KATHMANDU, Jan 1: For the Maoists - both ruling UCPN (Maoist) and newly-formed CPN-Maoist - 2012 turned out to be a ´dark year.´ The ruling Maoists during the year not only saw the split of the party, with the breakaway faction led by senior Vice-chairman Mohan Baidya, but also the end of the party´s army, People´s Liberation Army (PLA).
The historic Constituent Assembly (CA) was also dissolved while the Maoists were in power, without promulgating a new statute. In the dying days of 2012, the rift between party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Vice-chairman Baburam Bhattarai, who is also prime minister, reached its peak over the question of Nepali Congress (NC) President Sushil Koirala becoming consensus prime ministerial candidate.
The immediate line of the UCPN (Maoist) of achieving ´peace´ and ´constitution´ also failed after the integration of the PLA and what the Maoists call their subsequent ´recruitment´ in the Nepal Army, and the dissolution of the CA without producing a new statute. These developments without ´meaningful´ results not only led the party rank and file to raise questions about their party leadership but also brought about mass frustration among honest party cadres.
A frustrated party cadre, Padam Kunwar of Baglung, even went so far as to slap party Chairman Dahal in the face during a tea party hosted in the capital. This was an acute manifestation of the loss of credibility of the top leadership among party cadres and frustration among the latter.
Worse still, the lower-rung party cadres accused the top leadership of involvement in corruption, forcing the leadership to form two separate probe commissions led by Secretary Post Bahadur Bogati and Amik Sherchan respectively. The cadres have termed both commissions as eyewash.
Ironically, Prime Minister Bhattarai, who submitted a 40-point charter of demands to the then government of Sher Bahadur Deuba back in 1995 just before the launch of the decade-long insurgency, was presented a 70-point demand from his own former comrades from the Baidya-led CPN-Maoist, which stands against the BIPPA agreement signed with India. The 70-point demand includes almost all the points that Bhattarai made in his 40-point demand.
Of course, Bhattarai has had much to lose personally. His popularity among the educated masses, the urban middle class, the international community and the media has eroded hugely even as he continues to be a ´darling boy´ of New Delhi. It may be recalled that Bhattarai became the party´s prime ministerial candidate despite his very weak standing within the party only due to the intra-party rift that surfaced after the Dhobighat alliance. "The UCPN (Maoist) has become weaker even as it remains in power," Mumaram Khanal, a former Maoist leader, told Republica.
The party also took contradictory decisions on the issue of PLA integration. While the faction led by Chairman Dahal and Bhattarai have interpreted the integration as the ´completion of the peace process´ the Mohan Baidya-led faction termed it ´dissolution´ of the PLA and the deployment of NA personnel in the cantonments as ´surrender´.
Maoist general conventions
Following the split, both the parties are now going to hold their general conventions after a gap of two decades, and within the span of a month. While the CPN-Maoist is scheduled to hold its general convention in Kathmandu from January 27, 2013, the ruling UCPN (Maoist) has announced its convention starting February 2 in Hetauda.
Maoist insiders say the UCPN (Maoist) is going to hold its general convention to prove the legitimacy of the party leadership and show the nation and the international community that it has a fully-functioning internal democracy. The general convention has become a compulsion, not a deliberate choice, for the UCPN (Maoist), especially with the newly-formed CPN-Maoist announcing its own convention for the end of January.
“The UCPN (Maoist) is going to hold its general convention, after a hiatus of 22 years, as a ritual to hoodwink others. It has no meaning except that. I personally believe that the convention is also aimed at stopping party cadres from joining the Baidya-led Maoist party,” argued Khanal. The general convention is an opportunity for Dahal to show that he is an elected, not a self-selected, chairman.
Since there is no ideological debate within the UCPN (Maoist) at the moment, the convention won´t take any new decisions. It will witness a battle for power-sharing among the three separate factions led by Dahal, Bhattarai and another Vice-chairman, Narayan Kaji Shrestha. “The Shrestha and Bhattarai factions will try to secure more seats in the party organization while Dahal will struggle to surrender fewer seats to them. In the end, there will be a compromise,” Mani Thapa, a former Maoist leader, told Republica.
Similarly, the newly-formed CPN-Maoist is also not likely to see any rift over its ideological line and the party leadership at its upcoming general convention. While the general convention will officially endorse the current leadership, it is also likely to extend its central committee, which now has 44 members in total. The party may conclude that the peace process and the 12-point deal have been a ´failure´.
Thapa said the convention is also likely to come up with the idea of ´left polarization´, reject the parliamentary system and take up the line of ´new democratic revolution´. "CPN-Maoist may set out a concrete plan of people´s revolt," said Thapa.
The main challenge for both the Maoist parties is to make their own ´political space´ with their own identities. They would need to set out a new ideological map to face the challenges and project themselves as distinct political forces in the eyes of the people.
UCPN (Maoist) risks being like the Nepali Congress if it turns towards the right and like the CPN-Maoist if it chooses to turn left. The UML has already captured the left-centre space.
Similarly, the CPN-Maoist will turn out to be no different from the UCPN(Maoist) if it turns right while it risks becoming like the CPN (Masal) led by Mohan Bikram Singh if it takes to preaching classical communist theory. "Indeed, both the Maoist parties face the challenge of creating their own political space. Who is Maoist, and where are the Maoists? This is the main challenge for them," Kumar Shah, editor of the Red Star, told Republica.
While the UCPN (Maoist) faces the challenge of avoiding becoming the ´new UML´ the CPN-Maoist, according to Shah, faces the challenge of not becoming another UCPN (Maoist).
Similarly, there is a big challenge for the UCPN (Maoist) to address the demands of a large number of cadres, who want party unity and say that the leadership of Dahal and the political line of Baidya were the best. Another challenge for the UCPN (Maoist) is to concretize their ´democratic republican´ line, and show clearly whether it is just a continuation of the traditional parliamentary system or something different.
But the newly-formed CPN-Maoist faces a unique challenge. The party requires to develop a ´new model of revolution´ that will be in line with the current politico-economic worlds.
Though the party has already made its path of ´people´s revolt´ clear, it faces a challenge in setting out the path towards achieving its goal of a ´new democracy´. “One of the challenges of the CPN-Maoist is to develop its methods of revolution as the party has already termed Dahal and Bhattarai as ´anti revolutionaries´,” said Khanal.
Another important challenge for the top CPN-Maoist leaders will be to develop a central leadership since all senior leaders including Baidya, CP Gajurel, Dev Gurung and Netra Bikram Chand had only peripheral roles in the party in the past. “I think yet another challenge for the leadership of the new party is to develop a ´center´,” Shah said.
If the UCPN (Maoist) engages in self-criticism, correcting its mistakes, the party will be in a position to reclaim its previous position. Even these days, Chairman Dahal continues to remain in the centre of Nepali politics although he is criticized by rival parties. The decisions of Dahal continue to be final.
Similarly, the CPN-Maoist also has an equally great opportunity to establish itself as a new political force, taking advantage of the failures of the major parties.
"Additionally, the CPN-Maoist has the challenge of completing the revolution that Dahal and Bhattarai abandoned half-way," said Shah, adding that the party has leaders who are honest and have a clean image.