will bag a strong victory and Nepal’s new party will have a humiliating loss. CPN-UML just concluded their first ever ‘statute convention’ in Kathmandu. The clash among the communist leaders reaffirms that Nepali politics is not going to see a strong stable government but again fragile coalitions.

(Author: Anil Sigdel is Director at Nepal Matters for America, Washington DC. He is author of ‘India in the Era of China’s Belt and Road Initiative: How Modi Responds to Xi’ (Rowman and Littlefield 2020).)

[The above article from East Asia Forum is reproduced here under a Creative Commons license]

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