As political parties mull over the possibility of parliamentary elections in the second week of November, talks of a left alliance are also gathering momentum. And there is a murmur in the political circles that China, once again, is striving to unite Nepal’s communist forces.
It is no secret that Beijing desires a favorable government in Kathmandu—one led by the left, that is. India, the US and the Western countries, meanwhile, want to curtail China’s influence over Nepal.
A Maoist leader tells ApEx that the bitter experience of dealing with the present Congress-led government may have prompted the Chinese to revive the idea of broad left unity and communist government in Kathmandu.
Chinese policymakers believe Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress-led government has deviated from Nepal’s long-standing policy of balanced ties with neighbors.
Beijing also wants to implement all the agreements signed between China and Nepal, which will be possible only with a communist government in Kathmandu. If the current five-party coalition remains intact, the Congress could lead the government again, an outcome that won’t be to China’s liking.
Foreign policy analyst Rupak Sapkota says key external forces are keenly watching ongoing debates on possible alliances. Some of them, according to him, are in favor of giving continuity to the current coalition.
“China obviously wants communist parties to come together and is encouraging the same. That said, our own political forces will have the decisive role in whether that happens,” he says.
Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has of late hinted at the possibility of allying with the UML. However, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba believes that the Maoist leader is playing the ‘left alliance card’ just to roil political waters. The prime minister is not ready to sign a power-sharing agreement with the Maoist party in a hurry, unlike in 2017 when Dahal ditched him to side with the UML.
The acrimonious breakup of the erstwhile Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which was born out of merger between Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Center) and Oli’s UML, is reason enough for Deuba to not give in to the Maoist demand.
Still, there are leaders in both the Maoist party and the UML who continue to push for a left alliance, never mind the lack of trust between Dahal and UML chairman KP Oli. A Maoist leader says Dahal suspects Oli of working behind the scenes to break the current alliance and force the Maoist party to contest elections alone.
“Dahal’s suspicion emanates from the fact that Oli didn’t adhere to the power-sharing agreement before. Dahal is worried that he could be betrayed again,” says the Maoist leader.
He adds that Dahal would this time agree to a left alliance or unity only if there is “a clear deal on government and party leadership”.
Bishnu Rijal, UML Central Committee member, says the time is not ripe for the left bonhomie, with the Maoist party still in a formal alliance with the NC.
“Any talk of a left alliance now increases the Maoists’ bargaining power,” Rijal says. “At the same time, there is a strong opinion in the Maoists that alliance and cooperation among communist forces will be easier and more natural than with the Congress.”
Rijal says there can be meaningful talks on the left alliance only after the Maoist party pulls out of the current coalition.
The Maoists and the UML have not stopped exploring the possibility of an alliance though. In recent months, their leaders have been in constant communication. Just a few days back, senior Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha met Oli to discuss the possibility of a left alliance. Pradeep Kumar Gyawali and Barsha Man Pun, close confidants of Oli and Dahal, respectively, also held similar talks.
The Maoists are better placed to bargain with both the NC and the UML after the party increased its seat number in the local elections in May. Perhaps for the same reason the UML leaders seem more amenable to the idea of a left alliance these days than they were before the local polls.
Oli himself said recently that anything was possible but that the party should also be ready to contest polls alone. There are also strong voices inside the UML that argue that the party could find itself out of power for the next five years without the left alliance.
In order to strengthen his bargaining power, Dahal too is in consultations with the breakaway factions of the mother Maoist party he leads. He has reached out to the splinter parties led by Netra Bikram Chand and Mohan Baidya, offering the carrot of Maoist reunification.
Dahal’s own rank and file are putting pressure on him on left unification. He is said to have delayed the process of appointing party’s office-bearers with the possible unification with other Maoist outfits in mind.
Amid the intrigue surrounding the left alliance, China seems to be making a gentle push.
Beijing is more circumspect about pushing communist leaders to come together because of the backlash it faced in the past. The close engagement between the CPC and Nepal’s communist party had left an impression that China was interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs. This is also one of the reasons ties between Congress and China soured. This time, China is not in a mood to make enemies in Kathmandu.
On June 24, Liu Jianchao, Minister of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, held separate video conversations with Dahal and Oli.
According to a readout issued by the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), all bilateral issues including Belt and Road Initiatives were discussed. The Chinese leader said Beijing was willing to work with Nepal to implement the important consensus reached between the leaderships of the two countries, deepen political trust, promote major projects, cooperate in various fields under the framework of the Belt and Road, and push friendship across. He also talked about “enhancing the party-to-party relations”.
Last time, China had failed to convince the Maoists and the UML to stay together. And after the two parties split, it tried to unsuccessfully convince the Congress that it would not deal with Nepal on the basis of ideology.
Beijing does not want to repeat that mistake. This time, it has taken a more cautious approach on the left unity. Most notably, China’s ambassador in Kathmandu has not been seen making the rounds of the houses of top communist leaders, ‘urging’ them to mend fences.