Dev Raj Dahal
Deadlock is a condition in which progress is constrained by the opposing perceptions, attitudes and actions of rival factions of parties. It is, however, a compelling feature of Nepali politics. The purpose of politics is to seek solution to problems, not trapped itself in a deadlock. Breaking deadlock involves an adaptation by leaders to the rules of the political game, creative response to issues and reality central to the functioning of political parties, deeper intra- and inter-party relations and operation of the government towards its constitutional goals. It is also persuasive reason that no side expects to lose face or to be seen as cowardly which affects its electoral and political credibility and career prospect. The deadlock of indefinite duration infects the survival, maintenance and performance of party system, polity and the state, dealing a blow to democratic expectation of citizens, social cohesion and recovery of faltering economy.
The setting up of a six-member taskforce by Prime Minister and chair of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) KP Oli and another co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda on August 14 has opened a fresh start of communication on the basis of six-point formula floated by party vice-chair Bam Dev Gautam. An awareness of the costs of invisible dynamics of intra-party row and openness of top leaders to each other can set a positive twist in Nepali politics to vault forward if mutual containment is abandoned for a synergy.
The taskforce is manned by two loyalists each from three factional groups led by Oli, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Prachanda and coordinated by general-secretary Bishnu Poudel. The Oli faction is represented by Poudel and Shankar Pokhrel, Prachanda by Janardan Sharma and Pampha Bhusal, and Nepal by Bhim Rawal and Surendra Pandey. It is mandated to prepare a roadmap for the resolution of dispute, break the status quo, prepare for the party’s general convention, suggest measures to settle the swamp of issues in governing the party and the government, reshuffle the cabinet, clarify position on Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and a review of past understandings and agreements. It then submits the report to co-chair for reflection before discussing it at the Standing Committee.
The preliminary report provides each a legitimate space for belonging to the party and a rough sense of balance aiming to arrest the perturbation of the trajectory of NCP’s unified evolution mutilated by self-preferentiality of the political factions and their split identities. The perceptions of top leaders are definitely critical to the future course of NCP politics, its flexibility and legitimacy from the bottom up. It can shore up internal unity and avert the risk of outside penetration caused by the erosion of lucid ideological glue fitting the party’s tag and matching conduct to ease the national anxiety neurosis.
Dispelling the fear of party split, the taskforce has served a platform for communication between top leaders stalled for long. But the validity of its recommendations will be based on willingness of all sides to accept common definition of issues and make concession to the other, meet the half-way, accept each other’s legitimate concern and strike clear-cut compromise to harmonise the conflicting goals of power-sharing. The rejection of reason for egoism, choice for dead-end, action for stalemate and responsibility for privileges can rebound old pattern of unsocialised appetites which so far spiked the party’s dysfunctions and paralysed the energy of governance. It is certainly hard to seek consensus given dissimilar socialisation of Nepali leaders to a common worldview, uneven experience in coalition politics and differing awareness of running factions devoid of party discipline, the democratic centralism in organisational culture notwithstanding.
Inclusiveness of the taskforce is a good start for trust building. Senior leaders J.N. Khanal, Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Nepal’s earlier anger over its formation without the mandate of party has been settled now by the meeting of party on August 17 which defined its scope, duties, rights, process and legitimacy. Still, it has not fully overcome either the alienation of certain actors or unfreezing positional bargaining or even the legacy of influence of special interest groups acting as spoilers against bridging feelings based on mutual advantage. Nepal’s history reveals that the reports of taskforce, commissions and studies have only indicated a strategy of time pass. Others doubt that it might turn out like that of MCC where rivals of the Prime Minister with majority in the taskforce may not maintain conformity and beat the psychology of past dominating the future.
The thinking, perception and attitude changes have not noticed to a marked shift from polarised attitude to conciliatory tone. A cornered cat fights back. Prime Minister Oli has bluntly ruled out his resignation from Prime Minister and party chairman as non-negotiable as demanded by Prachanda-Nepal-Khanal axis and frankly stated his readiness to face the consequences of such a position. He vowed to foil any manoeuvre to topple him down by inside plot or geopolitical forces and weaken his patriotic stand on the nation’s territorial question. It, however, defies positional harmony. The lynching of demands of his ouster impelled him to commit that he will not interfere in party’s affairs including political appointments and accept Prachanda as executive chair. The improvement of perspective from each side helps assess the issues at stake in terms of merit. Survival in power rests on their mutual cooperation, do no harm and interdependence, not seek factional leverage triggering gridlock.
The roadmap will bear meaning only if there is an ample trust and deeper insight into each other’s motives, goals and strategies. There is no guarantee that Oli supporters will make Prachanda consensual candidate for party chairman in the party convention next year as the recent case of Bam Dev Gautam suggests. Even if he adheres to the ideology of Janatako Bahudaliya Janabad (People’s Multiparty Democracy) abandoning his own version of janabad (democracy) embraced by a host of radical parties that lends resilience to transformational elements within the NCP, the fear of the effect of transformation can prompt the party stalwarts to ally with conservative elements outside the parties though they conserve virtually nothing of the nation’s culture except to split the spoils.
The history of deception and confusion against each other is forcing all sides to calculate its own aspirations, mobilise all forms of associated life and organise action irrespective of what other sides do. The official strategy of co-optation of promising leaders of rival sides into power can sterilise the efficacy of official rivals. But it is only a short-term solution. This means unless there is a consensus among all factions on ideological, principle and value consensus, a mere tactical adjustment to power and opportunity sharing will only defer the problems, not deter their recurrence. The precariousness of ties makes one hard to speculate whether the taskforce will be able to make a breakthrough or only muddle around in an increasingly networked politics driven by powerful middle men. It demands an awareness of the connections of spoilers to the vital decision making centres who are working to impair party unity, perpetuate status quo and monopolise benefits, even crippling the market supplies.
The robust party unity at each layer requires ownership of all in the party and compliance with a set of values, rules, issues, process and discipline and acceptability of deliberative outcome. The power equation-based unity has thus defied honest respect to the rationality of majority decisions revealing democracy’s rational nature. One vital virtue of breaking deadlock lies in finding the mean state between self-indulgence of top leaders and their sensibility to party’s overall interest rooted in a new found popularity in the elections and general interest of the nation defined in terms of constitutional values and improvement of the human condition. Finding the mean point depends on a respect of rational interests of all sides, a mean that finds resonance in the common good and unpacks the entanglement of comprador classes who are the hidden source of vitiating political milieu thus barrier to break the deadlock.
The purpose of any political party is to enable its leaders, cadres and supporters to live in solidarity and achieve collective goals in harmony with constitutional and cosmopolitan spirit. This means political learning from each other for self-transformation about each other’s choice, preference, interests and action is a key to abandon habit-driven mode that made Nepali leaders prisoners of indecision. But when factions of the party are independent of each other, the taskforce should be able to discover what they have in common across diverse set of motivations, ideas, options and manoeuvres. Political wisdom tells that thriving life of NCP is conditioned by its dynamism in inventing and synthesising creative ideas, adaptation to national needs and sound performance, not switching its fault to comprador classes, the unworthy brokers of power.
Power struggle in the NCP bears sense only in terms of alternative policy proposals beneficial to ordinary Nepalis and relevant to settle the problematic condition of the nation brought by pandemic, economic decline, political decay and cross-pressure of geopolitics. A clear picture of the future road map of policies can motivate each side willing to change its position, avoid counterproductive behaviour, emotional voltage and distorted balance and break the deadlock essential for party unity and stability and its support for good governance.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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