The ruling Nepal Communist Party recently saw realignment in its power equation following the proposal to appoint senior leader Bam Dev Gautam as the party’s vice-chair and elevation of another senior leader Jhalanath Khanal to the third spot in the party hierarchy. This has marginalised Madhav Kumar Nepal, who has been relegated to the fourth position in the party. Jagdishor Panday of The Himalayan Times met Khanal to discuss the changes that have taken place in the party, NCP’s unification process and the government’s performance. Excerpts:
You are now the third senior party leader after the two co-chairs, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal. How does it feel?
I was not in the country when the party took the decision on rankings of party leaders around 15 months ago. I should have been made the third senior leader in the party at that time. But I was relegated to fourth position. I am happy the party has finally rectified the erroneous decision.
Your promotion came at the expense of demotion of another senior leader, Madhav Kumar Nepal. Nepal was disappointed with this decision, wasn’t he?
Nepal has not objected to the decision made by the party. He actually congratulated me after I was promoted. He might have been disappointed for other reasons.
After your promotion, Nepal registered a note of dissent at the party secretariat stating Bhim Rawal, Astha Laxmi Shakya and Yubaraj Gyawali should be appointed as NCP vice-chairs as they were vice-presidents in the erstwhile CPN-UML. Doesn’t this reflect his dissatisfaction?
Nepal’s demands and the decision to promote me are different issues. There will be discussion in the party on Nepal’s demands.
Your promotion and the proposal to appoint another senior leader Bam Dev Gautam as the party’s vice-chair are being seen as a ploy to marginalise Nepal. Does this imply that the party co-chairs, especially PM Oli, have embraced divide and rule strategy?
The rumour mill has gone on overdrive ever since those decisions were made. The central secretariat meeting had unanimously decided to promote me and appoint Gautam as the vice-chair.
But in the central secretariat meeting held before PM Oli’s visit to Singapore, Nepal had charged Oli of taking unilateral decisions, which triggered verbal exchange between the two. What kind of message does it send?
I could not attend that meeting as I was in China at that time. When I enquired about it in the next meeting, I was told the two had engaged in heavy discussion, but there was no aggression. Such debates take place in party meetings all the time. The media made the incident look like a fight between the two.
Differences among leaders have often affected the party’s ongoing unification process. When will the unification process be completed?
When the two parties — CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre — merged to form the NCP (in May 2018), we thought the unification process would be completed within three months. But that did not happen.
However, over the months we have done a lot of work and the unification process is almost complete. So far, we have completed mergers of sister-wings and formed 32 departments. We now have to form a national council, a national advisory council, a few commissions and the politburo. We will complete these tasks soon.
The party is finally organising programmes at district and local levels, which have lifted the spirit of cadres.
Despite the party’s consolidation, many say the hearts and minds of party cadres have not ‘merged’. Is this true?
It may seem some of the cadres of the erstwhile CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre are moving ahead on their own. But what is important is that they are moving in the same direction. They are not drifting apart. So, they will converge at some point. The unification process will come to a logical conclusion after we hold the first general convention. After the convention, nobody will view themselves as cadres of erstwhile UML or Maoist Centre, but as members of the NCP.
When will the party hold its first general convention?
Our plan is to hold it within two years of the merger. The party conventions will begin from the local level. The upcoming convention will fully unite the party.
Are you trying to say there will be no voting during the convention?
Yes. There will be no election. Party leaders will hold the convention in consensus and appoint office bearers in consensus. Those who are appointed to various posts will remain in office for five years.
Will the party hold discussion on its ideology during the convention?
Till the election, we have agreed to embrace Marxist-Leninist principles.
The convention will hold discussion on ideologies such as people’s multiparty democracy, 21st century people’s democracy and Marxism during the convention.
We will finalise the ideology based on consensus.
Lately, the NCP is divided into multiple factions. What do you have to say about factionalism?
The party should not be run by factions. It should run on the bases of its policy and statute. Factionalism is like creating mini-kingdoms within a party. Multiple kings and kingdoms will only tear the party apart. We didn’t have the problem of factionalism in the past. But, lately, we are seeing this tendency to align oneself to a group. The NCP should get rid of all the factions because factionalism is a crime.
One school of thought in the party is pressing for ‘one person, one responsibility’ principle. What is your take on this?
This is not a bad principle. This issue was raised in the erstwhile CPN-UML as well. But it is hard to follow this principle at the moment, as the NCP cannot follow practices of the erstwhile CPN-UML or Maoist Centre. We also cannot follow this principle at the moment because we need to accommodate members of erstwhile UML and Maoist Centre accordingly in the NCP. So, for the time being, one person may assume two or even three responsibilities. The party will draft its statute after the first general convention, which will address this issue.
What is your take on the government’s performance?
The government is doing well. But it has faced hiccups like the time when the Guthi Bill was introduced. Those problems could have been resolved by doing proper homework and holding discussions with stakeholders beforehand.
But the government has also been criticised for not pursuing development works, isn’t it?
Yes, there have been some concerns on this front, which is why the party is losing some popularity. That’s why we have to revisit our strategies. We have to give continuity to the good work and rectify the mistakes we have made.
Do you think the party has not been able to guide the government properly?
Till the time the government completed its first year in office, the party was not functioning well because of delay in the unification process. Based on the new constitution, we now have governments at the federal, provincial and local levels. But in the recent past, the party did not have mechanisms at the provincial and local levels. So, the party could not guide sub-national governments well. Now, the party has formed committees at the provincial and local levels and they will guide the governments.
Should the party and governments run parallel or separately?
At the central level, the government and the party leadership should work parallel because of the presence of senior and experienced leaders. But at the local level, the party and the government should work separately. Otherwise there will be problems and both may not be able to function well.
In this context, how do you see the opposition’s role?
There are so many problems in the country. But no opposition party has been able to raise them. That’s why I sometimes feel that there is no opposition in this country. But again, the main opposition party is facing problems of its own because of factionalism. Since the NCP is moving ahead strongly, opposition parties should be strong too. But they are weak.
You said the NCP is moving ahead strongly. Is this providing leeway to become authoritarian?
The government has not taken an authoritarian line. However, the government should consult the party. It should listen to the party, the opposition and the people before executing any task.
Lastly, what do you have to say about the power-sharing deal between the two co-chairs of the party?
I have heard the two co-chairs signed an agreement to run the government for equal periods. But the document has never been shown in the party’s central secretariat, standing committee or central committee meetings. So, we don’t know anything about that document. But if the two have entered into an agreement, we will accept it.
A version of this article appears in print on September 02, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.