The Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent lockdown, as well as the new political map of Nepal incorporating territories also claimed by India seem to have shielded Nepal Communist Party chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli from his opponents seeking his resignation until last month.
An uncanny silence prevails these days in the ruling Nepali Communist Party, which until recently saw factions led by co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal resoundingly demand that Oli step down.
“The entire nation is in a lockdown. We are fighting against Covid-19, and it is getting serious by the day,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member considered an ally of Madhav Nepal. “There are other pressing issues on the table. So it would not be ethical to demand that the prime minister resign,” he said.
Leaders from the opponent factions told the Post that they haven’t given up on their demand that Oli resign, but the agenda has been withheld to focus on the budget and amendment of the constitution to endorse the new map.
But party leaders from the Oli camp say demand for the prime minister’s resignation was never an issue, and even if some leaders raised it, it is no longer relevant.
“Demand for the prime minister’s resignation was never an issue. No one had raised it seriously,” said Bishnu Poudel, the party’s general secretary. “Second, at this critical juncture, demand for the prime minister’s resignation is completely irrelevant as the country is dealing with the daunting challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts.”
Many within the party, however, say rather than the pandemic, it was the border issue with India that suddenly came to Oli’s rescue.
Earlier this month, when India announced the opening of a road via Lipulekh, the Oli government initially tried to deal with it by issuing a statement and sending a diplomatic note to New Delhi.
But as pressure mounted on the government to make a strong statement, officials decided to release a new political map incorporating the territories of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh within Nepal’s borders. The Oli government then swiftly registered a constitution amendment proposal in Parliament to update the country’s map on the national emblem.
Political parties from across the spectrum had no option but to support the amendment. Oli’s vocal critics within the ruling party also fell in line, as the issue of the map was related to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, insiders say. Anyone who would demand the resignation of a prime minister who had taken up such a herculean task risked being labelled “anti-national’, according to them.
Party insiders say Oli may have managed to silence demands for his resignation for now, but he will soon have to face various committees of the party, where his support base is weak.
Leaders, especially from rival camps, are saying the party must convene meetings of party committees, including the Standing Committee to discuss a host of issues. Demand for Olis resignation may not be on the agenda,“but we have to discuss the way the government is handling the Covid-19 pandemic and other issues,” said Pant.
One of the major issues that Oli will have to tackle in the immediate future is related to the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact, under which the United States is to provide a $500million grant to Nepal.
“We have asked the leadership to convene the meeting of the Standing Committee immediately after the budget session of Parliament is over,” said Pant.
According to leaders from the rival camps, the leadership’s failure to allow the party to take ownership of important issues such as the amendment of the constitution will also be raised during the meetings.
“Even the main opposition Nepali Congress decided on the issue of the new map as an institution,” said Beduram Bhusal, a standing committee member. “But we didn’t do that,” he said.
“That apart, none of the issues we raised earlier about running the government in a systematic way or completing the party merger have been discussed and resolved.”
The MCC issue continues to plague the party, with a section of leaders including Dahal and Jhalanath Khanal expressing reservations about it. Standing Committee Member Bhim Rawal and Khanal recently wrote to Oli reminding him of recommendations made on the issue by the party-formed panel led by Khanal. The committee had said that the deal cannot be ratified in its present form.
Party General Secretary Poudel, however, said that the MCC also won’t be a thorny issue in the party. “Party leaders don’t have differences over MCC,” said Poudel. “We will decide based on consensus.”