UCPN (Maoist) supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' recently went on a nationwide campaign, which he said was a part of his broader objective of lifting his party to the top of country's politics within two years.
Will Prachanda succeed in fulfilling this commitment which he publicly made during the party's recently held central committee meeting? Is UCPN (M)'s revival possible when its well-known ideologues Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya have abandoned it? Or is Prachanda planning a merger with the CPN (UML)? Or will the party also face the fate akin to CPN-ML led by CP Mainali?
Prachanda has led the party for about three decades now. Baidya and Bhattarai were beside him for most part of this political journey. While he firmly retained his domination over the organizational and financial divisions of the party, the other two maintained their hold over the ideological front. Along with Ram Bahadur Thapa 'Badal', the trio were also at the driving seat of the 'people's war'. An energetic team of the youth leaders including Barsha Man Pun 'Ananta', Netra Bikram Chanda 'Biplab', Dev Gurung, Janardan Sharma, Shakti Bahadur Basnet, Kul Prasad KC 'Sonam', Nanda Kishor Pun 'Pasang' implemented the party's political programs on the ground. Biplab, who is now the chief of CPN Maoist - a splinter of the UCPN (Maoist) - told this scribe in an interview that Maoist movement became successful as a result of the collective mind and efforts of four persons – Prachanda's dynamism, Baidya's capacity to interpret political philosophy, Bhattrai's intellectuality and Badal's skill at planning, organizing and implementing.
This united force has disintegrated now - indeed Bhattarai quitting leaves UCPN (Maoist) devoid of five top central level leaders from the initial phase of 'people's war' - and Prachanda is deprived of his confidants to support him ideologically or organizationally. But this also means that he faces no strong competitors now and so more possibility of him strengthening his 'bureaucratic' working style in the party. At the same time, now he also lacks the agency towards which he can direct blame for any failure and weakness of the party. He mostly blamed Bhattarai and Baidya for creating obstructions in his endeavors.
What is sadder for Prachanda, perhaps, is that he has lost the trust of his own comrades and honest party cadres, families of combatants who were killed, injured or disappeared during the conflict, and Nepali population in general. But how did Prachanda's persona, which once captured the imagination and hope of what he often emotionally term as the sarbahara class of people, took a 180-degree turn?
Firstly, for Prachanda, attaining the echelon of state power was a transforming experience: it was the first time he got the feel of the top executive power and once there, he found it hard to stay away from it. Thus, in his resolve to secure that power, he invested much time and energy in building ties with those who he believed held the 'key' to power. This endeavor took him to Singapore, Bangkok and London.
The focus of Prachanda's actions was therefore a huge diversion from those that aimed at winning hearts of his comrades, party cadres and most importantly, the common people. Prachanda's words differed radically from his deeds, and this gradually earned him, among his critics and general public alike, the reputation of being the personification of dual character.
Secondly, it was Prachanda who inculcated corruption, unethical practice, 'mysterious' activities and nepotism into party culture. Hence, he lost the moral ground to question conducts of his comrades and cadres that deviated from the simplicity the party preached. Yet, he vehemently denied that he himself was the main cause of the downfall of the Maoist movement. But never did he pause to explore the cause behind the massive exodus of loyal party cadres. Instead, enmeshed in the ways of the politics his party claimed it would change for the better, the common people the party 'fought' for fell into Prachanda's blind spot. Even when he led the government, Prachanda did not bring any program to uplift the life of the families of the combatants who died during the war, or those who were injured, disappeared. Initiatives for the people in general, therefore, were a far cry. The message his actions carry is that the party waged a decade-long war just enter in Baluwatar, that the dreams and expectations he shared with the combatants and common Nepali folks were all fake.
Yet, lately some intellectuals have been portraying him as a 'hero' and a 'nationalist' for shouldering KP Oli in the latter's prime ministerial bid. However, some political pundits have interpreted this as a precursor to a possibility of a merger between UCPN (M) and UML. There is no space for another UML, these pundits argue, and hence view the inevitability of the former merging into the latter. In fact, one reason Baidya and Bhattarai gave for quitting UCPN (M) was becoming more like UML.
And, no reason why one would disagree with them, because on the one hand it is indeed true that UML occupies the space in the political spectrum of a parliamentary communist party representing the middle class. On the other hand, there is no likelihood of the UCPN (M) going back to being a 'revolutionary' party it once was. Indeed, a merger is what the supremo himself is mulling if we are to go by one of his recent statements. During the meeting of the members of the party's province number 3 in Kathmandu on January 15, Prachanda hinted at this when he told his comrades that he had proposed UML chairman KP Oli to forge an electoral alliance for local polls whereby the parties share fifty percent each of the seats.
Prachanda's revival therefore seems unlikely. For someone who has fallen so high from the height he once occupied, making UCPN (M) the largest party in two years is a far cry; for him, even reviving a little trust of his cadres would in itself be big achievement. Answering the questions raised by families of those killed, disappeared and by honest cadres and Baidya-Biplav and Bhattarai would in itself be a big contribution to come from Prachanda. In addition, it will be an opportunity for Prachanda to 'clean' himself of the wrongs he has done in the eyes of the public.