KATHMANDU, Dec 20: In a clear sign of the widening rift between Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the ruling UCPN (Maoist) and Vice-chairman and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, the latter boycotted a party office-bearers´ meeting on Wednesday that was supposed to decide the official party position on whether or not to quit government.
The rift in the ruling party has widened at a time when party Chairman Dahal is positive about handing over government leadership to Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala while the prime minister is insisting on leaving office only after the NC and CPN-UML join the present government to transform it into a national consensus government.
The office-bearers´ meeting on Tuesday, where Bhattarai was also present, had decided to convene again on Wednesday to take a final decision, including about bureau chiefs.
After the rift between the Dahal and Bhattarai factions surfaced, there has been a revival of separate factional meetings.
"The meeting has decided that Chairman Prachandji should talk with Baburamji about why he was not present at the meeting. The next meeting will be called after a decision is reached between Prachandji and Baburamji," said Agni Prasad Sapkota, party spokesperson. According to him, the meeting decided not to quarrel over the issue of government leadership if the parties agree on the agenda.
At a meeting of the major parties held on Monday, the opposition parties had insisted that the prime minister´s exit should be the first step toward sealing a package deal while Prime Minister Bhattarai, in the main, insisted that he would step down only if the opposition parties cooperated with him to amend election-related laws and constitutional provisions through ordinance and fix the election date.
The prime minister had said that the NC and CPN-UML should join the present government for the purpose of recommending to the president to amend the constitution and prepare the ground for fresh elections. But the opposition parties had rejected outright the proposal for them to join the present government.
According to Maoist leader Bishwabhakta Dulal, who is close to party Vice-chairman Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Bhattarai had sent out a message that there was still a lack of homework and the next meeting will be called only after discussions.
"The main rift is over whether the government should or should not quit. Bhattarai claims that the government should be under his own leadership," said Dulal.
Party leaders close to the Dahal and Shrestha factions have argued that the party should take action if Bhattarai flouts the party decision.
"The party should take a bold decision at any cost. As a responsible party, it should not leave the country to stagnate in unstable politics," said Dulal.
According to Haribol Gajurel, who is close to Dahal, Prime Minister Bhattarai should accept the party decision, saying the party has already decided to go for consensus.
"It is a wrong step by Bhattarai to remain in government until fresh elections," said Gajurel. According to him, the earlier party decision was unanimous but now Bhattarai has been refusing to come along.
According to Maoist leaders, the Bhattarai faction has been claiming that the party should not leave government without some achievements.
Ram Karki, who is close to Bhattarai, said the rift will be resolved soon, pointing out that in the past Dahal and Bhattarai have managed to patch up differences because both of them need each other.
"The solution will be found within the party. Chairman Prachand [Dahal] should not be in a hurry for national consensus," said Karki, adding that the government was elected by the CA and the parties should move ahead safeguarding the achievements of that body.
"It is not justifiable to boycott an elected government, saying it should step down," he said.