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Oli wants back in: Will he be the same man?

By Maila Baje
image0015Taking a leaf from former king Gyanendra, ex-premier Khadga Prasad Oli the other day sought to plant new seeds of national reassurance.
“Some forces may have succeeded in removing the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist from power, but they have not been able to remove us from the people’s hearts and minds,” he declared the other day.
From the turnout at the recent legs of the UML’s Mechi-Mahakali Campaign, Oli can’t be entirely derided. In fact, the man continues to draw our collective attention, if not our unrelenting empathy.
In the election-vs-amendment rigmarole, Oli has gotten the upper hand – for now.  Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has adopted an entirely uncharacteristic Dhristarashtra-like aura of resignation in his current tenure on almost everything of substance. On the question of elections, however, he retains the revolutionary’s defiance in favor of the sanctity of the popular will.
Expecting to ride high on a nationalist agenda, the UML can’t wait for the elections. Its rivals see this antsiness with a mixture of trepidation and disdain.
During times like these, count on former Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai to eke out relevance from the margins of seeming idleness. Oli and C.K. Raut are two sides of the same coin, Bhattarai posited the other day.
Whether Bhattarai – who is battled disgruntlement within his new Naya Shakti – has exposed himself to charges of sedition in having sought to elevate the separatist Madhesi leader to the status of the leader of the opposition is perhaps immaterial to Oli.
Nor does the UML chief seem too bothered by Bhattarai’s other insinuation – that Oli is the most prominent anti-Madhesi figure in the political firmament. A Gorkhali castigating a Jhapali on that count does defy Nepali political geography.
Still, Oli has something better going for him. The last time Maila Baje checked, Oli had never advocated the full and complete separation of the northern Nepali heft as an or-else proviso of his political program.
For now, Oli’s parables are focused on the what-might-have-been strand of national prognostication. His government’s ‘northern expedition’ retains much of its original public popularity amid persistent cheap shots of the Maoist-Centre and the Nepali Congress and the official cold-shoulder extended to the Chinese.
Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress is no doubt itching to take over from Dahal, citing the incumbent’s ineptitude. (Hah, ineptitude.) Dissidence building under the leadership of Ram Chandra Poudel doesn’t seem to have dampened Deuba’s ambitions.
Oli, however, is intent on invoking the full deal. For him, the Dahal-Deuba power-sharing accord was predicated on a successful Maoist-Centre-led tenure paving the way for the Nepali Congress’ leadership. Dahal’s current ineptitude, in Oli’s formulation, should block Deuba’s rise to the premiership.
Oli’s ousting as premier last year has only served to strengthen his position within the UML. Former premiers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhal Nath Khanal don’t look like men in a hurry to return to the lucrative perch inside Singha Durbar.
Oli served the longest as premier in waiting. He is also benefiting the most from his perceived successes in office. The man may not be saying it in so many words, but Oli certainly wants back in. The question is: will he be the same man in his second avatar as prime minister?

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