Catapulting to Singha Darbar

The more things change in Nepali politics, the more they remain the same


We are now on Season 3 Episode 1 of Nepal’s promiscuous political saga. 

The Maoists and the UML have joined hands for the second time in a year to form a new leftist-led coalition. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Maoist Centre has replaced the NC with the UML and the United Socialists.

Dahal may say about the NC having double crossed him, but this was all about ensuring that he remains Prime Minister for another year instead of having to rotate it with Deuba and Nepal before the next election in 2027. Now, he just has to hand over to Oli next year.

This is all déjà vu. Dahal and Oli had a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ on rotating premiership after the 2017 election, and the Maoists merged with the UML to form the NCP. But both ended up stabbing each other in the back, and Oli had to step down. Why should it be any different this time?

The more things change in Nepali politics, the more they remain the same. The same three men of the three main parties have been playing musical chairs for most of the 18 years after the end of the conflict.

The cartoon by Diwakar Chhetri (above) was used in Nepali Times in 2020 when K P Oli was being catapulted to Singha Darbar. For this edition, we just exchanged him for Dahal, added Rabi Lamichhane of the RSP and changed the guy playing marbles to Deuba.

On Wednesday, the new coalition included the Maoists, UML, RSP, CPN (US) with the JSP still undecided. But in Nepal’s cybersphere, there is little excitement that this will change anything and the new lineup has been met mostly with ridicule.

Even a new party like the RSP under Lamichhane is behaving like an old party because he is in a tearing hurry to get on the fast-track to Singha Darbar. He angled for and got the Home Minister’s portfolio, while Barsaman Pun of the Maoists is Finance Minister. The JSP's Upendra Yadav is said to have wanted the Foreign Ministry, but the portfolio went to Narayan Kaji Shrestha.

That this is all about getting to power and staying there could not have been clearer because everyone is angling for the powerful ministries with the biggest discretionary funds.

UML Chief Whip Padam Giri has been named Minister for Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affiars after serving just 40 days as Health Minister during the previous Maoist-UML coalition. Hit Bahadur Tamang of the Maoists is Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister. The RSP’s Dol Prasad Aryal returns to the Labour Ministry despite conflict of interest allegations during his last stint because of his alleged involvement in recruitment and remittance companies.  

The Unified Socialists say they are getting two ministries, including Federal and Social Service. The RSP’s Sumana Shrestha is Education Minister and Biraj Bhakta Shrestha Youth and Sports. 

Lamichhane’s insistence on the Home Ministry portfolio is said to stem from a desire to exculpate himself from multiple controversies about citizenship and his investment in a cooperative that cheated depositors.

Monday’s political earthquake in Kathmandu has sent aftershocks to all seven provincial governments. The provinces all have their own party arithmetics in their assemblies, yet they are unduly impacted by what happens to the federal government. This is not how devolution is supposed to work.

Under federalism, Nepali politics is even more centralised than before with province politicians beholden not just to their party in Kathmandu, but to the head honcho in each of them for instructions. Which is why NC ministers have resigned in Karnali, and the NC controlled provincial governments in Gandaki and Sudur Paschim have sacked Maoist ministers.    

Unlike the previous coalition, the main parties in the current coalition at least have similar sounding names like Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), Communist Party of Nepal (United Socialists). This could be a formidable leftist front in the 2027 election.

All this must be music to the ears of the Chinese, who have made no secret of their wish that Nepal’s Communists parties should all merge. And if the Chinese want that, then automatically the US-India bloc is not going to be too pleased.

The Maoist-NC coalition was seen to be better suited to India, but while this week’s change would have been a surprise for New Delhi, it may not have been a shock, since it is quite comfortable also with Prime Minister Dahal.

Kunda Dixit


Kunda Dixit is the former editor and publisher of Nepali Times. He is the author of 'Dateline Earth: Journalism As If the Planet Mattered' and 'A People War' trilogy of the Nepal conflict. He has a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and is Visiting Faculty at New York University (Abu Dhabi Campus).