Kathmandu: On May 24, K P Sharma Oli, Chairman of CPN-UML, expelled senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, the man who led the party for 15 years as a General Secretary and who also served as a prime minister for around two years, from the party, even nullifying his general membership.
Six months earlier, Nepal and three other leaders–Bhim Rawal, Surendra Pandey, and Ghanasyam Bhusal–were suspended but their suspensions were revoked recently.
With expulsion, Nepal nearly loses all the influence and the role in CPN-UML, of which he was a supreme leader for many years.
Before the merger with Maoist Center in May 2018, when Nepal and Oli were about to contest for chairmanship, they both had nearly equal strength and influence inside the party. K P Oli won the election for chair with a slim margin of 44 votes–with Nepal securing 1003 votes against 1047 of Oli in the last general convention.
That appears to be a defining moment in Nepal’s erosion of influence in CPN-UML. From that moment, Oli started sidelining Madhav Nepal.
After the merger, when he started to speak out against authoritarian and unilateral moves of K P Oli in Nepal Communist Party (NCP), he faced further persecution. When K P Oli unilaterally dissolved the House for the first time on December 20, 2020, Nepal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (co-chair of NCP) stood together and organized street protests against the unconstitutional move across the country. NCP had practically split into two champs.
On March 7, the Supreme Court invalidated the merger, reviving CPN-UML and Maoist Center. By then, Nepal had already lost whatever influence he used to have in CPN-UML. K P Oli had become all-powerful in the party.
Now, Nepal commands the support of only around 25 lawmakers out of 121. Nepal faces a huge existential dilemma in the party: He has been expelled from UML, so he cannot stay there anymore, he cannot part ways and form a new party either because he does not have enough members on his side.
Madhav Nepal sounds conciliatory and he has rarely taken any extremist position in the party and national politics.
For the Nepal faction, it is also an existential question. Party’s own history has not been favorable to those who split away. In 1998, a group of UML leaders broke away and created CPN-ML–where CP Mainali, Bamdev Gautam and Ghanshyam Bhusal were among the influential members. But the ML failed to secure even a single seat in 1999 general elections, leaving the breakaway faction with no option but to return to the mother party. Only CP Mainali stayed with ML, the party that has become insignificant now.
Where did he fail?
Madhav Nepal sounds conciliatory and he has rarely taken any extremist position in the party and national politics. One among the key actors to bring Maoist rebels into the mainstream politics in 2006, Nepal advocates inclusion and justice in the party.
“Had Nepal been the extremist leader, he would have, during his leadership, ravaged and destroyed the politics of his rivals including K P Oli,” said Tara Nath Dahal, a press freedom fighter and observer of Nepali politics. Nepal, he said, was accommodative. Such a nature was taken as weakness by his rival faction, observes Dahal. “This is the main reason for him to lose power. The result is that a strong opposition was formed inside the party and K P Oli appeared in strength,” said Dahal. The major weakness of Nepal, in Dahal’s assessment, was his failure to discourage groupism and factionalism inside the party. “He should have taken the decision on time,” Dahal added.
“Moreover, Nepal failed to play a prominent role during the unification of two communist parties, and let Oli do what he wanted to do,” Dahal said. Nepal also failed to effectively intercept when K P Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal were in open conflict in NCP.
Experts say his modesty and a wish to balance the power between the factions made him appear weak. They argue that the moderate line that CPN-UML often peddled turned out to be a problem, leading to Nepal gradually losing the command in the party. Others see the erosion of Nepal’s influence as natural.
Hari Roka, a political analyst while talking to Nepal Live Today some days earlier had said, “If a leader loses political position and power, supporters start fleeing. That will be the case with K P Oli once he loses the post of PM. What has happened with Nepal will happen with Oli tomorrow.”
Analysts say his modesty and a wish to balance the power between the factions made him appear weak. They argue that the moderate line that CPN-UML often peddled turned out to be a problem, leading to Nepal gradually losing the command in the party.
Taranath Dahal agrees. If Oli loses his post, supporters will leave Oli too, he said.
What next for Madhav Nepal?
Meanwhile, the fate of Madhav Nepal hangs in the balance. In 2009, he was appointed PM though he had lost the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections from two constituencies–Kathmandu-2 and Rautahat-6. The rise and fall of leaders in communist parties are as unpredictable as politics itself. Baburam Bhattarai, another former prime minister and a prominent leader of a communist party, is now just a leader in Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal (JSPN)
Analysts point to various possibilities. According to Taranath Dahal, there are three possibilities: a) Madhav Nepal can leave UML and form a separate communist party. b) Eventually, he will be able to weaken K P Oli inside the party and get his hold back. If Sher Bahadur wins over Oli in the coming days and becomes the prime minister, supporters will start leaving Oli camp. c) He, with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, will form another large communist party to challenge Oli.
But, said Dahal, “If Nepal fails to make a clear stand, his position will be further downgraded for sure.”