By Maila Baje
If Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is delighting in his status as prime minister in waiting, he’s also demonstrating an impassioned longing for the job.
Ever since the unification of his Maoist stream with the Marxist-Leninists to create the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Dahal has found himself in a fix. As the leader of a party that waged both a people’s war and peace to astonishing effect, Dahal is incapable of playing second fiddle. Yet his current status as co-chair of the ruling party alongside a man who also happens to be the incumbent prime minister constrains the onetime Maoist supremo.
Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s exertions over the past six months must have emboldened Dahal to seek to cement his status as the logical successor. In that sense, his moves are carefully crafted to defend the party but not necessarily the prime minister.
In barely veiled swipes at the government, Dahal has been warning against the emergence of a tax system that could eventually undermine federalism. He has been more candid in criticizing the government for failing to create a climate conducive to foreign investment.
The rejection of Deepak Raj Joshee’s nomination as chief justice has upheld the supremacy of parliament, Dahal said. He could not have been oblivious to the shenanigans preceding the legislative committee’s vote nor the extent of the difficulties such comments could add to Oli’s.
Dahal’s assertion that talks were the only way to resolve political differences may have sounded like friendly advice to former acolyte Comrade Biplav and others against wasting valuable time and energy on futile pursuits. But couldn’t it also be construed as an admonition to the government?
Of late, Dahal appears to have been drawing support from meaningful external quarters. When outgoing US Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz paid a farewell call on the NCP co-chair, the mutual admiration they lavished almost made you forget that the Maoists were once on the US government’s terrorist list. (Or that former US president George W. Bush had advised former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, during their Oval Office meeting, to “finish them off” as part of the unfolding global war on terror.)
During their meeting in Kathmandu last month, visiting Vice Minister of International Department of the Communist Party of China Wang Yajun conveyed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s warm greetings to Dahal. And that was just before Wang thanked Dahal for the political stability maintained in Nepal following the alliance forged among the big communist parties.
And now the Indian media have been playing up Dahal’s scheduled visit to China and India in September, particularly underscoring its potential contribution to fostering trilateral cooperation. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the reporters and editors across the southern border were writing about our serving prime minister. Since there’s hardly any evidence that Oli has subcontracted that vital dimension of Nepali foreign policy to his party co-chair, it’s fair to wonder what our prime minister may be wondering.
The experience of two tenures at the helm must be enough to educate Dahal on what to expect a third time. But what is a politician without ambition? All the better if you can actually cast it as an onerous calling.