Beijing remains undaunted in publicly abandoning its much-vaunted policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
By Maila Baje
Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s inducement of an early unity convention seems to have appeased his Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ enough to start talking.
Although the NCP Secretariat, abruptly convened amid the technically ongoing but repeatedly delayed Standing Committee, failed to break the ice, the principal disputants seem to be working on a compromise that would ‘prepone’ the NCP convention from 2021 to later this year.
Reports of a fresh pact – clearly witnessed, if not actually brokered, by President Bidya Bhandari – have naturally alarmed the other members of the Dahal-led alliance, including former prime ministers Madhav Nepal and Jhal Nath Khanal. But those two men have already subordinated themselves to Dahal sufficiently for the ex-Maoist supremo to comfortably grasp a deal that is good enough for him.
As we all know by heart, the ruling NCP was formally set up in February 2018 with the merger of the major Unified Marxist-Leninist and Maoist factions after their alliance won overwhelming popular support in elections the previous year. Real consolidation of the two groups has not even begun. For whatever reason, the two co-chairs left crucial decisions to the convention, allowing them to drive the agenda interim.
Dahal has vacillated on the validity and relevance of the arrangement in which the two men would take turns as prime minister during the party’s five-year term in power. It has since emerged that Dahal knew all along that nothing he asked for – good, bad or ugly – could be achieved without Oli signing off. So no more prizes for uncovering the origins of Oli’s obstinacy.
Still, nothing is set in stone, much less when it’s the NCP we are talking about. While Oli’s health remains a major imponderable, Dahal’s potential legal problems are no less formidable. Oli opponents could still go through the motions and seek newer avenues to demand that he step down from the premiership and/or the NCP leadership, depending on the mood of the moment. Oli could continue dangling the sword of a party split, mid-term elections and even systemic collapse to stay in power. Disregard the surface currents and dive deeper.
Long rumored to have been behind the Oli-Dahal unification, the Chinese are doing their best to establish the veracity of such reports. They have been holding regular training sessions for NCP members with the ardor of a principal stakeholder. Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi has stepped up consultations with rival NCP leaders amid growing criticism and calumny, mindful perhaps that it is more so in India than in Nepal. Still, Beijing remains undaunted in publicly abandoning its much-vaunted policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
The intriguing question of why China would want to save the premiership of the most pro-Millennium Challenge Corporation (albeit not the most pro-American) leader in the ruling party has ceased to confound too many of us. A CPN split between pro-Indian and pro-Chinese factions may not give Beijing too much room for maneuver. Yet Beijing understands that a formally – even if only theoretically – united ruling party would help to lower the risk of mischief by other external forces.
The contradictions inherent in any common India-US approach to China globally are too stark to make a significant impact in Nepal immediately. Perhaps the shenanigans in the NCP, the loose cannon called Oli, Dahal’s atypical bashfulness, and the hourly fluctuations in the focus of our political discourse carry more considerable significance than we choose to confer.