Mar 3, 2011

Back to the old ways?

By: Yubaraj Ghimire

The fate of Nepal’s ongoing peace process and the promised new constitution depends on how sincerely Prachanda and his party, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), cooperate in the process. He is focused more on retaining the party leadership and all the clout associated with it; supporting the peace process and the drafting of the constitution appears secondary, even tactical.

A clear division at the party’s top level as well as in its various wings has resulted in a visible erosion in Prachanda’s loyalty base. His main concern is to not allow a party convention to take place in the near future, although his rivals — party vice presidents Mohan Baidhya Kiran and Baburam Bhattarai — are lobbying hard for it. If that happens, Prachanda will face a challenge to his leadership for the first time in the quarter century since he began his underground politics.

The trade union wing of the party suffered a split recently and Prachanda acolyte Shaligram Jammarkatel had to face a parallel body led by Badri Majgain, a Baidhya loyalist. Jammarkatel’s sole control over the union so far and its sway over all kinds of trade and industries added to Prachanda’s might. But the birth of the parallel faction forced the party standing committee to dissolve the trade union itself and convert it into a preparatory committee to hold its national convention as well as elections. The control over the trade union — supposed to be the richest unit of the richest party in the country — is crucial to Prachanda.

The erosion in his clout has come at a time when he stands discredited in India, his home for eight out of 10 of his insurgency years as per his own admission, and the country that mediated his entry into the democratic fold, paving the way for his elevation to the PM’s chair through an electoral process in August 2008.

By 2005, India had recognised Maoists as the true representatives of the people and given up its twin-pillar theory, on assessment that aspiration for change in Nepal no longer favoured the continuation of the monarchy, even in a constitutional form. Near-nil chances of the constitution being delivered now show that India’s declared intent and outcome do not match. Increasingly, the Indian architects of Nepal’s policy from 2005 are seen here as actors without accountability. That image comes in handy for Prachanda.

He knows his political future depends on his retaining the leadership of the party. For that, he has to speak like a “revolutionary” and champion the party’s worldview that Maoists are against “US hegemony and Indian expansionism”, and that the party must launch a revolt to assert Nepali nationalism and control state power. Assuring the Indian Maoists that “we have not at all compromised on our principles and values of our revolution” is a tactical necessity for him under the circumstances.

That Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal, who is also the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), could not implement the secret deal he had recently signed with Prachanda to run a coalition government, following opposition from all sides, has given a fresh excuse to the Maoist supremo to discard democratic forces as “untrustworthy” and go his own way.

Although the PM’s refusal to give the home portfolio to the Maoists as promised has been officially projected as the reason for the Maoists not joining the cabinet, it is not so simple. Those who would have been left out of a total of 11 berths promised — especially from the guerrilla wing, dominant ethnic groups and the party trade union — would have deserted Prachanda. He would also have been a target of much vilification within his party since families of the cadres who had lost their lives during 10 years of insurgency had warned Prachanda and other top leaders of “action for their disrespect to the blood that martyrs shed”.

Having burnt all his boats, beginning with India that created the ground for his safe landing in democratic polity, Prachanda perhaps faces his toughest journey in politics. His call for a return to radical politics is more for tactical reasons, but whether it will have the kind of impact it had in the past is doubtful.

Prachanda’s dilemma is not a good sign for peace and stability in the country that does not have an effective government nor state institutions based on constitutional principles which became the first casualty of the success of the mass movement of April 2006. Retrospectively, the demolition of the old order from within was perhaps the biggest success of Maoists, something their allies and other political parties are shy to admit.

Maoists can revolt, show indifference or sabotage the system from within — hoping it will help them in the long run — but other pro-democratic forces seem incapable of responding to the situation that emerges.

(Courtesy: Indian Express)

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