From the fire into the frying pan
So, this is the price Nepalis had to pay for two leaders of the ruling party not being able to sort out their personal differences. This is the toll the UML has also had to bear for the intractable ego-clash between its two headstrong leaders.
If any entity wanted to shatter Nepal’s communist parties into smithereens, they could not have done a better job than K P Oli. First, he decoupled the NCP from the UML, and then went on to split the UML itself. Along the way, he also detached the ex-Maoist members of the JSP from the main party.
Those who blame this on an outside anti-Communist force are deluding themselves. The Nepal Communist Party, the Maoist Centre or the United Marxists-Leninists are only euphemistically ‘communist’, and they have disintegrated because of the tunnel vision and contradictions of their own comrades.
It may be an indication of just how far off-script K P Oli had drifted while trying to stave off multiple mutinies that he brought two personalities as disparate as Sher Bahadur Deuba and Pushpa Kamal Dahal together.
To be sure, Deuba and Dahal have shared power before. But this time, the two sworn enemies who tried to physically annihilate each other till 2006 have joined hands to ‘protect democracy’.
Seeing many of the venomous comments on social media, most Nepalis see through this. They are glad the prolonged paralysis of government is over, but aghast that politicians with such chequered pasts have become guardians and defenders of democracy and constitutionalism.
Each of the members of the anti-Oli alliance are now demanding their pound of flesh from Deuba, and the first ministerial appointments are already an indication of the division of the spoils.
Deuba has another 28 days to win a confidence test in the House, and he has kept key portfolios as carrots for the JSP faction, and perhaps even UML dissidents.
Licking wounds in his Balkot lair, Oli will also be trying to retain as many of the Nepal faction as possible in the UML, even though he probably will not mind untethering Nepal once and for all.
Oli and Nepal have inflicted too many unkind cuts on each other, and are seething so much with vengeance that even mediators have given up. Oli is banking on enough of Nepal’s supporters valuing party unity for the next elections over their loyalty to Nepal.
While Deuba grapples with trying to appease members of his own NC, Dahal’s MC and the Bhattarai-Yadav JSP, Oli’s sights are already on the next elections.
Governing Nepal is difficult at the best of times, but try grappling with the multiple crises the country faces during the pandemic. Knowing Deuba’s past track record, and the near impossible task of reconciling the ambitions of the Maoists in government in the run-up to elections, Oli must sense that the next vote will be anti-incumbent.
As soon as he became prime minister, Deuba already faced strong pressure from Dahal to give the Maoists the powerful Home Ministry portfolio. Deuba appointed trusted supporter Bal Krishna Khand as Home Minister, but in return had to hand over the finance portfolio to the Dahal-appointee Janardan Sharma.
Dahal himself has to balance expectations and ambitions among his own comrades, and has superseded other aspirants to appoint Sharma to the Finance Ministry which controls budget allocations and money flows — crucial at election time.
The other Maoist in Deuba’s cabinet is Pampha Bhusal with the energy and water resource portfolio, another ministry with access to purse strings.
However much many disliked Oli, most Nepalis are asking if the only alternative was to bring a four-time prime minister back for the fifth time. And Deuba’s first ministerial appointments portend it is politics as usual: a predictable lack of transparency, woeful failure of governance and service delivery.
That is exactly what the UML is hoping for, so that the failure of the past three years will be blamed on the incumbent rather than on Oli.
Deuba could launder his legacy by proving everyone wrong by launching an effective social safety net campaign to help Nepalis whose livelihoods are impacted by the pandemic, and to confront the pandemic by vaccinating 70% of the population by end-2021.
Only that will convince Nepalis that this Deuba avatar is different.