Nepali politics has entered a new phase of turmoil following Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s dissolution of the federal lower house and call for a fresh election. Soon after, the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) split, after only 31 months of merger, with both KP Oli and (Pushpa Kamal) Dahal-(Madhav Kumar) Nepal factions now claiming to represent the authentic NCP.
The NCP’s student wing, the All Nepal National Independent Student’s Union (ANNISU), is similarly divided. Following the 2018 merger of CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center), the two student wings had also formally started the unification process. Yet the mother party has now been split even before the merger of the two student wings could be completed.
As is the case with top party leadership, student leaders are bitterly divided on recent events. Most blame the leaders of rival factions, and each is busy protesting its own case.
“It is crystal clear that Dahal-Nepal camp sowed troubles in the party as well as in the government under the influence of external actors,” says Birendra Rawal, central committee member, ANNISU. For him, election is the only way out of the current political logjam. “Why does the Dahal-Nepal camp want to get to power through the back door? Why isn’t it ready to go to the people and get their mandate?”
In sharp contrast, Jack Aryal, an ANNISU cadre from Gorkha, labels Oli’s move a “coup” and holds him entirely responsible for the current mess. “Oli affected this constitutional coup under the designs of India and the US,” he avers.
It won’t be wrong to say that right now, instead of playing a constructive role—for instance in helping the two factions bridge their differences, or in shaping the post-split ideological debate—the rival student leaders are only parroting the top leaders they back.
For Rachumani Luitel, ANNISU Kathmandu District Committee Member, KP Oli is the main culprit as well. “Oli wants to control both the party and the government and to impose an authoritarian rule,” he says.
Blaming Oli for undercutting communist ethos and violating the national constitution, Luitel questions the need to dissolve the House. “Other avenues could have been explored. Yet Oli’s authoritarian mindset was not ready to seek the suggestions of others in the party,” he says.
Sandeep Luitel, an ANNISU leader at Baneswor Multiple Campus, echoes Rachumani. He cannot understand how Oli could have dissolved the House when there is no constitutional provision to do so. “Dahal had only brought a proposal for party reform. And look how childishly Oli acted on it!”
Student leaders supporting Oli faction say party split and House dissolution happened because the rival faction forced the prime minister’s hands. On the other hand, Ashmita Thapa, an ANNISU Central Committee member, thinks “impatience and irresponsibility prompted the split and House dissolution.”
Ujjwal Khadka, an ANNISU RR Campus Committee member, foresees turmoil in Nepali politics after the NCP split. Unlike other student leaders, he holds all top party leaders equally responsible. “The problem is, even the second-rung leaders succumbed to their greed for power,” he says.
He says the future of the ruling party and Nepali polity are both in the hands of the Supreme Court.
Thapa says it was inevitable that the fission at the top percolated into the student union. But she thinks student leaders should not blindly favor their previous role model leaders. “The students should their raise voice against what is wrong, irrespective of who commits the wrong,” she says.
Students of neither faction were confident that the party could be put back together, or that the two sets of students can coordinate on anything immediately. “For now, protesting for our faction is the only way to be loyal to our leaders,” Aryal of the Dahal-Nepal faction adds. For his part, Rawal of the Oli faction says, “We did try to find a middle-way out with the other side, to no avail. Now, an election is the only way out.”
Khadka, one of the rare ANNISU student leaders caught in the middle, advises student leaders to work towards ensuring political stability in the country rather than getting themselves enmeshed in “some stupid power struggle”.
Most student leaders APEX talked to said they believed in the power of student politics to bring change and added that it was their duty to raise voice against what was wrong. Whatever they say, the gulf between the two sets of student leaders appears as wide as the one between their senior leaders.