Prachanda forms new Cabinet after leaving Nepali Congress

The former rebel leader sides with his old ally Oli in move to renew Left unity bid, but observers are sceptical    

Published - March 08, 2024 06:00 am IST - KATHMANDU

 Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal with Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist Chairman KP Sharma Oli in Kathmandu on Monday.

Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal with Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist Chairman KP Sharma Oli in Kathmandu on Monday. | Photo Credit: ANI

Two days after breaking the one-year-old alliance with the Nepali Congress, Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ on Wednesday formed a new Cabinet by inducting Ministers from the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), his new main coalition partner, and two other parties.

In a sudden move, Prachanda on Monday broke up with the Congress and joined hands with former Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli, Chairman of the CPN-UML, with the promise to give a renewed push to the “Leftist movement” in Nepal.

Prachanda, also the Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), inducted eight Ministers from the CPN-UML, five Ministers from his own party, four from the Rastriya Swatantra Party and two from CPN (Unified Socialist) on Wednesday. 

Prachanda and Mr. Oli had a tough time on Tuesday and Wednesday as they struggled to reach a deal on sharing Ministries, just as a jilted Congress was in action to stall the new communist coalition.

With the formation of the new Cabinet with a new set of Ministers, the left alliance is back at the helm in Kathmandu, pushing Congress, the largest force in parliament, to the Opposition seat. 

Bone of contention

Lately, Prachanda had been repeatedly saying that his government had not been able to yield the desired results. Party insiders and political commentators said his remarks, however, stemmed from the notion that Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba was continuously stalling his plan to reshuffle some Ministers. 

“The Prime Minister wanted a free hand in the functioning of the government but he was not getting that. So he was looking for an excuse to ditch the Congress,” said Mumaram Khanal, a writer and political commentator. “This is what often happens when a smaller party leads the government.”

Also, some decisions taken by the General Committee meeting of the Congress party last month had caused discomfort in the Maoist party. Some Congress dissidents had raised questions about alliance politics and had called for not forging alliances with any party in the next elections, which Mr. Deuba agreed to. But more than that, according to observers, a document criticising the Maoist “people’s war” had vexed them the most. 

Mr. Khanal, who in the past was supportive of the Maoist Centre party, said there were some financial interests of Prachanda which were not addressed by Congress Ministers. “But not just that, a host of issues led to the fall of the Maoist-Congress coalition,” added Mr. Khanal.

Prachanda found a good excuse in the impending election of the National Assembly chair. Ignoring an earlier deal with the Congress, the Maoist Centre said it would field its own candidate. The National Assembly chair election is scheduled for March 12. The post is crucial because the chair is a member of the Constitutional Council that recommends members for various constitutional bodies.  

Prachanda has a history of betraying both Mr. Deuba and Mr. Oli.

The CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre had merged in 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in a bid to form a large Left force in Nepal. However, power struggle between Prachanda and Mr. Oli led to the implosion of the NCP in 2021.  

After facing a gradual electoral decline over the years, the Maoist Centre fought the 2022 general elections under an alliance with Congress. 

After the Congress party’s refusal to let him lead the government in December 2022, Prachanda swiftly sided with Mr. Oli, and was elected Prime Minister with the CPN-UML’s backing . However, in February last year, the UML pulled out of the government after the Maoist Centre decided to support the Congress candidate in the presidential poll. Congress joined Prachanda’s government. A year later, he is back with Mr. Oli again.

“This Maoist-UML alliance has been formed purely out of Prachanda’s personal interest,” said Mr. Khanal. “His one-point agenda is remaining in power, by hook or by crook. He knew his tenure was going to end as per an earlier deal, so he pulled a switcheroo, which he is very good at.”

Prachanda, a former rebel leader who led an armed struggle from 1996 to 2006, until a few weeks ago was vowing to take the Maoist-Congress alliance to the next elections. 

Commentators in Nepal even dub Prachanda the source of instability, given the way he tends to switch sides at the drop of a hat.

On Monday afternoon, while talking about the change in alliance, Prachanda said: “The country will be in turmoil until the day I die.”

The Maoist-Congress relationship had broken beyond repair, according to Minendra Rijal, a Congress leader. 

“I am not surprised as a communist coalition was bound to happen sooner rather than later,” he said. “It was known to all that Prachanda would do all he could to stall handing over power regardless of the deal that had been forged.”

According to an agreement that the Maoists and Congress signed in February last year, Prachanda was supposed to hand pver power to Mr. Deuba after two years. “Prachanda was not willing to do so. Already in his third stint as Prime Minister, Prachanda wants to continue in power as long as he can,” said Mr. Rijal. “Therefore, that he would reach out to Mr. Oli was not a matter of if but when.”   

Renewed bid for Left unity?

Hours after breaking the old alliance, Mr. Prachanda on Monday said that he would relaunch the communist unity efforts immediately.

Observers, however, say a communist unity is a far-fetched idea. 

Though both the Maoists and the CPN-UML call themselves “communists”, they are poles apart ideologically. The CPN-UML has for long been a vocal critic of the Maoists’ “people’s war.” 

Hari Sharma, a writer and political commentator, described the new development as “nothing but some interest groups coming together.”

“Nepali political parties changing partnerships frequently in the name of forging an alliance is rather a dalliance,” said Mr. Sharma. 

A communist unity in Nepal is something Beijing has always wished for, and the new developments may come to its liking. On Tuesday, during a regular press briefing in Beijing, noting the developments in Nepal , Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said, “We would like to work with the new government to advance the China-Nepal strategic partnership of cooperation featuring ever-lasting friendship for development and prosperity”. 

New Delhi has not reacted to the suddenly evolved communist-dominated dispensation in Kathmandu.

That he was a vocal critic of India is a thing of the past and Prachanda cannot afford to ruffle Delhi’s feathers now, , say observers.

(Sanjeev Satgainya is an independent journalist based in Kathmandu)

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