Dahal-Nepal alliance in the making again to keep PM Oli in check?
KATHMANDU, Oct 19: Relations between ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) chairmen duo KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal have soured further in recent days as the two leaders have accused each other of ‘creating’ the political standoff that surfaced in Karnali Province earlier last week.
While Chairman Dahal has alleged that Prime Minister Oli was behind inciting a section of the party's lawmakers to move a motion of no-confidence against Chief Minister Mahendra Bahadur Shahi -- a trusted lieutenant of Chairman Dahal --, Prime Minister Oli on his part has accused Dahal of running the party unilaterally, bypassing him while taking key decisions related to the party's internal affairs.
Already miffed with Prime Minister Oli over his ‘unilateral’ decision to induct new faces in the cabinet -- all close to his own faction within the party -- the latest standoff in Karnali Province not only has further widened the differences between Oli and Dahal but also between Oli and leader Nepal. Party insiders argue leaders close to Nepal should have been inducted in the Cabinet if Prime Minister Oli was committed to ensure power balance and settle the intra-party differences.
Sources said there was a tentative understanding among top leaders within the party to induct Bishnu Paudel, Surendra Pandey and Janardan Sharma as ministers in the Cabinet. While Paudel is a leader close to Prime Minister Oli, Pandey and Sharma are considered close to leader Nepal and Chairman Dahal, respectively.
But Prime Minister Oli chose to appoint Paudel, Lilanath Shrestha and Krishna Gopal Shrestha - all his loyals - as ministers. The decision not only irked Dahal, but also leader Nepal, who had grown closer to Prime Minister Oli in recent days.
Leader Nepal had earlier forged an alliance with Dahal to seek the resignation of Prime Minister Oli. But as Dahal alone made an agreement to patch up differences with PM Oli without bringing this to his notice, Nepal had distanced himself from Dahal.
The growing difference between Prime Minister Oli and Chairman Dahal in recent days came to the surface on Saturday when Oli openly criticized Dahal for “running a parallel party within the NCP”. Prime Minister Oli was referring to the separate meetings Dahal held with the lawmakers supporting Chief Minister Shahi and those opposing him on Thursday and Friday.
Prime Minister Oli, however, had chosen to hold a joint meeting with the lawmakers of both the sides. Oli made the allegation in public as Dahal snubbed his invitation to attend a meeting organized with the lawmakers of Karnali Provincial Assembly on Saturday to settle their differences.
The NCP's top leaders had earlier asked senior NCP lawmakers of both the factions to come to Kathmandu for discussion to settle the differences after a group of lawmakers led by Yam Lal Kandel - a leader close to the Oli camp - registered a no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Shahi. Prime Minister Oli wanted to settle the differences seen in Karnali Province jointly with Dahal but Dahal in his capacity as the party's executive chairman wanted to resolve the issue alone.
Although Chairman Dahal claimed in public that the discussion with the leaders at his residence was held in consultation with him, Prime Minister Oli has appeared highly dissatisfied with Dahal's move. "He [Dahal] held separate meetings with the leaders of the same party. If there is any problem and that needs to be addressed, there should be discussion before them. But he [Dahal] did not do that. He snubbed the invitation to come here as well. This does not send a good message," a NCP lawmaker of Karnali Provincial Assembly quoted Prime Minister Oli as saying.
Chief Minister of Karnali Province Shahi, rival faction leader Kandel, NCP's deputy in-charge of Karnali Province Prakash Jwala, Secretary Maya Prasad Sharma and leader and Chandra Bahadur Shahi, among others, were present in the meeting.
Even as he criticized Chairman Dahal, Prime Minister Oli assured in the meeting that he would sit with Chairman Dahal for discussion to settle the issue. "We two will sit down and settle your problem," he said in the meeting that NCP Karnali Province In-Charge Janardan Sharma chose to skip. Prime Minister Oli has alleged that the latest standoff seen in Karnali Province is the result of Chief Minister Shahi’s attempt to run the party unilaterally, without bringing rival faction leaders within the party into confidence.
Although the move to oust Chief Minister Shahi from power was aborted after lawmakers deemed close to leader Nepal withdrew their support to the no-confidence motion following a promise of Chief Minister Shahi to give them three more ministerial portfolios, this development is likely to ignite further troubles within the ruling NCP. Should Dahal and Nepal choose to forge a long-term alliance against Prime Minister Oli, the posts of Chief Minister of Bagmati Province and Province 1 could immediately fall in jeopardy.
Party insiders fear that the differences seen between Oli and Dahal in Kathmandu could also spill over in the party's committees across the country. "If the prime minister does not mend his ways, this difference will not be limited to the province; it will also reach the party's local committees and local governments as well in the days ahead," warned a leader close to the rival faction.