An­other punc­tured trial bal­loon

People's Review - - COMMENTARY -

As trial bal­loons go, this one wasn't sup­posed to come crash­ing down – at least not so spec­tac­u­larly. Fully in­flated and ac­ti­vated, this blimp had shed traces of ten­ta­tive­ness be­fore it was floated. The sit­ting Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal ( NCP) mem­ber for Kath­mandu-7 con­stituency, Ram Bir Manand­har, re­signed to make way for party leader Bam Dev Gau­tam's can­di­dacy in a by­elec­tion. This bla­tant crys­tal­liza­tion of the Gau­tam-Pushpa Ka­mal Da­hal al­liance in the rul­ing party fol­lowed se­ri­ous rum­blings within a party that once took pride in its dis­ci­pline. Barely had Da­hal's high-pro­file geopo­lit­i­cal so­journ fal­tered in its orig­i­nal pur­pose than Mad­hav Ku­mar Nepal took ad­van­tage of Prime Min­is­ter Khadga Prasad Oli's ab­sence to mount a vir­tual in­sur­rec­tion. Oli, for his part, sounded least both­ered and con­tin­ued on to Costa Rica af­ter ad­dress­ing the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York City. When he ar­rived home, he did so with a coun­te­nance that con­veyed ev­ery­thing was in or­der. Days later, when key Mad­hesi lead­ers met the prime min­is­ter, one in­ter­locu­tor couldn't help telling re­porters how wea­ried he had found Oli. Now, even if the bur­dens of his sec­ond pre­mier­ship were so un­bear­able, Oli wouldn't be one to chicken out, would he? Wouldn't he ben­e­fit from a party coup – even one he could eas­ily quell? Af­ter all, a ca­su­alty is far more re­spectable than a cow­ard. So you're force to won­der whether this whole Bam Dev thing had Oli's im­pri­matur all along. Who re­ally knows? But our premier cer­tainly seemed to let Messrs. Da­hal, Nepal and Gau­tam feel that way, while went sniff­ing around the neigh­bor­hood. Pre­dictably, the Bishnu Poudels and Ish­war Pokharels were up in arms. Raghu­bir Ma­haseth en­dorsed the sor­did­ness of in­flict­ing a costly by­elec­tion, say­ing he, too, would be pre­pared to quit if the party asked him to. As the no­tion of a Ma­haseth speak­ing for a party of pro­le­tar­i­ans had long ceased to be amus­ing, Gau­tam's as­ser­tion that he wanted to en­ter par­lia­ment to speed up devel­op­ment didn't spark too many un­com­fort­able smirks among his peers. (To be fair, Gau­tam seems to have re­tained much of his 1990sera ebul­lience, go­ing by his full­blooded re­but­tal of parts of for­mer In­spec­tor-Gen­eral of Po­lice Achyut Kr­ishna Kharel's newly pub­lished mem­oirs.) Oli al­lowed the bal­loon to float for a few days more, en­tic­ing the prin­ci­pal play­ers closer to what they con­sid­ered a fait ac­com­pli and al­low­ing the pub­lic mood to sour fur­ther. Whether Gau­tam felt the first in­ti­ma­tion of doom in Bibek­sheel Sa­jha Party con­vener Rabindra Mishra's im­pend­ing elec­toral chal­lenge is un­clear. But the for­mer deputy prime min­is­ter was smart enough to read the real mes­sage in Oli de­ci­sion to post­pone a cru­cial party meet­ing that was to have fi­nal­ized the mat­ter. Gau­tam bowed out, giv­ing Da­hal an easy exit as well. The ever-wily NCP co-chair in­stantly went into dam­age-con­trol mode, prais­ing the great things the Oli govern­ment had ac­com­plished but had not been cred­ited with. Manand­har, a one­time Oli loy­al­ist, learned the bit­ter les­son of pre­ma­turely switch­ing camps as oth­ers con­tinue to take in the mes­sage in dif­fer­ent ways. Wea­ried or not, Oli has worsted his crit­ics. For how long is any­one's guess, though. If he's smart, he'll keep us all guess­ing.

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