The co-pilots of their self-proclaimed jet called the Nepal Communist Party now don’t even want to talk to each other. At the time of unification of CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) in May 2018, KP Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal had promised to together safely land the jet, taking the country a step closer to the institutionalization of the new federal democratic republic. Old enmities would be buried, they told the country, and they would henceforth work to realize the new party’s motto of “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepalis”. People had a hard time believing these two ambitious men.
Their suspicions are being borne out. The unity was not between two communist parties, it is getting increasingly clear, as it was a marriage of convenience for the two co-chairpersons. Leading a party with near absolute control of the federal apparatus, Oli wanted to run his government unopposed for five years. Nor would he have to relinquish party leadership. Dahal, for his part, wanted to lock-in party chairmanship going into the first NCP general convention. He had also been promised government leadership midway through this parliament’s term. Even if he didn’t get to the PM’s chair, the calculation was, he would vastly increase his old over the party.
Sans any ideological mooring, the two communist parties’ unity was always going to be shaky. Yet while few believed the two leaders would easily set aside personal interests in favor of national interest, they had hoped the NCP government would at least serve out its five-year term—something no post-1990 government had done. Such stability would also bring prosperity. But it turns out there is only a tenuous connection between stability and prosperity.
As badly as PM Oli has performed, most Nepalis don’t want the ruling party to split. Another unmistakable lesson of the fragile post-1990 polity is that powerful parties are a prerequisite for democratic stability. Had the big parties succeeded in resolving their inner conflicts, the country would not have had to witness decades of instability, violence, and stunted growth. The NCP can still be saved if its top leaders, starting with Oli, ditch their short-term calculations and work for the party’s long-term future. Or is that asking too much of the leaders who were at the vanguard of the movement to usher in recent democratic changes?