UCPN (Maoist)’s recently concluded plenum dissolved all office bearer positions and centralized all powers on Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, raising fresh concerns about the democratic credentials of the largest party in the erstwhile CA.
What led the party to such an extreme decision? How will the party manage dissent in coming days? Do the Maoists have a future course in mind? Mahabir Paudyal and Kiran Pun talked to senior Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara.
Why did your party take such an unexpected, undemocratic and regressive decision?
First, our decision is not regressive and undemocratic. Instead, we are trying to consolidate democratic practices and overhaul organizational structure. And we have not centralized power on the chairman. We will soon appoint office bearers like vice-chairman and general secretary, after our upcoming convention. The decision is a step towards realizing the need to improve our organizational principles and methods and further consolidating internal democracy.
Isn’t the centralization of all powers in a single person antidemocratic?Let there be no illusion. Power is not going to be centered on chairman. There will be chairman and an ‘office team’ comprising prominent central committee members to give feedback and help the chairman take crucial decisions. This means we are going into a collective leadership system. The chairman cannot decide at his discretion.
Are you reverting to the system of secretariat the party had adopted after the 2005 Chunwang meet?We will discuss whether to call it a secretariat or simply an ‘office team.’ But there will be a team of leaders to assist the chairman. It will comprise of four members from the central committee members, or a few more.
Isn’t this decision a clear breach of the mandate of the party General Convention in Hetauda?We are a party that emerged through an insurgency. During the insurgency era we needed a centralized leadership to effectively implement party policies. But organization structure and methods we adopted then are becoming irrelevant now. We had to start a new organizational set up following Hetauda convention, but failed to do so.
There was big debate over Chairman’s proposal in the central committee. Baburam Bhattarai even resigned from the post of vice chairman over the issue. So we reached the conclusion that unless we reformed existing organizational set up we would not be able to manage dissent within the party. This arrangement is aimed at solving the crisis for good. We have called central committee meeting next month in which we will review our past policies and programs. If the chairman was the only authority to take decisions, why would we need central committee meeting?
We have also decided to settle disputes through upcoming convention. This is the proof that the chairman is not going to take any decision singlehandedly. This also shows we are not going back to dictatorship but exercising democracy within the party. This is only an interim arrangement. We have not gone back to insurgency era set up.
Won’t such a decision which has sent a negative message among the public be counterproductive on the eve of CA polls?First I don’t believe there is such a bad perception among the people. The truth is our central committee members, cadres and supporters are all happy with this decision. Most people are convinced that we have taken the right decision at the right time.
If there are any misunderstandings regarding the issue we will work to remove them. We have been trying to redefine the ideologies of Lenin and Mao to make them relevant to our context. We want to give up traditional practice and adopt new ones. Take Hetauda convention. We made a crucial decision to transform the party according to the needs of the time and our decision was welcomed nationally and internationally. I am sure our latest decision will be welcomed in the same way.
The issue of collective leadership in the Maoist party has been deferred again. The party doesn’t seem to have ever been serious about solving it for good.
If you consider the decisions we have taken so far, it becomes clear that we are on the way to managing the crisis. We have been trying to reform our party. The decisions we took from Chungbang plenum to Hetauda convention point at the same direction.
Was there no other way to settle the current crisis? Was single leadership the only way out?Like I said, the party has not opted for single leadership. The fact that chairman holds power for an interim period means that there are other members with him. If we were to go back to single leadership perhaps we would have created the position of general secretary and centered all power on him, as most communist parties around the world do. Now there are four center committee members to work with the chairman.
They are there to help the chairman make vital decisions and give him feedback. Positions of office bearers have been dissolved for time being but collective leadership is still in practice.
It is said that the rivalry between Narayankaji Shrestha and Baburam Bhattarai is at the root of current troubles.That’s not true. Shrestha and Bhattarai were and are in good terms. When Chairman floated the proposal of work division in the party many central committee members expressed dissatisfaction. Bhattarai resigned from vice-chairman. Problem started from here. We looked into Bhattarai’s resignation in essence and considered CC members’ dissent too. We concluded that traditional mode of party functioning was the chief cause of dissent. So we decided to reform the structure.
Is it true that the dissent reached unmanageable proportion following the Chairman’s decision to offer top positions to new entrants like Ramchandra Jha and Urmila Aryal?That is not true. The question is not of two individuals. We had to overhaul the whole structure.
But Jha was deeply dissatisfied and once he even threatened to quit UCPN (Maoist) if his concern was not addressed.Newcomers like Jha are happy with this decision. No one is unhappy. In fact, it has consolidated party unity and renewed the spirit among members. Only those who want to see us fail wrongly interpret our decision. Believe me, this decision will be a turning point in attracting many people to our party. In next two months, there will be hundreds of thousands of cadres from other parties joining us.
Some say the decision to centralize powers was aimed at creating positive atmosphere for possible unity or electoral alliance with CPN-Maoist.Baidyaji has taken a formal decision to boycott and disrupt the polls while we are committed to holding polls in November come what may. We are committed to republic and democracy whereas they have started talking about aligning with the ex-king. I wonder how there can be any meeting point between us. But one thing is for sure. Before the polls many friends from Baidya camp will come back to the mother party. They are deeply disillusioned by the leadership there.
A recent survey predicts NC will emerge the strongest force in the upcoming polls. Your comment?The survey was meant only to please Congress. If you conduct a fair and independent survey, you will find that many people still favor UCPN (Maoist). It is true that people have become critical of our party. They are angry and disillusioned. Yet when they compare us with other parties, they still have soft corner for us. They will vote for us and make us the largest force this time too.
You mean they will elect you because you are the best among the worst?You may interpret it any way you like. The bottom line is: People still trust us. More than they trust other parties.