Oli cult in the making: How UML’s national congress is fueling Oli’s authoritarian streak

At an event which is supposed to elect central committee members and office bearers through elections, cadres and influential leaders stood firmly against the competitive process.

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Chitwan: On the night of 28 November 2021, Nepal’s largest communist party CPN-UML’s National Congress witnessed tension. Supporters of KP Oli started chanting slogans in favor of him and against all those candidates who did not agree to Oli’s idea of declaring a central committee by his will.

In what appears to be the biggest irony, the general convention, which is supposed to choose new leadership by following the democratic process of elections, turned out to be a gathering that tried, as far as possible, to oppose the election of new office bearers.

Leaders and cadres close to KP Oli stood at the forefront of this opposition.

This has left the UML leaders who have been questioning Oli leadership visibly distraught. The impact has trickled down. Some leaders have already rejected what he offered while some have registered their candidacies to challenge Oli’s consensus list.

On Monday, Lal Babu Pandit, an MP and former minister known for his austere lifestyle, rejected the Central member position offered to him, taking to social media to announce he has quit all the executive positions in the party.

After registering his candidacy for secretary, another dissenting leader Tanka Karki said, “I am with the political process of competition.” The political process of competition will only enhance the quality of the political leadership, Karki added.

Prominent leaders such as Ghanashyam Bhusal and Bhim Rawal are vying for vice-chair and chair, respectively.

Another irony prevalent in the venue is that the delegates of the 10th National Congress, mostly the local level leaders, were chanting slogans against the election process.

KP Oli and his followers gave a strong message loud and clear: If any office bearer is to be chosen, they should be chosen by Oli. Oli is CPN-UML and CPN-UML is Oli.

Apparently, Oli has elevated many of the UML cadres who lost the election in the last General Convention to the top post this time around. Bishnu Rimal is an example.

This is happening within the party which had made a visible shift toward moderate democratic principle by adopting Janatako Bahudaliya Janabad (People’s Multiparty Democracy), the political philosophy coined by Madan Bhandari, one of the founding leaders of the CPN-UML, whose philosophy is invoked in nearly all the programs even today, at least its name.

One-man absolutism

KP Sharma Oli proposed such names in the central committee on Sunday who have remained his loyalists all along, who never question him and have consistently been promoting the Oli cult.

On late Sunday night, Oli announced the names of central committee members and officials, including loyalists Surya Thapa and Bishnu Rimal, among others.

The impact of absolutism has now been prevalent all over. Some have openly expressed their dissents.

However, some of his loyalists, who are not on the list, have not spoken against Oli. Bishal Bhattarai, chief whip of the CPN-UML, who is said to be close to Oli, is not on the list.

A confidant of Bhattarai told Nepal Live Today that Bhattarai was and is close to Oli. “But Oli’s decision has come as a surprise. Bhattarai is serving as the chief whip. The chairman has assured a position for Bhattarai in Province 1,” the confidant said.

The impact of absolutism has now been prevalent all over. Some have openly expressed their dissents.

“In a democracy, a political party is not under anybody’s control. In a democracy, every man is free,” said Ghanashyam Bhusal at the Convention venue. “UML needs to be brought to the right place. If that does not happen, it will suffer a lot in the coming days.”

“Representatives are sovereign,” said Bhim Rawal, declaring his disagreement over the overall process of the National Congress till now.

If you are not with me, you are against me

One of the tactics Oli is using in the convention venue can be best expressed in the biblical expression–“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”. And as such, delegates were heard chanting slogans like “be aware of the force behind party split”.

A perception prevalent in the mind of the representatives and leaders of CPN-UML in the ongoing National Congress is that they are left with only two options: either support Oli and get satisfied with whatever he offers or develop enmity against him. Whoever remains silent may get a position (if the chair wishes), and whoever expresses dissent or opposes Oli will automatically be his enemy and will get no position at any level.

The representatives Nepal Live Today met in Sauraha said, ‘The Chairman has a strong coterie in the party. One who is against Oli would be a target of the coterie. This is how the party has become. How has this national congress become democratic?’

They added, “How can representatives stand against the most practical democratic process–elections?”