By Maila Baje
As trial balloons go, this one wasn’t supposed to come crashing down – at least not so spectacularly.
Fully inflated and activated, this blimp had shed traces of tentativeness before it was floated. The sitting Communist Party of Nepal (NCP) member for Kathmandu-7 constituency, Ram Bir Manandhar, resigned to make way for party leader Bam Dev Gautam’s candidacy in a by-election.
This blatant crystallization of the Gautam-Pushpa Kamal Dahal alliance in the ruling party followed serious rumblings within a party that once took pride in its discipline. Barely had Dahal’s high-profile geopolitical sojourn faltered in its original purpose than Madhav Kumar Nepal took advantage of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli’s absence to mount a virtual insurrection.
Oli, for his part, sounded least bothered and continued on to Costa Rica after addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. When he arrived home, he did so with a countenance that conveyed everything was in order. Days later, when key Madhesi leaders met the prime minister, one interlocutor couldn’t help telling reporters how wearied he had found Oli.
Now, even if the burdens of his second premiership were so unbearable, Oli wouldn’t be one to chicken out, would he? Wouldn’t he benefit from a party coup – even one he could easily quell? After all, a casualty is far more respectable than a coward. So you’re force to wonder whether this whole Bam Dev thing had Oli’s imprimatur all along.
Who really knows? But our premier certainly seemed to let Messrs. Dahal, Nepal and Gautam feel that way, while went sniffing around the neighborhood. Predictably, the Bishnu Poudels and Ishwar Pokharels were up in arms. Raghubir Mahaseth endorsed the sordidness of inflicting a costly byelection, saying he, too, would be prepared to quit if the party asked him to.
As the notion of a Mahaseth speaking for a party of proletarians had long ceased to be amusing, Gautam’s assertion that he wanted to enter parliament to speed up development didn’t spark too many uncomfortable smirks among his peers. (To be fair, Gautam seems to have retained much of his 1990s-era ebullience, going by his full-blooded rebuttal of parts of former Inspector-General of Police Achyut Krishna Kharel’s newly published memoirs.)
Oli allowed the balloon to float for a few days more, enticing the principal players closer to what they considered a fait accompli and allowing the public mood to sour further. Whether Gautam felt the first intimation of doom in Bibeksheel Sajha Party convener Rabindra Mishra’s impending electoral challenge is unclear. But the former deputy prime minister was smart enough to read the real message in Oli decision to postpone a crucial party meeting that was to have finalized the matter.
Gautam bowed out, giving Dahal an easy exit as well. The ever-wily NCP co-chair instantly went into damage-control mode, praising the great things the Oli government had accomplished but had not been credited with. Manandhar, a onetime Oli loyalist, learned the bitter lesson of prematurely switching camps as others continue to take in the message in different ways.
Wearied or not, Oli has worsted his critics. For how long is anyone’s guess, though. If he’s smart, he’ll keep us all guessing.