KATHMANDU, May 4: Ever since Bam Dev Gautam, the vice-chairperson of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP),lost the parliamentary race to Nepali Congress candidate Sanjaya Gautam on December 10, 2017 in the House of Representatives elections from Bardiya-1, he has repeatedly expressed his desire to rejoin parliament and become the prime minister of the country.
NC candidate Sanjaya Gautam had defeated the three-time home minister by a slim margin of 727 votes. Bamdev, however, attributed the defeat to 'non-cooperation from his own party'.
Gautam's supporters had projected him as a future prime minister in the parliamentary polls. But he lost the race and has since remained out of parliament. Although he is widely seen as the main architect behind the unification between the then CPN-UML and the then CPN (Maoist Center), Gautam's defeat in Bardiya was a major blow. This edged him out of parliamentary politics and out of any key position in the government.
In a bid to honor Gautam’s desire to join parliamentary politics, the ruling NCP tried to persuade the state minister for tourism Dhan Bahadur Budha to vacate his parliamentary seat in July, 2018. Despite his initial nod, Budha, who was elected from Dolpa, changed his mind later in the face of pressure from the people of his constituency.
Gautam then attempted to contest from Lalitpur-1, requesting police officer-turned politician Nawaraj Silwal to clear grounds for him. But as Silwal was not ready to sacrifice his position to facilitate Gautam’s return to power, Gautam was forced to abort his plan to make it to the House of Representatives (HoR) and then to the government.
But Gautam did not give up his efforts to make a comeback in parliament. Apparently under his pressure, NCP top leadership asked Nanda Lal Rokaya of Banke-3 to resign his parliamentary seat. However, Rokaya also turned down the party’s request.
After several futile efforts to vacate a parliamentary seat for the former home minister, party leaders especially General Secretary Bishnu Paudel turned to Rambir Manandhar. Manandhar, who was reported to have been unhappy at not getting a ministerial berth and a proper parliamentary role despite winning elections twice, agreed to step down.
Manandhar was quite ready to vacate his seat and pave the way for former deputy prime minister Gautam. However, following a rift within the party and a red signal from Prime Minister KP Oli, Gautambacktracked on his decision to contest a by-election. Most of the senior leaders of the party including party chairman and Prime Minister Oli had stood against the proposal put forth by the other NCP chairperson, Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Gautam’s effort to make it to parliament did not stop here. Although Gautam initially expressed his desire to contest the parliamentary election from Kaski-2, which fell vacant after the tragic death of the then tourism minister Rabindra Adhikari in a helicopter crash in Taplejung, he later changed his mind keeping in view the strong backlash he would be met with.
In his statement he said, “I believe that a local comrade will easily emerge victorious in the election than me,” said Gautam.
NCP fielded late Adhikari’s wife Bidhya Bhattarai for the November 30 by-polls. She emerged victorious after defeating the Nepali Congress Candidate Khem Raj Poudel with a wide margin of 8,403 votes.
Meanwhile, Gautam wasofficially elevated to the post of vice chairperson unanimously by amending the party's statute after a five-day-long meeting of the ruling party's central committee, which concluded on February 2, earlier this year. Endorsing the party's statute amendment proposal made by General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, the party plenum elevated Gautam to the post of vice-chairperson. Gautam had been eyeing the post for a long time. Earlier in October last year, the party had unofficially decided to elevate Gautam to the post of vice-chair and amend the party's statute for the same.
The party’s Secretariat meeting on February 25, decided to dissolve the intra-party task force formed in a bid to amend the constitution to empower an upper house member to lead the government in the capacity of the prime minister amid public outcry and dissident voices within the party. However, the same meetingrecommended to the government to nominate Gautam as the National Assembly (upper house) member. The decision widened the rift within the party’s top leadership after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli rejected the decision of the party secretariat to appoint central Vice-Chair Bamdev Gautam as a member of the upper house.
A meeting of the secretariat on May 2 decidedto elect Gautam to the House of Representatives “at an appropriate time”.The meeting held at the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Baluwatar made a decision to this effect amid growing intra-party disputes. The decision is apparently aimed at elevating Gautam to the post of Prime Minister once he is elected a member of the lower house.
Earlier at the secretariat meeting of April 29, NCP chairman and PM KP Sharma Oli offered to make the party's senior leader Bam Dev Gautam the new prime minister and Madhav Kumar Nepal the third chairman of the party in order to settle the intra-party disputes.
Bamdev is considered to be someone with a controversial background. Out of his six electoral battles, he has managed to win only three. Born in Pyuthan district, Gautam contested six elections from Pyuthan and Bardiya. He could only win the parliamentary elections in 1991 and 1995 from Bardiya and the 2013 Constituent Assembly election from Pyuthan.
Prime Minister Oli, who earlier even rejected Gautam’s nomination as a member of the National Assembly, agreed to elect Gautam as a member of the House of Representatives at an ‘appropriate time’ as rival factions led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Nepal had forged an alliance to oust him from power. It is yet to be seen if Oli sincerely means it so that Gautam does not have to make yet another ‘unsuccessful’ attempt to become a member of parliament, and eventually the prime minister.