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Maoist dilemmas in Nepal

December 8, 2010

Exactly four years after a peace accord the end of Nepal’s civil war, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is going through a deep existential crisis. This was most starkly reflected in the separate political documents presented by chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, senior vice-chairman Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran’, and another vice-chairman and ideologue Dr Baburam Bhattarai at an extended party meeting in Palungtar of Gorkha district last week. Almost 6,000 delegates – including 1200 Maoist combatants from UN-monitored cantonments – reviewed the party’s achievements and failures after entering the peace process, and discussed the future ‘political line’ the party should adopt.

At the end, the Maoists expressed their commitment to the current peace and constitutional process, but also decided to simultaneously prepare for a general revolt if these aims were not met. But the meeting’s real significance was in the failure to resolve the fundamental ideological and political differences within the party today.

In 2005, at a meeting in Chunbang in mid-western Nepal, the Maoists had adopted the ‘democratic republic’ path. This led to an alliance with the other political parties against monarchy, the 2006 People’s Movement, entry into the peace process, the CA elections and the abolition of monarchy. After taking over the reins of the government in 2008, the Maoists met at Kharipati in Kathmandu’s outskirts and announced their aim was now to establish a ‘People’s Federal Democratic Republic’. Other parties viewed this as a shift in goalposts, and attributed the subsequent Maoist attempt to dismiss the army chief to this radical turn.

If Chunbang was the result of an alliance between Prachanda and Bhattarai, Kharipati saw Prachanda come closer to the dogmatic ideologue Kiran. Since then, the political, peace and constitutional process has stalled. Other political parties and India accuse Maoists of turning their back on democracy, and say Maoists cannot be trusted with power till they detach the party from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). For their part, the Maoists accuse India and the other parliamentary parties of collaborating to ‘isolate’ them despite their proven electoral strength and subvert progressive political change including the ‘democratisation of Nepal Army’.

It was in this backdrop that the Maoists met to resolve their ‘internal struggle’. The three leaders have key differences on a range
of issues – what is the ‘principle contradiction’; what is the correct ‘revolutionary line’; what should be the immediate tactics; and what are the problems facing the organisation?

Principal Contradiction

An old debate in Nepal’s communist movement is whether ‘nationalism’ or ‘democracy’ is the primary objective in the ‘semi-colonial and semi-feudal’ Nepali context. In 2005, the Maoist party had declared ‘feudalism’ as the principal enemy and decided to ally with the parties and India in the quest for democratic republic. After the abolition of monarchy, this debate stirred up again with a section arguing that the party’s principal goal must now be ‘nationalism’.

Prachanda told party delegates in Palungtar that the principal contradiction of the Nepali people is with an alliance of ‘India and domestic reactionaries’. He claimed India had choreographed political opposition to the Maoist move to dismiss the army chief; blocked political agreement between Nepali actors; stopped Madhesi parties from supporting him in the recent prime ministerial elections; begun intimidating the Nepali media; and was hatching conspiracies to dissolve the CA. In his document, Kiran agreed with Prachanda’s assessment that India was the main enemy and proposed that the party should immediately start preparing for a general revolt against India.

On the other hand, Bhattarai emphasised that the principal contradiction was with ‘remnants of feudalism, domestic reactionaries, comprador bourgeoisie and brokers’ who receive Indian protection. He argued that it would be incorrect to label India as the enemy until it had militarily invaded Nepal, besides being tactically naive. Instead, the primary task was to institutionalise federal democratic republic through a written constitution. It was only by addressing livelihood issues, becoming self reliant, and creating national unity that an outside power could be fought.

The meeting ended with the question of ‘principal contradiction’ unresolved. The debate has real political implications. Prachanda’s effort to carve out a ‘nationalist alliance’ has led him into pacts with former royalists, who blame India for the abolition of monarchy. He has also sought Chinese support to neutralize India’s role, though with limited success as Beijing has asked him to mend fences with India. Bhattarai in turn has condemned the party’s understanding with ‘feudal landlords, monarchists, and opponents of federalism’ as a betrayal of the political mandate of the People’s War and the People’s
Movement.

Future line

The Palungtar plenum revealed the complex equation among the three leaders. Prachanda and Bhattarai defended the Chunbang decision to enter the peace process; Kiran was doubtful about its wisdom. Bhattarai and Kiran accused the chairman of vacillating in his political stand, and of financial non transparency. And Prachanda and Kiran were on the same page when they accused Bhattarai of being an ‘Indian stooge’. But there were areas of agreement.

All three emphasised the aim is a ‘People’s Federal Republic’. While none of them defined it explicitly, other party documents have often elaborated on the elements of such a political structure –an executive Presidency at the centre; federalism with ethnicity/nationality as a prominent basis; an ‘equal’ relationship with India; ‘democratisation’ of the Nepal Army through integration of former PLA combatants and firmer civilian control; ‘first rights’ to local communities regarding natural resources; revolutionary land reform; and eventually, restricted multiparty political competition where ‘pro-imperialist and feudal’ parties would not be allowed to operate.

There was also a consensus that the People’s Liberation Army must not be ‘dissolved, dismantled or humiliated’. This assumes importance as other non-Maoist parties have demanded immediate movement on PLA as a precondition to constitution writing.

But there was a clear divergence on the future line and immediate tactics. In his document, Kiran argued that since there was no chance of such a ‘people’s constitution’ being drafted, the party should now focus on revolt and strengthen the organization for the purpose. Bhattarai however said that in a context where the CA was dominated by the ‘proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie’, a progressive constitution was definitely possible. All efforts should be focused on preparing the statute, even if it entails some compromises.

Prachanda for his part sought to portray his line as fighting against both Bhattarai’s ‘right wing revisionism’ and Kiran’s ‘ultra left orthodoxy’, but claimed he felt closer to Kiran’s position. Explaining the present situation as one of sharpened polarisation between those in favour of ‘national independence and progressive change’ and those who wish to thwart the change, Prachanda reiterated that while the party’s objective will be ‘peace and constitution’, it will simultaneously prepare for a general revolt. While this ‘dual line’ was passed, Prachanda was unable to get his document approved at the meet.

The Maoist deliberations could further complicate the prospects of a fresh political settlement in Nepal. In seeking to maintain his supremacy and ‘revolutionary’ image, Prachanda has incorporated several elements from the dogmatic Maoist strand, limiting negotiating space with other parties on issues like PLA. The radical rhetoric of the Maoist leadership in front of the cadre has only strengthened the right wing hawks on the other side, who have been itching for a confrontation. The hostile position against India would not have won them any friends in Delhi either – a key stakeholder of the 2006 framework.

India and democratic parties should introspect if their own actions of isolating the Maoists have contributed to Maoist insecurity and belligerence over the past year. But it is crucial that Prachanda shows true statesmanship and reiterates the Maoist commitment to past agreements, sticks to federal democratic republic as the goal, moves to fulfill the Maoist end of the peace process and retains focus on constitution writing. Otherwise, the Maoists may just end up playing into the hands of those who wish to reverse the remarkable process of political transformation in Nepal.

(First published first in The Hindu.)

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