At the final session of the Kantipur Conclave, during a conversation with Sudheer Sharma, editor-in-chief of the Post’s sister paper Kantipur, Pushpa Kamal Dahal spoke confidently, saying he had no desire to become the prime minister anytime soon.
Dahal, in recent times, has appeared much more self-assured, and many believe that his newfound certainty stems from the comfortable grip he has established on the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
“The party dynamics may not appear to have changed much since the Central Committee meeting when seen from outside. But, internally, the equation has definitely evolved,” said Hemraj Bhandari, a Central Committee member.
The first signs of Dahal's consolidation of power came with the party's nomination for Speaker of the House. Co-chairs Dahal and KP Sharma Oli, who is also the prime minister, had long been at odds over the Speaker candidate. Despite Oli batting for Subas Nembang, it was Agni Sapkota, Dahal's choice, who went on to get the nomination and become Speaker.
Party insiders say this was the first time since the unification of the CPN-UML and Maoist Centre that Dahal emerged dominant in the party. And it required a lot of machination, as Dahal sought to bring former UML leaders like Madhav Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bamdev Gautam over to his side.
During the recently concluded five-day Central Committee meeting, Dahal also managed to prompt leaders to raise the issues that he wanted discussed, including the electoral system and the Millenium Challenge Corporation’s Nepal Compact.
According to one party leader, the outcome of the Central Committee meeting, which concluded on February 2, has emboldened Dahal.
Oli, who had once dominated the party, is now scrambling to appease the party's UML faction with a show of unity, said one party leader.
Last week, a photo of Oli holding a musical instrument, flanked by Khanal and Nepal, was widely shared on social media after being put up by his secretariat.
"That was meant to send a message of unity to the former UML stalwarts," said the party leader.
Nepal and Khanal’s growing proximity to Dahal, especially since a meeting at Gautam’s residence, has created unease in the Oli camp. Since Nepal has significant clout in the party, the Oli camp “is trying to break the bond between Nepal and Dahal,” according to Bhandari.
In recent days, Dahal has even publicly criticised the government's performance, much to Oli’s chagrin.
“We have been saying our [the government] performance has been very good, but people are not really happy,” Dahal told an event hosted by the Federation of Nepali National Industries and Entrepreneurs in Kathmandu on Friday.
Rather than bridging the divide, the Central Committee meeting only exposed fault lines within the party, said a leader.
“Dahal took the offensive while Oli appeared defensive during the Central Committee meeting," said Lekhnath Neupane, a central member.
The way the MCC became a major agenda of the Central Committee meeting also showed the former Maoists’ dominance. Objection to the US programme from some former UML leaders, including the likes of Bhim Rawal, has become an irritant for the Oli camp, which is strongly pushing for the MCC.
After the MCC debate at the Central Committee meeting, a three-member team led by Khanal with Rawal and Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali as members is “studying” the details of the programme to recommend parliamentary ratification, or amendments.
Both Rawal and Khanal have reservations about the MCC, whose ratification will ensure a $500 million US grant for Nepal.
Insiders say how the team comes up with its recommendations will be crucial in defining the future dynamics of the Nepal Communist Party.
Dahal, at the Kantipur Conclave session on Saturday, said that the MCC will be ratified, but was quick to add that “some study” is required.
For the moment, Dahal, who now commands a majority in the nine-member Secretariat, appears to have the upper hand but that is not necessarily a good thing for the party, say insiders.
"There is now more of a risk of internal manoeuvring by the top leadership," said one Central Committee member. “And this at a time when the leadership should be focusing on strengthening the party.”