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Nepal’s Communist bloc | New coalition, old politics


Last week, Nepal saw dramatic political developments. On March 4, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ abruptly ditched the Nepali Congress, his key coalition partner, and joined hands with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), or UML. The Nepali Congress, the largest party in the 275-member parliament with 88 seats, has been forced to the other side of the aisle. With the formation of a new Cabinet under Prachanda, also the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), a communist-dominated dispensation was back in Kathmandu.

While the abrupt collapse of the Maoist-Congress coalition took many by surprise, signs of cracks in the alliance were visible for some time. On March 7, Prachanda used the parliamentary pulpit to slam the Nepali Congress. He blamed the Nepali Congress’s General Committee meeting decisions for irritants between the two parties. The General Committee’s discussions on not forging alliances with any party in the next elections and on a proposal against secularism, Prachanda said, were among the reasons that forced him to form a new alliance.

“Above all, people’s war was vilified in the reports presented in the Congress meeting,” said the Maoist leader, who led a bloody war for 10 years in Nepal from 1996. He also said a dissident group in the Nepali Congress had a role in defeating the Maoist Centre candidate in the National Assembly elections.

The Nepali Congress, on the other side, has described Prachanda’s move as political chicanery.

As the blame-game continues, Nepal is witnessing the rise of a Maoist-UML coalition for the second time in recent years; earlier in 2018, the same parties had come together and even merged, only to last three years before imploding.

Self-interest

This time, Prachanda was quick to call his decision to join hands with the UML part of a fresh push to revive Left unity in Nepal. But analysts say the formation of the communist coalition in Kathmandu is more inspired by self-interest — of Prachanda and UML chair K.P. Sharma Oli — than ideology.

“Mr. Prachanda may have laid out multiple reasons for forming a new alliance, but he himself actually is the main reason for the breakup of the Maoist-Congress coalition,” said Tula Narayan Shah, a political analyst. “A vindictive Mr. Oli, meanwhile, was desperate; he was unable to digest that Prachanda had abandoned him after being elected Prime Minister with his backing.”

After the 2022 general elections, which the Maoist Centre fought in an alliance with the Nepali Congress, Prachanda, whose party won 32 seats, was appointed Prime Minister in December that year with the support of UML, which emerged as the second largest party after the Nepali Congress with 78 seats. However, as is his won’t, Prachanda failed to honour the deal signed with the UML. He backed the Nepali Congress presidential candidate, prompting the UML to withdraw support in February last year, paving the way for the formation of the Maoist-Congress alliance.

Mr. Shah says Prachanda gradually realised that there is a lack of convergence between him and Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba on government modus operandi. “As the Prime Minister, it was natural for Prachanda to run the government as per his wish, but Deuba had other ideas,” Mr. Shah said. “Deuba held the view that as the leader of the largest party and key coalition partner, he also needed to have an equal say, if not more.”

That is the reason, according to Mr. Shah, Prachanda, in recent months, was repeatedly saying he was not getting the desired support from Nepali Congress ministers — Finance Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat in particular. Prachanda felt slighted that Mr. Deuba was blocking him from using his prime ministerial prerogative to reshuffle the Cabinet.

Jhalak Subedi, a writer who has closely followed Nepal’s Left politics for many years, says had Mr. Deuba let the Prime Minister change some Ministers, the Maoist-Congress coalition could have lasted for the next several months, or even till the next elections.

Cause and effect

When Prachanda visited China in September last year, he was keen on extracting some projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing’s flagship infrastructure project spanning across Asia and Europe. Nepal signed up to the BRI in 2017, but not a single project has taken off under the scheme. When Mr. Deuba was Prime Minister before the 2022 elections, he maintained a position that Nepal would not execute any BRI projects under loans.

“Deuba’s position remains the same. The Prime Minister had publicly said that he would move the BRI talks forward during his visit, but upon his return from China, he had nothing to show,” Mr. Subedi said. “Prachanda found himself concerned by the Nepali Congress for issues like these as well.”

The Maoist-Congress breakup, hence was a culmination of internal as well as external factors. A “unified communist force” is something that has captured Nepali communists’ imagination for decades. However, their efforts in the past failed due largely to personality clashes between leaders. The 2018 merger between the Maoists and the UML could not last because of the power struggle between Prachanda and Mr. Oli.

Mr. Subedi says both the Maoist Centre and the UML have realised that their political strengths have been on the wane. “Prachanda may have been thinking that siding with the UML ups his party’s electoral chances. Mr. Oli, a master manoeuvrer, may be thinking the UML is a big force which can easily swallow the Maoists.”

In Kathmandu, the federal government led by Prachanda now has Ministers from the UML, Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Socialist). There is a lack of clarity about political moorings of the RSP, which is a new party with people from different ideologies. The JSP is a left-leaning party, but it does not call itself a communist force.

Mr. Subedi says it would be too early to say the new development would set the Left unity ball in motion. “The Maoist Centre and the UML, however, may stick together till the next elections,” he said. According to him, the Nepali Congress may try to stitch up a loose alliance of non-communist forces in the coming days.

Given the way Prachanda and Mr. Oli function, a power struggle between the two within the next few months won’t be a surprise, say observers. “Even the Congress and the UML may come together, who knows,” says Mr. Shah.

Minendra Rijal, a Nepali Congress leader, said his party should be happy that Prachanda broke the alliance. “This actually paves the way for our party’s return to power,” he said, in an oblique reference to the argument that Nepal continues to be a hotbed of revolving door politics.



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