One of the fundamental flaws of Nepali political formations has been internal conflict and factionalism. Factionalism thrives during critical times in national polity, eventually leading to a party’s breakup. Likewise, parties unite when things are slipping out of their hands. In other words, they break into pieces just when their unity is vital, pushing the country decades back in development, change and progress. The affliction has spared none—from big parties like Nepali Congress to CPN-UML to Madhesi parties to small outfits like Sadhvavna Party and RPP. UCPN (Maoist) is the latest in the line to succumb to the malady.
If recent developments are any indication, UCPN (Maoist) is virtually two parties. Dissident faction leaders like CP Gajurel and Netra Bikram Chand have been persistently telling media that new party will soon be born. It seems only a formal announcement is due, which will most likely take place on June 15 when Vice-chairman Mohan Baidya is convening a national gathering. When the Maoist party breaks, Baidya will chair the new party and will most likely adopt a hardline position towards the old Maoist establishment of Pushpakamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai. The establishment faction in turn will feign relief at the parting of the perpetual naysayers. For Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, this could be an occasion to celebrate. With Baidya group gone, Maoist will be cut down to size, something that NC and UML have long desired.
It is obvious that internal power dynamics are at play behind the imminent split. I will set aside the ‘whys’ of the split and focus on ‘how’ it will play out in the national scene. Apart from other setbacks, a Maoist split will leave a deep void in Nepali politics. First, a brief detour into Nepali history to gauge the success of such break ups.
Born in 1947 in the midst of growing suppression of anti-Rana movement, cracks in the NC’s wall began to appear as soon as it returned home after overthrowing Rana autocracy in 1951. Internal wrangling and party factionalism dogged no one more than BP Koirala. He was besieged by his party colleagues, enemies in disguise, throughout his career. Koirala recounts in Atmabrittanta how his brother Matrika and KI Singh were bent on foiling his desire for change and prosperity. The analogy might seem out of place but in some ways Dahal seems to be facing BP Koirala’s fate within his own party. Mohan Baidya, CP Gajurel and Ram Bahadur Thapa are coming in his way the way Matrika and KI Singh did in BP’s.
Taking advantage of this perpetual wrangling in NC, king Mahendra staged a coup in 1960 and agenda of the inclusive politics and constituent assembly was swept under the carpet for six decades. Back in 1994, internal conflicts led Girija Prasad Koirala to dissolve the parliament, which resulted in the shameful defeat of NC in 1994 elections as CPN-UML emerged as the largest party. This also heralded the chaotic era of minority and coalition governments. As if emboldened by the sweeping victory in 1999, Sher Bahadur Deuba broke away after dissolving the parliament in 2002.
UML suffered a huge setback when it broke into two factions in 1998. The breakaway faction led by Bamdev Gautam did nothing more than help form and dismantle coalitions, thereby setting the scene for a shameful defeat of his own party in 1999 elections.
It is important to note that in all the instances cited above, crucial opportunities for progress and change were missed, pushing the country into the dark tunnel of instability and chaos, which could have been prevented if the parties had stood united and the dissident leaders had acted responsibly. For example, if NC had stood united, if Matrika Prasad Koirala and KI Singh et al had stood shoulder to shoulder with BP, king Mahendra would have little support for his attempt at nipping democracy in the bud in 1960. The country would have had constituent assembly back in the 60s, decades of fight for the democracy would not have been necessary.
Likewise, if the NC had not broken down in 2002, perhaps king Gyanendra would not have been emboldened to take over. Anti-monarchy movement would have gained steam much earlier. If UML had stood united when it was the largest party, perhaps it too would not have been pushed to third position in the current power arrangement. UML had made quite an impact during its nine months in government. Its emphasis on local governance, the idea of afno gaun afai banau (let’s develop our village ourselves) campaign, and allowance for the elderly had impressed on the people that UML could be an agent of change.
Now what will become of Baidya faction or Dahal faction after the split? We can make some vague guesses. For a couple of years, Baidya will be the enemy number one of Dahal, and vice-versa. It will forge coalitions with anti-Dahal forces, most likely with NC and CPN-UML, the way CPN (ML) did with the erstwhile panchas after 1999 to downsize the establishment faction. In the next elections (if and when they take place) the Maoist party will be pushed to status of today’s NC or UML with which the malaise of coalition and minority government can be expected to return with vengeance. Amid this chaos, another armed force might try to capitalize on the situation. In either case, the country will have to bear the brunt. It will be pushed into another era of political instability. History will remember Baidya like we remember Matrika Koirala, KI Singh (and also Sher Bahadur Deuba and Bamdev Gautam), not with admiration but with scorn.
Thus breaking away will not serve Baidya. If history is any guide, he will have only two options left: Suffer the fate of Matrika and KI Singh or rejoin the establishment faction, assuming that the establishment faction will still be a force to reckon with in the national polity. Most of all, Baidya has almost no hard-hitting agenda to justify the party’s breakup. As leaders from his camp confess, the breakaway faction cannot take up arms and blaze another trail of revolt. Instead of breaking the party for petty political gains, it is in the interest of both the establishment and rebel factions to keep the party united. The nation cannot afford to suffer again the whims of one dissident faction. Surely, the onus is on Dahal as much as on Baidya. But there still is time. Given the political will, two days could just be enough to avert the path of instability.