By Maila Baje
Is Madhav Kumar Nepal’s near-insurrection against K.P. Sharma Oli’s leadership at a time when our prime minister and ruling party chief is abroad an act of cowardice? Or is it a brilliant incursion based on the perfect convergence of time, context and personalities? It’s hard to say.
What you can’t say is that it wasn’t coming. The creation of an overtly formidable communist party through the amalgamation of the influential Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) and Maoist factions was hailed as a harbinger political rejuvenation.
The jubilation seemed inherently contrived, though. The leaders of the two factions sat together in secret for hours over several sessions and couldn’t agree on much. Then, presto, they resolved everything, including ways of massaging their massive egos. Other egos were bound to be bruised.
The grumbling on the Maoist side was gaudier. As the newest kids on the block, the erstwhile ‘people’s warriors’ had a greater incentive to rue what they had become. The disaffection on the UML side sounded more substantive and cerebral. More experienced in power and patronage, these comrades were bound to ruminate more on the erosion of influence than on that of idealism.
The united communist party held critical decisions in abeyance. The co-leadership of Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal couldn’t even get the new party’s name right for registration purposes. So, they added the abbreviation as part of the proper noun to fulfill the imperative of novelty. Individuals shunted out of the party hierarchy had to be accommodated accordingly in the government.
Dahal had it a bit easier. His principal challengers like Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya were outside the party. Oli, on the other hand, had to keep in check the restlessness and desires of former premiers Nepal and Jhal Nath Khanal from within the party. With perennial deputy premier Bam Dev Gautam as motivated and malleable as ever, that task became all the more daunting.
Once the contradictions grew thicker, Dahal sought to strike the first blow through his much-hyped Indian and Chinese trips. Through their egregiously hospitality, the Indians ended up thwarting Dahal. If the Chinese were ever planning a warmer reception to our erstwhile Maoist chief, they must have been dissuaded by the Indians.
Clearly, Madhav Nepal saw his opportunity. The Nepal-Oli camaraderie that was at its apotheosis in the months immediately before and after the tragic death of Madan Bhandary never concealed the Jhapali v. non-Jhapali rift gripping the Marxist-Leninist faction. As men like Oli were either hunting other heads or scratching their own behind bars, other comrades were leading double lives to evade arrest. Oli and Nepal were entrenched on opposite ends of that divide, regardless of whatever came after.
With the Oli government under siege, the opposition Nepali Congress has built enough momentum to make us forget its drubbing in the last election. The media – social and the traditional variant – amplifies every act of government dereliction, real and otherwise, pushing the government further on the defensive.
Amid all this, Oli sounds unruffled. Brushing aside the hullabaloo back home, he headed to Costa Rica from New York City. How can the prime minister afford to be so blasé? Or is he merely putting on an act – for the next turn in our interminable spectacle he, too, so assiduously awaits?