After teetering at the brink of a split several times, the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) appears to have stepped back from the edge once more. But no one knows for how long.
After the latest of numerous showdowns last week during which two rival factions held parallel meetings, factions led by Prime Minister K P Oli and party co-Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal appear to have decided not to let their relations deteriorate any further.
They have not yet buried the hatchet, but they at least seem to be willing to smoke the peace pipe. Oli and Dahal may also have realised that the NCP itself is being harmed by a surge of negative comments on social media and op-eds about their ego-clash holding the party and country hostage at a time of multiple crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two leaders as well as members of their factions seem, therefore, to have retreated from the situation on 28 July in which Prime Minister Oli cancelled a scheduled Stranding Committee meeting that was to deliberate on demands for his resignation, but the Dahal faction went to Baluwatar anyway and held the meeting.
The standoff in the Standing Committee appears to have woken everyone up to the real possibility of a party split, which all NCP leaders (including Oli and Dahal) want to avoid at all costs. Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi seems to have got the message across through her intense lobbying last month that Beijing would like the party to stay united.
“We have overcome a big hurdle by at least agreeing to disagree, and move forward,” said Central Committee member Kiran Gurung, one of the younger crop of leaders trying to find a compromise. “The party came very close to the edge of the cliff, and stopped itself from falling.”
The Oli and Dahal factions are now said to be using the ceasefire period brokered by second tier leaders to tone down their rhetoric, and hold mediation talks through interlocutors. However, there does not seem to be a clear road map yet.
There is a realisation that although it is a confrontation between two factions, it is the two co-chairs Oli and Dahal who have to sort out their differences and build trust. Neither side wants to believe the other because they have been double crossed by each other so often.
“We have hit rock bottom in this party power struggle, from here there is nowhere to go but up,” says Mani Thapa, another NCP leader who is trying to broker a deal.
Party insiders interviewed for this article say that NCP leader and former home minister Bam Dev Gautam’s middle of the road six-point statement on 28 July was a catalyst to reduce tension in the party. The plan would allow Oli to stay on in both posts, while meeting Dahal’s demand for election to sole party chair during the party convention.
Prime Minister Oli paid Gautam a surprise visit at his residence on 29 July after he issued the statement to gauge reactions from fellow comrades to the plan. And it was Gautam and Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa’s decision to side with Oli for now that seems to have isolated Dahal.
Dahal is also suspicious that Oli may pull another fast one by tempting Madhav Kumar Nepal away from his faction by dangling the carrot of party executive chair instead of him. By making himself a kingmaker in this feud, Gautam has also reportedly got an assurance of being nominated to the Upper House from where he can either be made Finance Minister in place of Yubaraj Khatiwada, or even prime minister.
Gautam has a reputation for flip-flopping, but has pivoted himself into an important role in the party. Oli has reportedly expressed a desire to step down in February after the party’s unity convention in November, and this commitment appears to have brought down the temperature somewhat.
Says another NCP leader Thakur Gaire: “I don’t think the differences between Comrades Oli and Dahal is so irreconcilable that the party has to split over them. The ball is now both their courts.”