Nepal Communist Party | After the rise, rift reigns among the Communists

The Himalayan republic plunged into a political crisis after Prime Minister K.P. Oli, faced with intra-party challenges, got Parliament dissolved

Mr. Oli was under pressure from the faction led by Mr. Dahal to resign from his posts as chairman of the NCP and Prime Minister, ostensibly for his poor performance. With a majority of the nine-member secretariat siding with Mr. Dahal, Mr. Oli decided to recommend the dissolution of Parliament as a means to stall any change in leadership within the party. As things stand, the NCP is functioning as two separate factions. The Dahal-led faction has named senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal as co-chairman and expelled Mr. Oli from his post in the party. The Dahal-Nepal faction has also led street protests calling the decision to dissolve Parliament “unconstitutional” even as the Supreme Court is hearing the case.

While Mr. Oli and Mr. Dahal are the key leaders in their respective factions, the divisions are not on the lines of the former UML and Maoist parties. Mr. Dahal is supported by Mr. Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal, both former Prime Ministers, who had been senior leaders in the UML, while Mr. Oli, for now, retains the support of Ram Bahadur Thapa, currently the Minister for Home Affairs and a former Maoist leader.

Domino effect

The domino effect of Mr. Oli’s decision seems to be interminably pushing the NCP into a split. Even the Communist Party of China got into the act — the Vice-President of its International Department, Guo Yezhou, who had last visited Kathmandu before the unification of the two communist parties into the NCP, visited the country with a delegation to assess the post-dissolution scenario and to explore the possibility of keeping the NCP united. The Indian establishment, known in the past to have extensive parleys with various political forces in Nepal, chose to remain “hands-off” this time.

The intrigue in the NCP is not surprising. The communist movement in Nepal had undergone several splits and mergers in the past. The Communist Party of Nepal was officially established in 1949 in Calcutta and with the active support of the Indian communists. The party was banned from 1952 to 1956 during what was an interim democratic period, before general elections were held in 1959. The communists won only four out of the 109 seats in Parliament. Following the dissolution of the Nepali Congress government by King Mahendra in 1960, Nepal reverted to a “Panchayat system” under absolute monarchy and remained so until 1990. In this period, the communist movement underwent several splits into factions and parties.

There were the “Russian communists” led by then undivided party’s secretary general Kesar Jang Rayamajhi, who accepted the royal regime and participated in Panchayat rule, while Pushpa Lal Shrestha, who is still regarded as the founder of the communist movement in Nepal, sought to align with the Congress in a democratic movement against the monarchy. There were the pro-Chinese communist groups, such as the one led by Manmohan Adhikari and the Bhaktapur-based faction led by Narayan Man Bikuche alias Comrade Rohit.

In the aftermath of the Naxalite movement in Nepal, a set of radical leftists sought to bring about violent actions in the eastern district of Jhapa — Mr. Oli was one of those who were part of the “Jhapeli movement” and was later arrested for his role. The former members of the Jhapeli group went on to set up the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) in 1978. During the same time, another set of radical communists, inspired by Maoist ideology, formed the Fourth Convention group in 1974, and was led by Mohan Bikram Singh.

The CPN (ML) had emerged as the largest communist party in Nepal in 1990 and after having participated prominently in the first Jan Andolan — the movement that led to the institution of constitutional monarchy — it became the leading opposition party. The CPN (ML) had by now become the CPN (UML), after merging with the CPN-Marxist. The UML formed a minority government under Manmohan Adhikari in 1994 that lasted only nine months and later underwent another split, with senior leader Bamdev Gautam breaking away in 1998. Mr. Gautam is now part of the NCP and is aligned with Mr. Dahal.

The Maoist Fourth Convention also underwent splits — with one group termed CPN-Mashal led by Mr. Dahal and another, CPN-Masal, led by Baburam Bhattarai. Besides, the CPN-Fourth Congress had been led by Nirmal Lama till 1990. These parties came together and formed the CPN-Unity Centre whose political front, the United People’s Front Nepal (UPFN), was led by Mr. Bhattarai. Unlike the UML, which accepted parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, the UPFN still retained a line striving for “people’s democracy” — electoral democracy leading to communist rule — and came up with a list of 40 demands that included a federal restructuring of Nepal and a secular state. They also issued an ultimatum that the party will initiate insurgency if the demands were not met. This led to the Maoist insurgency with Mr. Dahal at the helm. It lasted a decade before the Maoists joined hands with the parliamentary forces — the Nepali Congress, the UML and others to form an eight-party alliance that repudiated the monarchy. The Jan-Andolan of 2007 led to the formation of a newly elected Constituent Assembly (CA) and later the transition into a constitutional republic.

State restructuring

The post-CA polity underwent a clear demarcation on the question of state restructuring with the Nepali Congress and the UML firmly opposed to a federal republic that had provinces delineated on the basis of identity. The Maoists and Terai-based (Madhesi) parties were in favour of it. But in the second CA elections, following a protracted stalemate on this issue, the UML and the Congress emerged victorious with Mr. Oli coming out as a major voice of the status quo against ethnic federalism.

Mr. Oli managed to portray Madhesis’ struggle for ethnic determination as Indian interference and won power in 2017 by positioning himself as a nationalist and having aligned with Mr. Dahal’s Maoist faction that had significantly weakened in the 2010s (and had dropped its insistence on ethnic determination of federal boundaries). Mr. Oli, however, retained both the post of party chairman (shared with Mr. Dahal) and the premiership following the merger.

Unlike the major twists and turns in the communist movement in Nepal, which were driven by ideological positions of the leftists who were mostly in opposition, this split in the NCP seems to be driven more by a clash of egos and ambitions. The NCP has emerged over time as a major dispenser of patronage by controlling NGOs that receive international aid for development work. For leaders, being in power is key to maintaining their networks of support which explains the shifts in loyalty bereft of any ideological difference in the party that is now headed to a clear split.

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