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NCP conflict plays out in Province 5, Congress jumps into the fray

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Provincial assembly members from the Nepali Congress resort to vandalism amid dispute in the ruling party over declaring name and capital of the province.

Province 5 has become the latest victim of the ruling Nepal Communist Party’s internal conflict, and the Nepali Congress, which is also the main opposition in the province, has added fuel to the fire.

In a bid to strike a balance inside the party, Nepal Communist Party chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal last week “instructed” Shankar Pokhrel, chief minister of Province 5, to name the province Lumbini and declare Rapti Valley-Deukhuri its capital.

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The ruling party’s order, which has faced criticism for undermining the spirit of federalism, has not gone down well with a section of the ruling party itself.

In a bid to smoothly get the proposal endorsed as per Oli and Dahal’s instruction, the party had issued a whip to its Province 5 Assembly members to vote in its favour.

But as soon as Internal Affairs and Law Minister Kul Prasad KC tabled the proposal at the assembly and discussions started, opposition parties, including the Nepali Congress, protested.

Some Congress leaders flung chairs and disrupted the assembly meeting.

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Just as Congress leaders vandalised the assembly hall, Bhoj Prasad Shrestha, a provincial assembly member from the Nepal Communist Party, said that the [provincial] government’s proposal on the province name and its capital was wrong.

Ruling party leaders themselves are divided over the proposal, with some opposing the decision to declare Rapti Valley-Deukhuri the provincial capital.

At the heart of the discontent are two senior leaders of the Nepal Communist Party–Pokhrel, the chief minister, and Bishnu Poudel, the party’s general secretary.

Pokhrel is from Dang while Poudel is from Rupandehi.

“The two leaders made the capital city their agenda during the election. That was a mistake,” said Ghanashyam Bhusal, a minister in the federal government who was elected to the House of Representatives from Rupandehi constituency 3. “Now we are facing the consequences.”

Members of the Nepali Congress are siding with those Nepal Communist Party leaders who are demanding that Butwal, in Rupandehi, should be the provincial capital. Butwal was declared the temporary capital on January 17, 2018, pending a decision from the provincial assembly on the name and capital of the province.

According to the constitution, the provincial assembly endorses the name of the respective province and its capital with a two-thirds majority.

Given the composition of the Province 5 Assembly, a two-thirds majority for the name and capital of the province looked almost impossible from the very beginning. In the 87-member provincial assembly, 61 members are from the Nepal Communist Party, giving it a comfortable two-thirds majority. Meanwhile, there are 19 from the Nepali Congress, six from Janata Samajbadi Party and one from Rastriya Janamorcha.

But since politicians have a tendency to embrace regionalism, making a pitch for their vote base and electorate, there were indications that they would readily shed their party colours and side with others across party lines if that helped their politics.

While the ruling party’s high-handedness has become apparent in undermining the spirit of federalism when it comes to choosing the name and capital of the province, regionalism ultimately took the centre stage in Province 5.

Both ruling and opposition parties are clearly divided not over their ideologies but over which parts of the province they belong to.

Those representing Rupandehi, Palpa and Gulmi are demanding that Butwal be given continuity as the provincial capital, while those representing Dang, Pyuthan, Rolpa, Banke and Bardiya are rallying behind Deukhuri as the provincial capital.

“It does not look like our leaders, regardless of which parties they belong to, are committed to federalism,” said Rekha Sharma, a lawmaker and central committee member of the ruling party. “They are still playing regional politics. They are making a mockery of federalism.”

A similar conflict had emerged in December last year when the ruling party instructed its provincial members to vote in favour of Bagmati as the name of Province 3 and Hetauda as the capital. Some ruling party leaders had demanded that Dhulikhel of Kavre be declared the provincial capital and a handful of Congress lawmakers had thrown their weight behind the call.

However, the assembly endorsed Bagmati as the province name and Hetauda as the capital.

In case of Province 5, the situation took an ugly turn on Monday.

Congress provincial assembly members including Astabhuja Pathak, Baijanath Kalawar, Basiuddin Khan and Rama Aryal smashed chairs to protest the proposal, inviting criticism from their party.

“Smashing of chairs by the three Nepali Congress members of Province 5 Assembly is against the policy and culture of the party,” tweeted Bishwa Prakash Sharma, the spokesperson of the Nepali Congress. “The assembly members of a party that trained communist parties, who vandalised rostrums and declared they would end the parliamentary system, to transform are not given the freedom to violate its culture.”

While the action of Congress provincial assembly members on Monday have received widespread condemnation, leaders from the ruling party admit that at the heart of the problem is their party leadership which has been imposing its decisions.

Against the decision to declare Deukhuri the capital, Poudel has the backing of Congress leader Balkrishna Khand who is from Rupandehi. Top Bahadur Rayamajhi who is from Arghakhanchi and Gokarna Bista who is from Gulmi are also for Butwal as the capital.

Ruling party insiders say Oli agreed to Dahal’s proposal of declaring Deukhuri the capital as part of a larger deal between them. Former Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who was elected from Dang, Kamala Roka of Rukum, Onsari Gharti and Barshaman Pun of Rolpa have been backing the decision to declare Deukhuri the capital. All four are leaders of the former Maoist party.

After Monday’s disruption, the provincial assembly meeting was called off after some members expressed their views. The next meeting has been called for Tuesday noon.

Political analysts said political parties should make rational decisions and discourage regional politics if they want to institutionalise federalism.

“We saw in the past too how leaders bid to protect their regional vote base when the name and capital for Province 3 were being discussed,” said Shyam Shrestha, a political commentator who has closely followed Nepal’s leftist politics for decades. “Parties and their leaders must make it a point to think if their decisions are in line with the constitution.”

According to Shrestha, Nepali political parties, both the ruling and opposition, have failed to uphold constituonalism.

“Our leaders seem to have zero respect for federalism and decorum of an elected assembly,” said Shrestha. “While the ruling party has undermined the dignity of an elected assembly by imposing its decision on the provincial name and capital, the opposition party has shown utter disregard to the hallowed chambers by resorting to vandalism.” Source-TKP

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