The bitter power struggle within the ruling Nepal Communist Party has predictably reached a stage where the warring factions may have to part company and end up contesting elections against each other. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, having an upper hand against his rival and contender for his job, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, took everyone by surprise last Sunday, calling for fresh elections two years ahead of the scheduled end of the term of the House of Representatives. This way, he could also wriggle out of the commitment to step down as prime minister and allow Prachanda to take his place.
The Oli-led Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist and the Prachanda -led Communist Party of Nepal--- Maoist Centre had merged in 2018 to form the united NCP. But despite the merger, rivalry between the two factions continued to fester. Winning the 2017 election on a vicious anti-India platform after the blockade of the border with India two years earlier on the Madhesi issue, the power-sharing agreement between the two leaders unravelled due to Oli’s refusal to make way for Prachanda.
Instead of stepping aside, he played the China card and accused Prachanda of being soft on India. Chinese interference in the internal affairs of Nepal was a public secret. At one time, when it appeared that Oli might be voted out by the ruling NCP MPs, the Chinese ambassador openly intervened on his behalf, preventing his ouster. Even the arbitrary change in the map of Nepal to claim a part of Indian territory as its own was meant to divert people's attention from the betrayal of the promise to Prachanda and to burnish Oil’s ultra-nationalist image.
Remarkably, despite his brazen pro-China, anti-India moves, the NCP refused to fall in his trap. Though Oli’s recommendation to dissolve the Parliament and go for a fresh poll was immediately accepted by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, it has left the ruling party divided in the middle. On Monday, the party censured Oli for dissolving Parliament. But Oli was unmoved, hoping to use the levers of power, including the state media and administrative machinery in his re-election bid.
Meanwhile, the Prachanda group seems to be forcing the issue, which most likely will lead to a split in the NCP. The Prachanda faction is in talks with Opposition parties to offer a united challenge to the Oli faction of the NCP. Both factions are now trading charges, the anti-Oli leaders accusing him of butchering democracy and, in turn, Oli accusing his detractors of sabotaging his government.
India can only watch from a distance the ongoing power struggle between the Communist factions of the NCP even as China courts unpopularity by taking sides to prop up Oil. However, a united Opposition front led by Prachanda can get the better of the crafty Oli in spite of his Chinese props.