Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Badal: The game changer!


KATHMANDU, July 13: With Maoist General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa 'Badal' joining hands with Maoist Vice-chairmen duo Mohan Baidya and Dr Baburam Bhattarai in demanding that party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal share the party´s powers and privileges with other leaders and run the party on the basis of collective leadership, the power balance in the Maoist party seems to have been turned upside down.

Thapa has become the real game changer in the ongoing power struggle in the Maoist party. But who really is Thapa? Why does he matter? And why did he switch sides?

The salt and pepper-haired Thapa is an enigmatic leader. It´s hard to pin down who he is or what he stands for. He is not a charismatic leader and has never been an inspiring public speaker. He is not an ideologue or a military strategist as many mistake him to be. And yet Thapa matters hugely in the Maoist party.

Leader who laid ground for "People´s War"

Thapa played a crucial role in preparing the ground for the "People´s War" across the Mid-Western hills of Nepal and in stepping up the war in subsequent years.

Thapa became popular and consolidated his position in the party while working in the field during the SIJA Campaign launched in 1995 to "liberate" areas between Sisne Mountain and Jaljala Hills in Rukum and Rolpa respectively.

While party Chairman Dahal and Vice-chairman Bhattarai spent most of the time during the "People´s War" in India and another Vice-chairman, Baidya, languished in jail in the Indian town of Siliguri, it was Thapa who took on the risks of mobilizing the party during the treacherous time of war. Working with Maoist commanders in the field he played a crucial role in executing the party´s military strategy.

It was during this period that he won the hearts of many Maoist foot soldiers and cadres who braved state counter-insurgency, risked their lives and still managed to spread the insurgency.

It is still unclear how many Central Committee (CC) members´ allegiance Thapa commands, for he never led a separate faction in the party. "His supporters are dispersed among the three factions," says a leader close to him. But even if it´s difficult to assess the numerical strength of his support in the Maoist central committee, one thiing is sure: it is significant.

Into ignominy

His growing popularity and clout in the party, according to several Maoist leaders, made Chairman Dahal a little concerned that he might eventually become more popular and influential than himself. "Chairman Dahal soon instructed him to stay in Patna, India against his wishes, which, as it appeared later, was a conspiracy to take action against him in an attempt to cut him to size," says a senior leader close to Thapa.

Thapa was soon implicated in a sex scandal with Maoist leader Pampha Bhusal, and the party sacked him from the Central Committee in 1998. More seriously, he was accused of "planning a coup" against Dahal in collusion with Bhusal.

Disciplinary action against him was withdrawn in 2000 and he was reinstated in his previous position in the party. But Thapa still "represented the Lin Biao tendency," infamously named after the Chinese communist party leader who planned a coup against Mao Zedong and died in a plane crash in 1971 while fleeing the country. The party eventually withdrew the allegations against Thapa during the reconciliatory meeting in Chunwang in 2005.

Why is he now throwing his weight behind Baidya, Bhattarai?

Thapa hails from Chitwan district as does Chairman Dahal, they went to the same college in the late 1970s, and both of them have remained in the same party ever since. Though the relationship between the two has not always been chummy, Thapa has hardly opposed Dahal in the party ever since he was fully absolved of all allegations in 2005.

What made Thapa change his mind this time? There could be several reasons. Some are related to the present while others are rooted in the past. He has differences with Dahal over how the latter has run the party. Thapa is a staunch advocate of collective leadership in the party.

"A communist party is always about collective leadership but the party chairman has centralized all powers in his own hands. This should now change," he told a gathering of Baidya and Bhattarai camp at Siddharth Cottage, Dhobighat. Ideologically also Thapa has actually always been close to Baidya but he did not dare to speak against Dahal after 2005.

He also has personal grievances against Dahal: Though the Baidya group had proposed his name for leading the party in the current government Dahal dismissed the proposal and sent Mahara´s name as deputy prime minister. And don´t forget the history, says one party leader. "He always felt betrayed by Dahal when he took disciplinary action against him." Perhaps this was his turn for revenge.

Published on 2011-07-13 04:00:17

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