By Maila Baje
If the cart hurtled with an extra jolt before the steed in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) this week, at least our comrades were trying to instill some horse sense into it all.
Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokharel, a two-time general secretary of the erstwhile Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist, emphasized the urgency of reinstating People’s Multiparty Democracy (PMP) as the guiding principle of the NCP. Ideological dithering would derail the party, Pokharel said at a public function, adding that the PMP was the only effective adhesive.
That plea didn’t go well with Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, supremo of the former Maoists and co-chair of the NCP. While something of value, PMD, in Dahal’s view, is something to construct upon, not cuddle. If ideological purity were the litmus test, the two major streams of Nepal’s communist movement wouldn’t have merged into a grand enterprise, a visibly irritated Dahal said at the same public function.
When the Marxist-Leninists and the Maoists joined hands last year, they cleverly kicked the ideological can down the road. While the new party was to be guided by ‘People’s Democracy’, the concept has remained amorphous precisely because no one wants to go near it while more practical things need to be ironed out. Officially, the NCP abjures both Maoism and PMD, but those ideologies are very much alive throughout the party hierarchy.
Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli, the other co-chair of the NCP, publicly shares Dahal’s view of PMP. Privately, he is said to be in favor of reviving the erstwhile ideology in the new party. What’s more, many believe Pokharel spoke after consultations with Oli and President Bidya Devi Bhandari, whose late husband Madan Bhandari propounded the thought. Although former UML prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhal Nath Khanal are officially mum, Nepal, in particular, is believed to be supportive of reviving PMD.
On the former Maoist side, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’ has not taken a particularly forceful stance against PMD’s rehabilitation, which has increased the pressure on Dahal. As Nepal’s preeminent revolutionary, Dahal is averse to tying himself to any single point on what he sees as the continuum of communism. Yet the plea for continual experimentation and practice sounds less like a path to perfection than a convenient platitude – much as PMD is.
Hitherto totalitarian communists of the former Soviet bloc took part in multiparty elections in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many ditched the communist tag and reinvented themselves as social democrats/democratic socialists.
As Nepali comrades were too enamored of the ‘c’ word, they needed a fig leaf that could pass off as some immense ideological reorientation. True, the lexicon and reflexes of our comrades were unique to the fraternity, but they were just another political party immersed in the messiness of competitive politics.
That is not to say that PMD didn’t inspire the rank and file. It can still energize former UML cadres in a way that nothing else does – and enervate the former Maoists. Many ex-Maoists who aren’t too troubled by the renewed fascination with PMD are animated more by other intra-factional considerations.
Pokharel probably intended to inject a new debate in the party as a way of rejuvenating it. Still, the more likely scenario seems to be one of the cart trying to pull away farther than what the horse can permit.