By Maila Baje
Even by his own standard of piercing ripostes, Baburam Bhattarai’s tweet responding to the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) co-chairs’ invitation to join the organization was in a class of its own.
Welcoming into the NCP a handful of functionaries disillusioned by Bhattarai’s decision to merge his Naya Shakti with the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal of Upendra Yadav to form the Samajbadi Party Nepal in May, NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal was in a palpably magnanimous mood.
The former Maoist supremo urged senior comrades like Mohan Bikram Singh, Chitra Bahadur K.C., Narayan Man Bijukchhe, Mohan Baidya, Netra Bikram Chand to join the NCP in the interest of strengthening Nepal’s long-splintered communist movement.
K.C. and Bijukchhe rejected Dahal’s invitation, insisting they did not consider the NCP a communist party in terms of ideology, organization or behavior. Baidya, echoing those sentiments, went a step further. He invited Dahal to join his Communist Party of Nepal Revolutionary Maoist to rekindle the original cause.
In the case of Dr. Bhattarai, Dahal, among other things, said the former Maoist chief ideologue’s doctorate would be worthless outside communist environs. For reasons best known to himself, Dr. Bhattarai hasn’t wanted to elaborate too much on whether he still considers himself a communist. So Dahal’s remark was bound to irk. But that wasn’t probably the real trigger.
Dr. Bhattarai’s 1986 Ph.D. dissertation was later published as book titled ‘The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure of Nepal: A Marxist Analysis’. Dahal’s attempt to confine Bhattarai’s expertise within communism couldn’t go unanswered by someone intent on broadening the scope and appeal of Marxism in the modern political arena.
When Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli joined Dahal in entreating Bhattarai to join the NCP, the practical implications of their intent became clearer. “Why would a party with people like Dipak Manange need intellectuals, Dr. Bhattarai shot back?” (He didn’t forget to refer to the NCP as ‘Kamau-nist’, dismissing the organization as a money-making machine.)
A lot of NCP loyalists must be cringing at much more than the cordiality with which Manange was welcomed into the NCP in Gandaki Province, considering bad PR already corroding the party. Chief Minister Prithvi Subba Gurung compared Manange to China’s Zhu De, a one-time warlord turned Chinese Communist Party luminary.
This incongruent combination of Maoism and mobsterism wasn’t something Dahal needed to confront now. Nor did Oli need a reminder of the thin line between communism and criminality in the public perception. But, then, Manange is a but a pawn in the broader factionalism in the party, a fact that has restrained the co-chairs.
Bhattarai didn’t need Dahal’s and Oli’s gratuitous offer, either. As the chairman of the federal council of the Samajbadi Party Nepal, he has become a leader of the ruling alliance. Moreover, the Samajbadi Party Nepal has outdone the NCP by giving its two leaders distinct designations, Upendra Yadav being named chairman of the central committee.
Whatever the causes and consequences of the Oli-Dahal wrangle, the fact remains that Bhattarai is a former prime minister who wouldn’t mind getting that job back. With Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhal Nath Khanal along with Dahal, the NCP already has three ambitious ex-premiers. Bhattarai the person is his own party, which is perhaps what his tweet really meant to say.