KATHMANDU, July 5: Central Committee members of the CPN-UML witnessed at least one thing that was different at the party´s CC meeting that concluded last month.
Unlike in the past, the UML rank and file were divided into various groups not as per the positions of the top leaders but with social factors playing a role. Leaders, however, differ over whether or not this situation will last.
In the past, almost every CC member would align himself or herself with one of the factions within the party and air their views along those line notwithstanding their own individual positions on the issues under discussion.
Until a few months ago, the UML leadership and party rank and file were vertically divided mainly into two factions -- one led by party Chairman Jhalanath Khanal and a rival faction led by the other two top leaders, Madhav Kumar Nepal and KP Sharma Oli.
Earlier this year, the leadership managed to patch up the factional feuding after Chairman Khanal proposed to elevate Oli to third position in the party hierarchy and settle other intra-party disputes accordingly.
At the latest CC meeting, which extensively discussed the issue of state restructuring, the CC members were clearly divided into various groups as per their own convictions. The CC members were divided into at least five divergent groups and they lobbied accordingly.
The majority of members at the latest CC meeting endorsed a seven-province federal model based on multi-ethnic identity as proposed by the party´s Standing Committee. Though all the top leaders including Khanal, Oli and Nepal unanimously endorsed the proposal before floating it for deliberations at the CC, dozens of members, some very close to the top leaders, not only found themselves divided into four different groups but also vociferously objected to the proposal.
The Standing Committee proposal, which was later endorsed by a majority of CC members, was to delineate the provinces on the basis of multi-ethnic identities and name them after the identities of the major ethnic communities and neutral entities, such as in Bagmati-Newa-Tamsaling.
But a significant number of influential members fiercely criticized the leaders´ model. Though former prime minister Nepal is believed to be relatively more liberal than Khanal and Oli when it comes to addressing the issues raised by the party´s dissident groups, a group of leaders including Pradip Nepal, Bhim Rawal and Raghuji Pant have not only stood against the Standing Committee´s proposal but also officially registered a note of dissent against the seven-province model.
Among the top UML leadership, Oli is believed to be the most critical of the idea of adopting federalism in any form, let alone going for an ethnicity-based model. But some leaders close to him such as Prithivi Subba Gurung and Bijay Subba are leading a campaign for a federal system based solely on ethnicity.
Similar is the case with party members close to party Chairman Khanal and another Vice-chairman, Bamdev Gautam. The two top leaders are against delineating provinces along ethnic lines but the second-rung leaders loyal to them such as Vice-chairman Ashok Rai, Ram Chandra Jha, Rajendra Shrestha and Kiran Gurung are at the forefront of the lobbying for ethnicity-based federalism.
What are the factors that have led the party leaders to "independently set out their stances on the basis of their own convictions"?
Some leaders described the changes seen in recent days as a positive development in the party. CC member Ghanshyam Bhusal claimed that this was a paradigm shift in the party that has taken place only after the party rank and file suffered many a blow and experienced many ups and downs in the recent decades.
He claimed that the change was the result of the interventionary role played by some influential second-rung youth leaders in bringing the top leaders together.
"It is true that in the past even second-rung youth leaders would air their views as per the ques they received from top leaders to whom they were close," said Bhusal. "But this time the younger generation has become decisive in determining the party´s official position."
Similarly, the party´s chiefs representing Madhesi, ethnic and indigenous communities in 24 districts also claimed that their role was the decisive factor in the party leadership coming around to accepting the seven-province model based on multi-ethnic identity. Last month, the district chiefs had gathered in Kathmandu to press the party leadership to take a middle-path solution in order to accommodate the dissidents.
However, some other leaders do not buy that argument and find nothing to rejoice over in the changes seen in recent days.
"I don´t find the changes too encouraging because the stances taken these days are along ethnic lines and not based on ideology as in the past," said UML youth leader Ravindra Adhikari. He finds the recent trend dangerous because even those who claim to be against the ethnic model are not non-ethnic either. "It is not based on political ideology but is just another form of ethnicity or regionalism."
Present scenario will not last
An influential youth leader from a group close to Madhav Kumar Nepal believes that the present equation is not going to last.
"We should not conclude, simply on the basis of the discussions on federalism, that the factional differences along the lines of the positions taken by top leaders have now blurred," said the leader, preferring anonymity. "The panels will again emerge with sharpened differences in the days to come as many second-rung leaders are unhappy with the syndicate of top leaders."