If the left alliance secures two-third (or even simple) majorities and forms the government, it will be the doomsday for Nepal. They will turn Nepal into North Korea. (They carefully avoid mentioning China perhaps because they know it costs). Our economy will collapse. Freedom of expression will be compromised. We won’t even be able to ‘cry.’ Private business sector will suffer the most. Therefore, CPN-UML and Maoist Center, two major constituents of left alliance, must be defeated.
So Nepali Congress wants us to believe. And their supporters—from monarchists to democrats to everyone in between—including intellectuals, are singing this ‘alarm’ note in chorus.
It is cheap and misleading. But we will have to bear with it at least until provincial and parliamentary elections are over.
Here is the contradiction. They say that left alliance won’t last, that Maoist Center chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal is opportunistic par excellence and won’t hesitate to betray K P Oli the moment his party will win at least 30 seats and that Dahal could switch his allegiance to Congress to become the prime minister. If so why worry about Oli-Dahal bonhomie?
In its election manifesto, Congress has officially termed CPN-UML “a hindrance to national unity and prosperity.” Left alliance calls Congress the party that sees all others as “extremists” and “anti-democratic.” Election manifestos are usually the books of promises never to be kept. But this time around manifestoes of these parties show how angry they are with each other.
Wise Nepali voters must have understood the exchange of blames for what it is: a cheap election strategy. For those who tend to get carried away by ‘left alliance is the biggest threat to democracy and the country and Nepali Congress is the only protector of the same’ narrative, here is a brief contention.
Fact of the matter
First, the left forces are unlikely to win two-third majorities so as to be able to change the fundamental characteristics of the constitution and establish directly elected presidential system with ‘totalitarian characteristics.’ Democracy runs in the blood of Nepali people. They will not accept the ruler who does not allow periodic election and puts country’s future at risk. Maoist party itself is an example. Since they boycotted the election in 2013, factions led by Mohan Baidya and Netra Bikram Chand have become irrelevant. Some from these factions have returned to the mother party now to contest the elections.
Nepali Congress projects communists as ‘anti-democratic’ force to build up on its image of being only bulwark of democracy. Historically, however, communists and Congress have stood together in every democratic struggle.
Communist leaders Pushpa Lal Shrestha and Manamohan Adhikari were together with BP Koirala during the anti-Rana movement. Congress and communists fought together against Panchayat in 1990 and overthrew the regime and stood together again in 2006 to overthrow monarchy. Nepali communists (except for aberration of Maoist party) have been part of parliamentary democracy. Yes, they take up arms and vow to establish ‘communist rule’ but at the end they have always accepted democracy. Then who is the danger to Nepali democracy? Congress would have us believe it is communists. History says otherwise.
Nepali Congress won the 1991 parliament election with comfortable majorities (winning 110 seats out of 205). Girija Prasad Koirala dissolved the parliament in 1994. Nepal’s journey towards unstable politics began from this point. UML emerged as a larger force in 1994 partly because of ‘mishandling’ of democracy by Congress. In other words, communists became popular in Nepal out of unpopularity of Congress.
The same Congress (under the premiership of Sher Bahadur Deuba) dissolved the parliament in 2002 and submitted democracy to then royal palace. He, instead of extending terms of elected local bodies, which had been serving as the local democratic institutions, dissolved them all in 2002, causing a vacuum in local governance for nearly 20 years until this year. (One might defend Deuba on this as well: If he had not done so, political parties would not be able to see through king Gyanendra’s authoritarian ambition. They would not unite against him, Maoist war would linger on and there would neither be democracy nor republic nor federalism. Do not be surprised if you hear some Congress leaders reasoning like this during the election campaign.)
So it reeks of hypocrisy when Deuba and his followers say source of threat on democracy lies in communist camp.
Nepali communists invoke fiery communist rhetoric, make lofty claims and show outlandish ambitions to prove themselves more ‘revolutionary’ than the democrats. But they have ultimately joined the democratic bandwagon and accepted to play by rulebook of democracy. Nepali Congress, on the other hand, projects itself as the only defender of democracy but fails to safeguard it during the hard times.
Birds of same feather
Nepali communists, CPN-UML in particular, acted in no different way than Congress ever since these two forces are in the mainstream. Perhaps the only time when UML departed from Congress on crucial national issue was during the 2015/16 blockade. While Congress top leadership minced words or even declined from calling blockade by its proper name, K P Sharma Oli and the entire UML opposed it in the strongest terms.
Otherwise, when in power Nepali communists have accepted economic model Congress introduced in the 1990s. Congress prides in this model, which encouraged job-starved Nepali youths to fly to the Middle East and the Gulf and which submitted health and education to profit sectors. Congress leaders extol them as ‘great achievements.’
When UML and Maoist Center came to power they did not even try to reverse this order.
Public health and education institutions are in disarray and nobody cares to fix them today. Syndicate rules. Perversion has become the new norm in politics. Goons, mafias and smugglers are dominant in every party. We have gangster Ganesh Lama preaching us about democracy and another gangster Deepak Manange teaching us about socialism while likes of Dhana Raj Gurung are undermined for speaking against misrule and denied election tickets.
The only way Congress can distinguish itself is by projecting communists as criminals, anti-democratic, anti-development rascals. Congress leaders have been playing with this rhetoric now. And only way in which communists can distinguish themselves is by saying Congress are regressive and anti-socialist. This travesty of acrimony will go on for many months to come. When all values are sacrificed political parties resort to lies and acrimonies, for they know it sometimes works.
A village fellow of mine in Sindhupalchok lost his mother. Devout Vaishnav, he believes his mother passed away untimely (she was over 90) because she voted for the ‘sun’, the election symbol of UML in the local election. The day she voted and came home, she started to complain of severe headache and nausea; he told me when I last met him. “The next day she left the world. We believers of Vaishnavism should not vote for communists. My mother did so and she died,” he sighed sadly.
Such propaganda spread in the early 90s haunts the psyche of innocent people. Anti-communist leaders would say if communists come to power, they will kill the elderly, allow dalits to enter the temples or destroy them and take away the properties of the rich and give them to the poor.
Maoists had participated in the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections and emerged victorious. This became a source of great consternation for my landlord in Lalitpur district. “Is it true that when Maoists come to power they will take away all my property and give to the poor?” He would ask. The old man was ailing already. “When Maoists came to power, my father got restless. He was afraid that all his property would be looted by these marauders (italic mine). My father died because of Maoists,” the son of the landlord told me few years back.
Those who claim themselves to be democrats should make it clear how their policies on health, education and social security and income distribution will be different from that of communists. They should declare which class of people they intend to primarily serve. It is as much necessary for the so-called socialists to tell us where they stand on these issues and how their policies will benefit people more. Then people will start voting based on those policies.
On their part communists should give up ‘communist’ tag from their name because they will never be able to establish communist rule. Socialism is what they will have to adopt ultimately. This will save them from the burden of having to prove both socialist and communist credentials.
Here is an irony, since the 1990s (when communists and Congress ruled the country) the only state policy that has directly benefitted citizens and made them feel state presence has been social security allowance for the elderly and widows. Every party raises the allowance when in power and takes credit for the initiative, as if they are capable of nothing else.
Nepal’s democrats and so-called socialists will have to come clean on economic policies in a way people can see visible differences between the two and make choice accordingly, in principle, practice and action. But this is something they will never do. Old habits die hard.