Even if Oli’s visit does go ahead, the plans have been overtaken by the fast-paced events of this week, when Prime Minister Oli dissolved the Lower House and announced dates for new elections in April-May 2021, leading to a virtual split in the NCP.
The two factions now have rival claims at the Election Commission as well as a dozen or so writ petitions in the Supreme Court challenging the dissolution. The Speaker of the Lower House, Agni Sapkota, is also said to be preparing to convene the Lower House, even though there is no clear provision for that in the Constitution, just as there was not for the House dissolution by Oli.
If Oli does go to Delhi, he will likely to not be in a position to make any major agreements. He will try to use the possible visit more for domestic consumption to shore up his strength to tackle the rival faction.
But analysts say this is a double-edged sword because a visit to India will be seen by his critics as an effort to get New Delhi to meddle in an internal NCP squabble. It will also undermine Oli’s nationalist credentials, which he used to gain an overwhelming win for his UML-Maoist alliance in the 2017 elections.
The two parties then merged in 2018 to form the NCP, but Oli has had a running feud with his party co-chair former Maoist Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who also took away some of Oli’s erstwhile party colleagues like Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalnath Khanal.
On Friday, Oli added nine ministers after seven Dahal-loyalist ministers resigned from the Cabinet on Sunday. He has appointed former Maoist Top Bahadur Rayamajhi as Energy Minister to replace Barsha Man Pun, Mani Thapa has replaced Dahal’s daughter-in-law Bina Magar as Water Supply Minister.
Two other ministers have been reshuffled. Health Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal has been given the Tourism portfolio, while Hridesh Tripathi has been transferred to the Health Ministry.
The Dahal-Nepal faction and the Oli group have been holding separate Central Committee meetings this week. Although Oli has not ousted Dahal from the party, it has restructured the hierarchy and also kept former Maoists like Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa in its fold.
The Dahal-Nepal faction, meanwhile has made Nepal the party Chair and the Dahal the head of the Parliamentary Party. This means that for all intents and purposes the NCP is already behaving like two parties.
India has so far not been drawn into this fight, describing it as an “internal matter”, and its diplomats in Kathmandu are keeping a low profile. The Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi, meanwhile, has been meeting leaders from both factions to once more try to keep the party from splitting, as she has done twice in 2020.