By Maila Baje
As sob stories go, this one came to a joyful end quite swiftly.
Barely had Nepal Communist Party (NCP) co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal lamented how his lifelong contributions were likely to go unrecognized in death that Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli leapt to comfort him. In exchange for letting him retain the premiership for the remainder of his full five-year term, Oli agreed to allow Dahal to wield executive authority in the party. A dry-eyed and bouncy Dahal now says the road ahead is all clear.
The rest of the country can keep scratching their heads over how the least-tainted ministers ended up getting the boot from the Oli cabinet while the most controversial – and publicly unpleasant – ones got to keep their jobs. Or whether this latest attempt to manage the factional equations within the NCP would amount to much in a party that is united only in name. The operative fact is that Dahal gets to decide what goes on in the party, provided he can stand straight long enough on the infinitely fluid ground under him.
Clearly, Oli had little to lose in this trade-off. He can no longer hide the fact that he is too incapacitated to hold the premiership with much steadiness. Still, the choice between the head of the party and head of government was a no-brainer. It’s not as if Nepal is the People’s Republic of China or the former Soviet Union in terms of its communist institutional evolution.
Yet Oli might have a more sinister motive. A Dahal preoccupied with the internal fractiousness of the NCP animated by the presence of two other former prime ministers in the tent is one Oli would certainly like. The challenge of managing Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhal Nath Khanal amid all those minor – but no less maddening – satraps is in a different league altogether from contending with often pesky albeit pusillanimous ministers much more reliant on the prime minister’s pleasure and prerogative.
Amid the approaching party convention, Dahal can be expected to be more detached from the premiership. That development might even speed up Oli’s medical recovery sufficiently in time for the next election. If not, well it won’t be Oli’s problem anymore.
To be sure, Dahal is not oblivious to the spot Oli has put him in. Given the alternative of a further diminution of his role, the former supreme commander of the ‘people’s war’ can easily feign contentment with the latest arrangement. Like most agreements Dahal has entered into, this one is an interim step until the ground realities shift next.
The imponderables abound before the people. Would Dahal feel compelled to abide by the current power-sharing deal should Oli’s health falter. If Dahal sees himself as the natural successor should that happen, might Oli or enough people who matter necessarily share Dahal’s claim? And, most importantly, should he get the premiership, would Dahal be ready to relinquish the party presidency?
A gentlemen’s agreement is as good as the gentleness of the motives of the men who enter into it. But, then, perhaps we have become too used to the ground defining reality to be unduly disheartened.