Nepal: Parting your ways, comrades?

 [In these comments on the commonly-recognised factional schism within the Nepali Maoist party, UCPN(M), this writer for the Nepali bourgeois newspaper Republica traces the path toward a split–and raises tactics which may prevent or postpone it further. — Frontlines ed.]

POST B BASNET, Republica, October 15, 2011

“Internal disputes within a lively party are not schismatic; such disputes are rather essential to keep the party healthy, vibrant, and united.”

This is how the Maoist leaders calmed down the anxious full-timers whenever disputes over the party’s tactical line flared up. But Maoist leaders are no longer heard repeating this hackneyed statement. What went wrong with the leaders? After taunting and traumatizing each other for nearly five years since joining the peace process in 2006, the rival factions of the party are finally bracing for a showdown. If the situation is not handled tactfully, the party factions – hardliners and moderates – will have to part their ways sooner or later.

CRISIS DEFERRED

While the party establishment had been deferring the central committee meeting indefinitely to “skip the hurdles” in the peace process posed by the hardliners, the latter resorted to their own strategy: Frequenting districts exposing the “ideological deviation” of the establishment and its “sell-out” to India. When the establishment too called a national gathering of party cadres to control the damage, the hardliners threatened Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal to be ready for any potential “catastrophic consequences”.

Sources say the hardliners planned three moves to bring the chairman to his knee: 1) Hold street protests exposing his “double standards and ideological deviations” in public; 2) circulate a “people’s constitution” with their own vision of New Nepal; and 3) make public their modality for PLA integration and creation of a new “National Army”. With these threats, the hardliners forced the chairman to cancel the so-called national gathering and call a meeting of the central committee to “correct the party establishment’s ideological deviation and compromises on national sovereignty”.

It was the second time in recent memory that Dahal faced public humiliation, but he put up a brave face the following day and claimed that he has transformed the heightening intra-party conflict into a higher form of unity. By capitulating to the immediate demands of the hardliners, Dahal has however only deferred the peaking internal crisis by two weeks, and is desperately seeking middle ground to avert potential catastrophe. Party insiders however say there is very little middle ground left for reconciliation. Chances are high that the scheduled central committee meeting, in the words of a senior Maoist leader, could be the party’s “last super”, if not handled tactfully.

THE GENESIS OF FALL

It was not all of a sudden; the story began when the party was still engaged in a full-fledged war with the state. Power was centralized in a single hand in the name of making the party vibrant during the war. The internal democracy and democratic centralism, through which a communist party was supposed to operate, were sacrificed at Dahal’s altar. Glorification and deification of the leadership were likened to devotion and dedication to the party, which begot an all-powerful leader who announced himself to be the “party headquarters”.

Dahal must begin serious negotiations with matured hardliners including Baidya and Thapa who are also his long time associates, and handle issues tactfully. But ignoring or humiliating the hardliners may only cost the party dear.

And it is quite natural that anarchy ensues in a party run by a powerful leader at whim when there are attempts to democratize it. And that’s the reason why the Dhobighat pact, which was the first collective attempt to democratize the party, only led to chaos and anarchy. In a rare incident, both vice-chairmen had come together at Dhobighat to democratize the party, but the mission ended in a fiasco.

History repeated. Immediately after being elected the prime minister, Bhattarai and Dahal joined hands, sidelining Baidya. Backed by Dahal, the prime minister took decisions on the peace process without consulting Baidya, and without sharing power with him. Thus a humiliated Baidya camp raised the flag of revolt and went on a mission to “expose the ideological deviation” of the establishment, threatening to split the party. Why should only they abide by the party discipline in a party being run undemocratically? And they have found their own ways to bargain with Dahal: “Expose” his character among the party rank and file. Interestingly, the hardliners have also warned the NC and UML leaders not to strike any deal on the peace process with the establishment faction; else they would not own it.

With a comfortable majority at their disposal, Dahal and Bhattarai reckoned that they could take any decisions on the peace process, leaving Baidya to write his own notes of dissent in the party meetings. But Baidya proved them wrong. With the backing from General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa, Baidya was more assertive than ever.

The current sorry state of affairs has its roots in the past. While glorifying Dahal, both Baidya and Bhattarai, who represent two opposite extremes in the Maoist political spectrum, played their roles in separate realm. Baidya enjoyed his hold on the party organization (that’s the reason why Baidya still has a sizeable following of the core Maoist cadres) and Bhattarai was interested to endorse his political line. So it resulted in incongruity between the party’s political line and the organizational line, while Dahal, who handled the military and finances in his own way, oscillated between Baidya and Bhattarai for political advantage.

The lack of synchrony among its parts, especially between the organizational and political lines, paralyzed the party. The body wants to go to the east and the head to the west. Worse, the party has now turned into a jumble of lines and interests and a cacophony of motley groups of confused people who keep fighting against each other.

PARTY HEADED FOR AN IMMINENT SPLIT?

Not necessarily. For none of the factions wants to take the blame for engineering a split. But the next one month, which will see the completion of three months of Bhattarai’s tenure as prime minister, is extremely crucial for the Maoists.

Citing the tough stance of the hardliners, many NC and UML leaders argue that Dahal has only two options on his table: Either move ahead with the peace process and leave behind the hardliners to go their own way, or let the peace process disrupt itself and accommodate the hardliners. But party leaders say there are still a few options that may work to keep the party unity intact and at the same time take the peace process ahead.

First, Dahal may woo the hardliners by offering them a lion’s share in the party organization and plum positions in the government. Second, he may play games to break the hardliner faction, especially retaining General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa and some influential leaders. By doing so he may dissuade other hardliners from breaking away. But Dahal is not likely to let the peace process disrupt, which will put his political life at peril.

And what will be the scenario if the party really splits? It would be like opening the mythical Pandora’s Box; then the party is likely to splinter into many. For none of the current two factions has homogeneity. In the hardliner camp, for example, some see the possibility of state capture through conspiratorial ways, while others have joined the faction to avenge themselves on Dahal. There is still another group of leaders who call themselves hardliners, but are purely opportunists. The party establishment also has many groups and tendencies. Dahal and Bhattarai may not move together very long, while the groups within the Dahal faction and Bhattarai faction may also revolt to form their own parties.

Five years after joining the peace process, Chairman Dahal faces twin challenges: Keeping the party unity intact on the one hand and taking the peace and constitution drafting process to a logical conclusion on the other. He must begin serious negotiations with matured hardliners including Baidya and Thapa who are also his long time associates, and handle the issues tactfully. But ignoring or humiliating the hardliners and any move to “forcefully drag” them to mainstream politics may only cost the party dear.

post_basnet@hotmail.com

Published on 2011-10-15

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