One body two heads

In what must be the biggest political tamasha in seven decades of Nepal’s communist movement, the UML and the Maoists formally merged on Thursday to create the Nepal Communist Party (NCP)

The union was formally announced at a press meet in Kathmandu after registering the new party at the Election Commission. This is now the most powerful party Nepal has ever had with 174 seats in the 275-member Parliament, and can comfortably rule the country for the next five years. It can also amend the Constitution if one of the two Madhes-based parties backs it, to take the combined strength to two-thirds.

Leftist analyst Shyam Shrestha thinks the NCP is now one of the most powerful communist parties in the world: “Only China and Vietnam have communist parties more powerful than the NCP, there is reason to celebrate.”

The opposition Nepali Congress, which was the first elected party in Parliament in 1960 and governed Nepal for most of the period after democracy was restored in 1990, will now be further weakened. It has accused the united Left of dragging the country to communist authoritarianism. Shrestha disagrees: “We are living in a modern democracy where dictatorship cannot thrive.”

Shrestha is upbeat that the emergence of a strong political force has effectively ended an era of political instability in Nepal. The unity drive was first announced before elections last October, but ran into trouble over power-sharing and leadership issues after the alliance swept polls.

Pic: Gopen Rai

After UML Chair K P Oli was sworn in as Prime Minister in February, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal began lobbying for a ‘respectable’ presence of his comrades in the unified party. ‘Respectable’ was a code for Dahal’s demand that he should lead the united party, be prime minister in two-and-half years after Oli, and all positions should be divided 50-50.

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When Oli became too busy with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit last week, negotiations stalled. Dahal suspected Oli was no longer interested in unification, and was wooing the Madhesis. The Maoists even boycotted some of Modi’s events. But a two-hour meeting between Oli and Dahal on Wednesday cleared the air, and they hurried the unification process, timing the announcement for the 25th anniversary of the death of charismatic UML leader Madan Bhandari in a car crash.

The other hurdle was semantics: finally, the UML accepted the Maoist-led ‘People’s War’ and Maoists agreed to the UML’s ideology of ‘People’s Multi-Party Democracy’. It is not clear if Oli promised to help Dahal in the first general convention of the unified party, or to relinquish prime ministership halfway through his term. The new party’s Standing Committee has 43 members (25 from UML and 18 from Maoists) and 441 Central Committee (241 from UML and 200 from Maoists).

Ex-Maoist Ganesh Shah says Dahal’s brief to his comrades about unification was unusually brief: “He did not talk much, he just told us how party committees will be formed, he may have been under pressure to push the unification.”

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