No statutory ground to seek PM’s resignation

Gandaki Province chief minister Prithvi Subba Gurung is NCP (NCP) Gandaki Province in-charge. A former secretary of then CPN-UML party, Gurung is the supporter of Prime Minister and NCP (NCP) co-chairperson KP Sharma Oli. As the intra-party feud has escalated lately, CM Gurung has been quite occupied. Notwithstanding his support for PM Oli in the party, Gurung is a vocal critic of the federal government over its implementing federalism and granting rights to the provinces. THT's Pokhara correspondent Bharat Koirala caught up with CM Gurung to talk about the contemporary political scenario and problems faced by the province in the way of implementation of federalism.

The intra-party dispute in NCP (NCP) has reached a climax. As both the chairpersons stick to their guns, the dispute has gone from bad to worse now. Whom do you hold responsible for all this?

This is not a policy-related or ideological dispute; apparently it is a conflict of interests. And the dispute seems largely related to the working style of the prime minister. But again, who will evaluate the working style of the other faction? If we are to consider the mandate given by the party during unification, the party is to have two chairpersons until its general convention and they are supposed to work on consensual basis by cooperating with each other, not by competing with each other.

The unification was approved by our party central committee, and it’s the largest organisation of our party till date. So how can something remove one of the chairpersons from his post going against the central committee’s mandate? And given that leader of the parliamentary party can be the prime minister, KP Oli became the prime minister by virtue of this provision. He landed the post not from anyone’s grace, neither Pushpa Kamal Dahal's, nor Madhav Nepal’s, nor anyone like me.

Again which party -- the then CPN-UML or CPN-MC -- was the larger party when these two parties went to the polls by forming an alliance? Obviously, if the then CPN-MC had acquired more seats of the 165 seats, Dahal as its leader would get the seat of the prime minister, not KP Oli.

Whatever was the understanding between the two leaders during the time of unification, it doesn’t hold up against the people’s vote. And which is more valuable -- people’s votes or the so-called understanding between the two leaders? Again long after KP Oli became the PM, people came to know about some secret deal between them and following intense pressure and criticism, there was another agreement, as per which there would be two chairpersons and KP Oli would continue as the PM for a full term.

Against this backdrop, the issue of resignation that has come now is not related to ideology in any respect. Generally, someone elected by the general convention can only be removed from the general convention itself. Otherwise, either it must be proved that the government has been involved in huge financial irregularities, or he can be removed through impeachment. Or, you can bring a motion of lack of confidence in him. These are the only ways the PM can be removed from the post.

But what we have in practice here is when someone feels greedy for the post, they seek the resignation. The tendency of dribbling at the post of prime minister and not honouring past agreements have caused a problem. To speak about the legality of the move, neither our constitution nor our party statute has the provision that allows seeking resignation of the party chairperson.

Prime Minister and chairperson KP Sharma Oli floated the idea of making Bamdev Gautam the prime minister once and sometimes he made Dahal the executive chairperson of the party. Now he is talking about early general convention. Is this his strategy to throw someone a bone and stave off the crisis?

In politics, everyone has their own strategy. And perhaps you haven’t seen it anywhere in the world that someone keeps playing his cards and the other side just looks on. Regarding the offer of the prime minister’s post to Comrade Bamdev, the offer was Dahal’s, not KP Oli’s. Again, how can a man who has lost the election be a national assembly member and a minister, let alone the prime minister? Comrade Bamdev is not an honest leader, and I think someone has used him and his nativity to their advantage.

Don’t you have any dissatisfaction with the PM’s working style?

There were such dissatisfactions at the working styles of other prime ministers too in the past. We all witnessed what Jhalanath Khanal did when he was the prime minister and what Madhav Kumar Nepal did. Madhav Nepal is now talking about systems and policy, but he seems to have forgotten his own past. Don’t we still remember that Mohan Baidhya, Matrika Yadav and others parted ways with the party after Dahal started acting unilaterally in the party when he was in the PM seat himself?

Our bad luck is one of the two chairpersons supposed to work together calls a meeting of his coterie and seeks the resignation of another chairperson. What else can be more unfortunate than this? That is from where this political polarisation started. It is true, isn’t it, that Dahal had tried to kick out KP Oli on the majority grounds? But even if you have a majority, it’s not easy to remove.

Is the party on the verge of a split or are you planning to settle these issues through the general convention?

What I have felt is leaders begrudge KP Oli’s personality. Now even people in the media, civil society and intelligentsia who were once against KP Oli are in favour of political stability. They are questioning what happens by removing Oli? How reasonable is it to seek to remove the prime minister just because of his statement that India was trying to remove him from power and he had doubts that some of the leaders of his own party were part of the conspiracy? Executive heads in other countries, too, give such remarks sometimes. This is not a big deal in politics.

So, I have asked them a question. Suppose you have managed to remove KP Oli from office, how will you save yourselves from the blame of bringing down the PM who has stood firmly against Indian encroachment and expansionist policy. Clearly, their demands for the PM’s resignation is inopportune. What will the world say when you remove the prime minister from office at this time when we are in the midst of the coronavirus crisis and when his government has recently amended the constitution to revise the country’s map?

It’s the onus on the two chairpersons to keep the party in order. What has KP Oli done in this regard? And what have you done?

It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep things in order in the party. Though a group of leaders are all bent on getting their demands met even at the expense of the party, we are all committed to not let the party split. The PM hasn’t done anything showing serious character problem, or financial mess, or lack of discipline, which might warrant action against the chairperson as per the party statute. The central committee can’t remove the PM simply because it’s not the entity that chose him to occupy the seat.

What is your advice to settle the dispute in the party?

There are no statutory grounds to remove the chairperson as for now. Neither is there any rationale to remove him from the PM’s seat. If they want to remove him from the PM’s seat, they have to first remove him from the parliamentary party leader position. At a time when the country is fighting COVID-19, monsoon-related disasters, and is engaged in border dispute with another country, asking for the PM’s resignation is nothing but greed for power.

In fact, KP Oli showed his big heart during party unification. It was in deed generous to agree to a provision of two chairpersons and provide equal position to the Maoist party during the unification. As both the leaders were elected by the general conventions, they can’t simply be removed other than by another general convention. What I would like to see is the selection of the leader at the convention on consensus basis.

Is the general convention possible in Mangshir?

Yes, it is possible if this is what everyone wants. Originally, the convention was slated to convene in Chaitra, but as people sought for it to happen earlier, the proposal to convene it in Mangshir presented itself.

At a time when the intra-party feud is gaining momentum, the Chinese ambassador seems to be busy meeting leaders. Does it bode well?

People are only talking about the Chinese envoy. Why are they not seeing hundreds of Indian missionaries meeting leaders at their homes, at restaurants? I don’t know for sure what the Chinese envoy has said. Maybe she is learning about our progress in containing the coronavirus. Or, she might have expressed her wishes for stability. I don’t think she can suggest us about splitting or not splitting the party. As her meeting with leaders has happened at this time, people might have that impression that she is micro-managing things. Whoever does it, we must call the good things good and the bad things bad. The only thing is these envoys should keep to diplomatic norms and values.

Now let’s talk about provincial matters. You said the foundation for provinces has been formed. What are the things that have happened so far and that make you feel proud?

We have made a lot of policy-related decisions. It’s true that some of the decisions have yet to be implemented. We had a concept of a multi-cultural village, which was a good concept, but we haven’t been able to manage the land for the project so far. We also had the concept of an international convention centre. The project too is in limbo as we haven’t been able to manage land easily. At first, I said I would do this and that, but now I realise the difficulties in getting things done. Similarly, we said we would build a tunnel road, but it turned out that we didn’t have any tunnel engineers in Nepal. Now, classes for tunnel engineering at Western Engineering Campus have started with the initiative of the provincial government.

We are about to complete the Shaligram road. As for the drinking water problem, we are all set to resolve the problem for 14.5 percent people this fiscal itself. It was delayed due to the lockdown. As per our concept, we have set up Gandaki University. We have also opened an infectious disease hospital.

What are the impediments to achieve the targets set by the province? Staff, law, federal government or something else?

I complained earlier against the federal government for not sending us staff, rules and laws, but now I have stopped doing that. We’ve almost finished forming laws. Some work related to staff management is remaining and some aspects of police act is also remaining. We don’t complain now; we move ahead by treading on the present achievements and available resources.

I have some ideological disagreements with the federal government and I will keep on expressing my differences in opinion.

It's been two and half years since the provincial government was formed. How have you appraised the work performance of your ministers?

Performance is okay. The good thing is no one is involved in any scandal, though there are complaints against some of them. But, I must accept that their performance doesn’t exactly meet my expectations. Perhaps I might have failed to work as per your expectations too. But it must be realised that in the federal system, changing everything may not be possible from the government at one level alone. You must also see how much the federal government has helped. Even if we want to change ministers, we must also seek permission from the party as well.

There are talks about splitting the existing ministries or adding more ministries. What preparations have happened so far towards this effect?

As per the law, we can make 12 ministries. The federal government has made more ministries than allowed by the law; we have less ministries than provisioned by the law. We think we must make up to 10 ministries in Gandaki Province. We need to split 3 existing ministries. For this, I have to talk to the prime minister, because we need secretaries for these ministries. If the federal government sends us three secretaries, we can manage other staff on our own.

The lack of coordination among three levels of government has compromised the performance. What could be the solution?

Yes, there is a problem in the relationship among the three levels of government. When it comes to formulating different acts, most of them have been prepared without consulting the local and provincial governments, and so they seem to be against the spirit and requirements of the province and local governments.