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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 105

Nepal Oli’s Survival Mantra

By Rattan Saldi - Syndicate Features

There is no dull moment in Nepal politics these days. For over three-four days, the ruling, Nepal Communist Party (NCP) held stormy sessions of its Standing Committee even as both houses of Parliament were in session. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli's faction is in a minority in the 44-member committee. And he was cornered with demands for his resignation – as the co-chair of the party or as Prime Minister. Pump primed by survival instincts, Oli did what most elected leaders love to do - namely duck parliament for immediate reprieve.

On 2 July, President Bidya Devi Bhandari prorogued the budget session “as per the recommendation of the Cabinet.” The budget session started on May 8. It has completed its constitutional obligation of endorsing the national budget but many crucial bills are still awaiting approval.

Prorogation of Parliament means Oli would not have to face a floor test. It also would allow him to introduce an ordinance for political reengineering which in essence means splitting the party. Four months ago, in April, Oli came up with an ordinance that was aimed at making it easier for parties to split. Vociferous criticism forced him to roll back his plan. Will he return with the ordinance once again? It is too early to crystal gaze. Political circles do not rule out the possibility though.

Prime Minister Oli has been blaming India for ‘weakening’ of his position in the NCP as also Parliament. He has also been using nationalist card to blunt the attacks from his critics within and outside the NCP.

Oli’s fusillade against India and its diplomatic mission in Kathmandu, while on his political backfoot, is unprecedented, by all means. It may prove to be a big hinderance for diplomatic and political dialogue Nepal wants on the Kalapani border row. He could have attacked India in the Standing Committee, which had been in session. He did not. He chose to make these controversial remarks outside the party’s apex policy making body. This also became good ammunition for his critics.

The Standing Committee was discussing Covid-19, border dispute (with India), and a host of other issues when he launched the broadside against India. Oli and Prachanda are co-chairs. But he absented himself during some discussions.

“Plots are being hatched to topple me for releasing the country’s new map and getting it adopted through Parliament,” Kathmandu Post’ quoted Oli as saying. “Given the ongoing intellectual discussions, media reports from New Delhi, embassy’s activities and meetings at different hotels in Kathmandu, it is not very difficult to understand how people are openly active to oust me. But they won’t succeed,” he thundered, according to the daily.

There was sharp reaction within NCP and also from political analysts and the intelligentsia. Taking the floor on June 30, Prachanda told the Standing Committee, “Prime Minister’s remarks that India was conspiring to remove him was neither politically correct nor diplomatically appropriate.” He warned that such statements might “damage our relations with the neighbor.”

Echoing his views, senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Vamdev Gautam and others asked Oli to substantiate his anti-India critique. “Show evidence for your accusations. Otherwise quit (as PM)”, they demanded. Oli was present at the meeting but he did not react.

The die thus was cast for what had followed. “We are headed towards diplomatic disaster”, said a ruling NCP Secretariat member, saying Oli is seeking to divert attention from his failures.

NCP enjoys nearly two- third majority in the Lower House of Parliament. Oli’s erstwhile Communist Party of Nepal (UML) has 121 members and Prachanda’s Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) has 53 members. Their merger to become NCP has put 174 members on the treasury benches in the 275-member House.

There are two ways to remove a Prime Minister in Nepal’s bicameral Parliamentary democracy. One through a no trust vote in the Lower House; two if he loses majority in his own Parliamentary party. Since ruling NCP is very comfortably placed numbers-wise, voting out Oli is a tough proposition, well, theoretically. The Opposition can have the day only if a sizeable number from the treasury benches decide to side with them.

In such a scenario, Oli is trying to blame his own party leaders of conniving with India to oust him from power. Are his own party leaders ‘India Agents?’ What the Prime Minister wants to convey is not clear but his hard-hitting statements against India are definitely not going to gift him any brownie points.

Former Nepal Ambassador to India, Professor Lok Raj Baral is not impressed by Oli-Speak. “Stung by his own party’s opponents, Oli has started pointing fingers at foreign elements for making a bid to topple his government. It is the strategy of a bewildered ruler,” he avers.

A large section of the ruling party blames Oli of incompetence, corruption and mismanagement. He is not being able to handle the Carona Virus fall-out effectively, they say. Prachanda, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bamdev Gautam, Jhala Nath Khanal and R. K. Mainali and other stalwarts have issues with Oli’s style of working.

Dissidence was in full view in April and May meetings of party’s Secretariat. It is a nine-member body. At least six members opposed his way of functioning and demanded a session of the Standing Committee (SC). Subsequently, some 20 of the 44 SC members made a written request for such a meeting. The leaders asked Oli to follow one man -one post norm. Step down as Prime Minister or relinquish charge as Co-chairman (of the Party), they told him bluntly.

He was able to avert the threat to his chair by manipulating the sentiments of his opponents. Now for survival he has picked up the anti- India card.

At the time of merger of the CPN(UML) and the NCP (Maoist), Oli and Prachanda had resolved that they would share the five -year power sweepstakes equally - two and a half years each, Oli taking the turn first.

Oli is set to complete his two- and half-year term in less than two months. Former Maoist leaders are reminding him of the power sharing deal. It means Oli must vacate the hot seat for Prachanda. Will he oblige? It is a Sudoku for the present.

No body, much less ruling party circles, wants instability since Nepal is gripped by Covid 19 pandemic. All sections however expect Oli to adopt a pragmatic approach to ameliorate the suffering of the people. Government is also facing severe criticism for not helping workers who have come back home leaving their overseas jobs. Both issues have sparked off agitations, though sporadically, before the onset of Monsoon.

Once the monsoon is over in about one and a half months, these agitations may gather much steam, according to Rajendra Mahto, a senior leader of Janata Samajwadi Party Nepal. His prognosis is based on two facts. One mounting number of Covid 19 cases. Two swelling number of migrant workers.

Nepal-India relations have been hit hard by Oli outburst. He is under pressure of majority members of the Standing Committee to resolve the territorial dispute with India through diplomatic and political dialogue.

Whatever be the course of Nepali politics, one thing is certain: Oli has invited the wrath of his party leaders by blaming them of trying to hobnob with India to oust him as Prime Minister. Critics always considered Oli as a pro-China and anti-India leader. He has proved them right.

- Asian Tribune -

Nepal Prime Minister  KP Sharma Oli
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