Nepal is not known for pursuing an ideology or principle based power-politics but the ‘strange-bed fellows’ journey that Nepali Congress and Maoists have decided to undertake together as a coalition government is already being seen as one of short duration run.
A fragmentation of the earlier coalition that comprised the K P Oli-led Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and the Maoists has now seen the latter move into the fold of the Nepali Congress indicating that it is for power at the cost of principle. The fear of the communists sweeping the polls beginning with local body elections slated for November has vanished now, although the chances of an election taking place under the new dispensation are very low.
The relationship between Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his partner-cum-new found patron Sher Bahadur Deuba has been complex and visibly without mutual trust in the past. Deuba, however, has agreed to back Dahal as the next PM despite his party being the largest with more than twice numbers in Parliament.
Deuba was the only top leader belonging to the ‘enemy class’ who was personally targeted by the Maoists, at least twice, during the insurgency. Deuba had offended the Maoists by putting a price on them at a time when both the US and India government had declared them the ‘terrorists’. How will the two leaders reconcile their old animosity as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission scrutinises more than 60,000 cases filed before it perhaps involving Dahal and Deuba as well as their followers? The TRC has made it clear that general amnesty is not something it will endorse.
At present, Deuba is quite powerful although his Nepali Congress remains faction-ridden; he can handpick ministers in the coalition arrangement under Dahal but the first likely crisis, perhaps very soon, could be demands from victims of human rights violations during the conflict era that justice be expedited.
Dahal has already come in for sharp criticism in the media and Left circles for having betrayed the communist alliance and for allegedly being used by India to topple a ‘nationalist Oli’. Secondly, he needs to strike a balance between factions within the Maoist Party which half a dozen breakaway groups had recently joined.
Dahal had resigned as Prime Minister on May 3, 2009 after the then president and coalition partners as well as Oli had opposed his sacking the then Army chief Roomangud Katawal who was subsequently reinstated.
The discord between him and the Nepal army has not been erased completely and with Dahal rapidly losing his perceived image as a politician with a difference and having yielded much ground during the second parliamentary elections, he is certain to find it tougher as well as more challenging at the helm.