By Maila Baje
What has become of Comrade Pushpa Kamal Dahal these days?
For the second time in as many months, he has sullenly walked back from public avowals to dislodge Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s government. You can understand the whole two-steps-forward-one-step-back claptrap he profited from in the deadly old days. But this kind of indecision?
Is Dahal still not confident that would ever become prime minister again?
After the last time Dahal made a 180, he could at least boast of having consolidated the Maoists by bringing most of the splinters back into the new Maoist Centre tent. Regrouping and reorganizing fit the mold of strategic pauses that characterized the “people’s war”.
Moreover, Dahal forced Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba to take a disproportionate part of the responsibility for that anti-Oli debacle.
This time, it looks like Dahal has simply punted. After his lieutenants, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Barsha Man Pun and Janardan Sharma did much of the heavy-lifting, all Dahal could do was remind Oli of the imperative of implementing the nine-point agreement that epitomized the Maoist leader’s last about-turn.
To be fair, Dahal has enough justification to want to see Oli go. The current government’s failure to address Madhesi demands, at least in the eyes of its critics, underscores its inability to implement the new Constitution, its prime task.
Moreover, one can easily imagine the kinds of pressures the Maoist leader is under from within his party, from the wider political establishment, and, most importantly, the foreign fraternity to part ways with Oli. Such pressures could only have multiplied in view of the upcoming elections.
Finally, the coalition between the two largest communist parties must be inherently unstable. They are, after all, two distinct and independent entities for good reason.
But, then, another set of questions bedevils Dahal. Who after Oli? There’s no guarantee it’s going to be him. The Nepali Congress, stung by the last episode, wants Dahal to officially pull out of the coalition before it can even think about joining hands with the Maoists to the form the next government. Dahal fears Deuba might just be using the Maoists to return to Singha Durbar. Even if Deuba failed in that endeavor, he still might succeed in tarnishing Dahal’s image this time.
The wider political context is also in a flux. You have two deputy premiers who reject key tenets of the new Constitution. The prime minister’s loyalists explain the anomaly away by calling it the purest manifestation of freedom of expression. One deputy premier, with his party’s ministers in tow, went to greet the former king on his birthday exuding all but an official air. With republicanism, secularism and federalism on the line, could Dahal in good conscience contemplate crafting a new round of instability?
From that perspective, continuing bargaining with Oli from inside the tent might not be such a bad idea. The prime minister has dangled the prospect of an expansion of the government. Maybe Dahal can neutralize some of his internal pressures by nominating more Maoist ministers. Periodic polite nudges to Oli on the need to remember the nine-point agreement would do the rest of the trick.
Preserving the status quo in such a barefaced way has its own downside, especially for someone who still likes to think of himself as a revolutionary. But, remember, we’re talking about someone who has also tried everything else.
Deciphering Dahal’s indecision
By Maila Baje