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A simple model of seniority and turnover

BY MAILA BAJE
Having resolved its christening controversy by adding the party abbreviation to its full name, the Communist Party of Nepal seems to have resolved the seniority row, too – for now.
Upendra Yadav, president of the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal, was appointed Health Minister but emerged from the swearing-in ceremony as a full-fledged deputy prime minister. Ishwar Pokharel, the hitherto No. 2 in Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli’s cabinet, too, was promoted and kept his rank.
Not without some creative thinking on the part of Oli and his NCP co-chair, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’. Now, for the head of a government commanding such preponderance in parliament on its own, Oli’s eagerness to induct Yadav was always intriguing.
One idea may have been to force Yadav to deliver on some of the demands he has been making vis-à-vis the Constitution. Another could be the imperative of building a ‘united front’ in an effort to improve our dominant communist government’s image at a time when quizzical international headlines have begun popping up.
There was no way Oli’s initial stand of not appointing deputy premiers was going to hold in this instance. Yadav, a former deputy prime and foreign minister, was content with the health portfolio as long as he was ranked second after the prime minister.
That was the last straw for Pokharel, a former deputy prime minister who consented to become a mere minister this time on account of the Oli rule. Furthermore, Pokharel just lost the party general-secretaryship to Bishnu Poudel and could barely contain his outrage in public comments.
But Oli and Dahal found an opening. While having to work under Yadav was a no-no for Pokharel, Yadav wouldn’t insist on seniority if he got DPM rank. If Oli made the no-DPM rule, he could break it. With Pokharel and Yadav placated (for now), Oli needs to contend with former prime minister Jhal Nath Khanal, who has vowed to aggressively challenge his apparent demotion from within the new party.
How Dahal tackles the seniority row within the ranks of former Maoists will now come to the fore. Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’, another former deputy prime minister, agreed to the home ministership because of the Oli rule. If the prime minister could break his stricture to accommodate a non-party member, should the obligation of organizational loyalty alone be enough to bound ‘Badal’? For now, perhaps.
Oli and Dahal both know that the seniority row is merely an extension of the discontent flowing from both streams that make up today’s unified communist party. From an optics point of view, ‘Badal’ wouldn’t want to spoil the moment by making seemingly petulant demands this early. As a master ex-rebel, moreover, he would want to measure the depths of the broader disaffection all around in order to mount an efficacious insurrection. Time, if not much, is on the side of ‘Badal’, Khanal & Co.
Oli would have a hard time keeping his flock in line, especially in view of all those severance catalysts strewn around him. Given enough time, Dahal, too, could find it easier to point fingers at the premier and join hands with Khanal. And we’re not even talking about that other ex-deputy prime minister, Bam Dev Gautam.
Yet Oli still sets the rules by precedent, if nothing else. Since seniority is likeliest channel for disaffection to break out, Oli could offer to retain the premiership on the lowest rung of the ladder and let aspirants duke it out for the top ministerial slot. That formula could work in the party, too.

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