Sunday, 25 February, 2024

Reconciliation Can Avert UML Split

Narayan Upadhyay


The rift in the CPN-UML witnessed yet another unsavoury turn last week after Karnali Province lawmakers voted in favour of the opposition party's Chief Minister during a no-confidence motion breaching the party whip. Had they not voted for the Maoist Centre's chief minister, the province would have a new chief minister from the UML because the party boasts of a majority in the provincial assembly.
The revolt of the four UML Karnali lawmakers has delivered a severe blow to the party's reputation as a ruling dispensation. It has also sent ripples across the nation's political spectrum. The party establishment had imagined none of its party's lawmakers would take such an extreme and unprecedented step - violating the whip and helping the minority state government withstand the party sponsored no-confidence motion.

Telling message
Amid the growing infighting in the UML, the rebel lawmakers thought it fit to cross the floor so that they would send a telling message to the party establishment led by chair and PM KP Sharma Oli. They accused the party chair of neglecting their aspirations and endeavours. The Karnali Province’s influential UML leader Prakash Jwala, one of the four lawmakers instrumental in failing the censure, rapped the party establishment for ignoring his stature and contribution in Karnali as the senior-most state leader.
After setting unsavoury precedence in the annals of Nepali politics, the rebel representatives stated they had no fear of facing party action. In retribution, the state branch of the party stripped three of their state lawmakers and party membership. However, Chief Minister Mahendra Bahadur Shahi, who showed determination to confront the censure, awarded the three rebel lawmakers with ministerial position, much to the dismay of the establishment.
The act of disregarding the party whip, which many members of the UML establishment side termed as a political crime and unpardonable act, is a grim reminder of the profound schism that has existed in the ruling party. The rebels hail from the Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal faction, which is on a war against the Oli-headed establishment. Soon after voting for the opposing party's chief minister, the rebels stated they took such a move as per the consultation with the central senior leaders. The remark concedes that ruling party leaders have no hesitation in going to any extreme even if such a step may prove self-destructive.
Meanwhile, the establishment must have fretted following the 'unparliamentary act' of breaching whip that helped the Maoist Centre’s chief minister survive to his whole tenure in the office. As the rival leaders have engaged in dislodging the government, the dissent in the Karnali might encourage even the dissatisfied lawmakers in other states to follow the suit.
The anti-establishment side is said to have retained a working rapport with the Maoist Centre even though PM Oli does not see eye-to-eye with Prachanda. The prevailing bad blood has led many to speculate that the Nepal-Khanal faction might lend its support to the Maoist Centre if the latter tries to depose the PM through a no-confidence motion.
In the meantime, the Karnali event may inspire rivals to unseat chief ministers of several provinces where the UML has headed the provincial governments. Chief Ministers in Gandaki, Bagmati, Lumbini and State 1 have already encountered a survival crisis after rival Maoist Centre and Nepali Congress initiated a no-confidence move against them. Rivals in these provinces might have counted on the support from the dissatisfied lawmakers.
At present, the UML finds itself in a grave position. Differences between the two sides have driven the Nepal-Khanal group to create parallel bodies across the states and districts to show their mettle in the party. Although many expected this faction would walk away from the mother party, the leaders belonging to this group have not yet left. This is because they lack the required 40 per cent of members belonging to the party's central committee and the parliament to form their breakaway party.
But the party has witnessed a 'disastrous' move from its legislators. The bigwigs cutting across both factions, if they want to keep the party unity intact at any cost, should try to settle disputes through reconciliation which can be achieved through meaningful dialogues. They now need to give up obstinate and intractable attitude towards one another. The party chair requires listening to the urges and grudges of the rival faction and must try to address them while the rival group should take no vindictive move as it would stop any opportunity of making much-required reconciliation in the party. Without reconciliation among the stalwarts, the party, many say, may head towards an indispensable split. A fissure would only benefit the opposition.

Cue from Maoist splits
The senior leaders must draw a cue from the erstwhile Maoists who have crumbled into many pieces after they joined mainstream politics. After several slices, the Maoists, including the party of Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, have grown weak enormously. The party’s feebleness must have compelled the Maoist supremo to join hands with the UML some four years ago to form the Nepali Communist Party (NCP).
The NCP’s formation handed the unified communist leaders a significant chance to rule the nation with a whopping majority in the House. Following which the Maoist leader too witnessed a surge in his status. But after an intra-party squabble and a Supreme Court verdict, the UML and Maoist Centre separated. After the separation, Prachanda is likely to struggle a lot to gain the lost territory in the nation's politics. He is now expecting to get support from the rival UML faction to form another communist party, possibly under his leadership.
The UML stalwarts should take it by heart that a vertical split will drive many of them out of political reckoning while the same can boost their opponents' chance of wresting the space left void by the feuding leaders.

(Upadhyay is Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal.