The resignation of Madhav Kumar Nepal, who led the party for the past 15 years, has triggered a big question — who will take over the reins of CPN-UML?
By Ghanashyam Ojha
MK Nepal resigned on moral grounds after UML, the second largest political party before the April 10 election, came a poor third in the constituent assembly polls under his leadership. The party Standing Committee appointed Amrit Kumar Bohara as acting general secretary. In the meantime, the hunt for next leader has intensified.
Majority party leaders are not convinced by Bohara’s ‘suave’ personality. “He is too gentle and lacks the broad knowledge needed to understand the geometry of current politics,” says a senior party leader, preferring to remain unnamed.
With the party literally facing the problem of existence after Maoists seized the UML’s traditional vote banks in the election, the urgency to decide on a leader and move forward has suddenly become an all-important exercise.
“I think the discussion inside the party is moving around two leaders — Jhalanath Khanal and KP Sharma Oli,” said the senior leader.
UML needs a maverick leadership to compete with Prachanda, a charismatic figure of the Maoist since both the parties largely share similar ideological and philosophical ground.
CPN-UML Central Committee meeting yesterday accepted the resignation of Madhav Kumar Nepal from the post of general secretary. During the meeting, Nepal proposed that the meeting accept his resignation to set a precedent of moral value. “As Madhav Kumar Nepal proposed, the meeting accepted his resignation,” said UML central leader Shankar Pokharel. The party also endorsed the Standing Committee’s selection of Amrit Kumar Bohara as acting general secretary until another decision.
“We need a strong man — both academically and physically,” says UML standing committee member Ishwar Pokharel.
He says the next leader must have the competence to regain our past image, “which is a big challenge”.
He, however declined to say who — between Khanal and Oli — weighs heavier in the party.
“I think both are heavy,” he quipped. Pokharel said he was not in the race for general secretary.
Khanal has an edge over Oli in that while the former won the election from Ilam constituency-1 the latter lost in Jhapa-7, that too to a little-known Maoist candidate. Besides this, most leaders say ‘Comrade JN’ — as Khanal is addressed by his partymen — who has already worked as party general secretary, is soft-spoken and maintains a mild personality.
Oli is acerbic and outspoken. They say Khanal’s personality can challenge Prachanda’s.
Khanal’s competence was recognized after he submitted a comprehensive report to the party on federalism. Party leaders also admire him for his role in drafting the party manifesto for the CA poll.
Both leaders have their own Achilles’ heel that could undo their prospects for the top post in the party.
Khanal’s outright criticism of late Madan Bhandari’s vision — Multi-party People’s Democracy — may prove costly. He had criticized late Bhandari’s vision which became the party’s ideological stance since the party’s fifth general convention in 1991. Bhandari was hugely popular during his days and is still highly revered among UML cadres.
“It is a snag for comrade JN because he had criticized the party’s fundamental doctrine,” says a UML’s Central Committee (CC) member.
On the other hand, Oli has has been religiously following late Bhandari’s vision. UML insiders, however, say his role (rather lack of it) during Janaandolan-2 in April 2006 has tarnished his image. Oli rarely participated in the popular movement against King Gyanendra’s autocracy.
Oli also has another disadvantage: his poor health. He has had serious kidney ailment and has undergone transplant in New Delhi. “Oli’s health won’t support him to lead the party in the face of huge challenges,” claimed the CC member.
Party leaders are also waiting to see who ex-general secretary Nepal endorses, if at all. “A majority of party members have high respect for Nepal and they may support the candidate who gets Nepal’s nod,” says the Standing Committee member.
Although Nepal hasn’t yet made his choice public, another CC member points out that Nepal may not forget — and forgive — Khanal’s suggestion regarding the appointment of a new party chief when the former was under prolonged house arrest soon after Feb 1 (2005) royal palace coup. It was Oli who opposed that move, throwing his weight behind Nepal. “This could weigh in Nepal’s mind,” the CC member said.
The choice of the party will be known after the party’s General Convention, which is supposed to be held soon after the election.