Sunday, December 18, 2011

Maoists in stalemate: No split, no unity

KATHMANDU, Dec 15: On Tuesday, Maoist party hardliner CP Gajurel stated publicly that the party would split soon, with current Senior Vice-chairman Mohan Baidya, who leads the radical camp, as the head of a new party. Gajurel´s statement, however, received very little media attention as such rhetoric is nothing new coming from the Maoists.

In fact, the radicals publicly accuse the moderates of being foreign lackeys and betraying the dream of revolution, while the latter accuse the radicals of being war-mongers and ultra-leftist adventurists hell-bent on spoiling the party´s political achievements. But they have continued to remain in the same party.

Why have the Maoist factions, despite such differences and grave allegations hurled at each other, remained glued together as one party?

“It´s because none of the factions wants the stigma of having split the party,” says Maoist party establishment leader Ram Karki, who is close to Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai.

Both factions, party leaders say, are psychologically prepared for any eventuality, but are careful not to be blamed for a split -- hence there is a state of equilibrium. Neither can the moderates, who are the party establishment, take disciplinary action against the “unruly” radicals, nor can the latter announce a split immediately.

“The party chairman is not so naive as to take action against the hardliners who are just looking for an excuse to split the party,” says a leader close to Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

Secondly, the radical faction led by Baidya is not a homogeneous block, nor is there any unanimity on the faction´s immediate strategy.

While Baidya and Dev Gurung are cautious about taking any ´bold decision´ immediately, influential leader Netra Bikram Chand, according to party insiders, is committed to going to any length to save the party´s “revolutionary line”. The wrath of party General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa and Secretary CP Gajurel, meanwhile, is directed against Dahal, with whom they have old scores to settle.

There is, however, unanimity among the hardliners that they should remain on the ready for making “bold moves” any time. And that´s the reason the hardliners have been frequenting the districts, exposing the “ideological deviation” of the party establishment and expanding their organization base. Chand, who is currently in New Delhi, is busy with foreign trips to expand his base in the party´s organization in various countries.

The “exposure campaign” being launched by the hardliners has become so detrimental to the party establishment that the latter too, according to politburo member Bishwo Bhakta Dulal, is making forays into the districts with the “message of peace and constitution”.

Thirdly, the hardliners, according to party insiders, want an opportune time to split the party so that they would be viewed as true “nationalists and revolutionaries” and would be able to win over the sentiments of party cadres.

And that´s why the hardliners are said to have vehemently opposed successive moves of the current government, including the four-point deal with the Madhes-based parties, the handover of weapons container keys to the Special Committee, the deal to return seized properties to their rightful owners, and the signing of a BIPPA with India, among others.

“But none of these stances turned out to be in their favor and could neither garner them popular support nor win over cadre sentiment. Instead, they were just viewed as anti-peace process elements,” says a leader close to Bhattarai.

They are seeking to forge an alliance with “leftists, nationalists and intellectuals” to take to the streets in the cause of national sovereignty and then unleash an urban insurrection. And, that is why they are hobnobbing with UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal, some retired army officers and with royalists, among others.

Fourthly, the hardliners say the cadres should be convinced that it is they, the hardliners, who have inherited the mantle of the party´s revolutionary line of revolt endorsed by the Palungtar plenum.

“Our paths will bifurcate the day the party chairman formally sheds the Palungtar line of revolt, which is also the official line of the party. The chairman is apparently following Bhattarai´s line which was written in as a note of dissent against the Palungtar line, but he still claims ownership of the official line,” says politburo member Kul Prasad KC of the radical faction.

Not that there are no attempts to reconcile the hardliners with Chairman Dahal. Some leaders including Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Agni Sapkota are making a last ditch attempt in this regard, but any reconciliation looks, at least for now, a forlorn hope.

There is near unanimity among senior Maoist leaders that a party with such sharply divergent ideological orientations is not likely to remain intact. But there are divergent views on when the tussle is to be considered to have reached a boiling point. “The party cannot go on as it is. Without any reconciliatory steps, it may break up any time,” says a leader close to Bhattarai.

The party radicals say they will confront the party establishment in the forthcoming central committee (CC) meeting slated for December 23, though they are not sure Dahal will hold such a meeting that could be detrimental to the peace and constitution drafting process.

The leaders from the party establishment, however, say even if a meeting of the central committee is held, the Baidya faction will have no option other than to abide by the majority or split the party or plod on under the existing conditions.

But there are others who feel that Dahal will not let the hardliners split the party, something which will bring him into direct rivalry with Bhattarai in open politics. And on top of that, Dahal is not quite sure of his strength at the grassroots level. It was relatively easy for Dahal to handle the triangular conflict among Baidya, Bhattarai and himself. But handling a two-way conflict with Bhattarai may not be so easy. 

According to sources, Dahal is holding regular talks with Baidya and wants to bring about cracks in the hard-line faction. “But Dahal´s strategy has only widened his distance from Chand, who has the organizational hold on the party,” observes a leader close to Chand.

It remains to be seen what strategic cards Dahal will play to convince the hardliners to keep the party unity intact as the peace process strides ahead.

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