Having seen many parties make and break in the last five years, Nepali political establishment is not much concerned about the prospects of splits in any of the numerous political parties these days. But the split in the Maoist party has changed this state of apathy. The national politics has well and truly been stirred up with the radical wing of Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) vertically dividing to resurrect their insurgency-era Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M).
Now that the mother party has divided, many wonder the likely course of the new party. Its declared hostility towards parliamentary system, open pledge of revolution for what it calls ‘People’s New Democracy’ and willingness to revive the three magical wands of communist revolution—the revolutionary party, people’s army and the revolutionary joint front—sound as problematic to political analysts as it is to other political players. Be it in the form of scorn or question, the new party is challenged to begin the course it says it would like to walk.
The reason his detractors are calling on Mohan Baidya to embark on his roadmap right away is because they think he understands Marxism all too well. What Baidya seems to know well is that pressing him to justify the division by restarting the ‘people’s war’, from the dialectical point of view with which he thinks, is to polarize party workers. Asking Baidya, who has anchored his political line through the storms of struggles (whether his line of belief was right or wrong is an entirely different matter) out how difficult running a party could be seems aimed at undermining his organizational hold. We need only recall how small the Maoist party was in 1996 when it set out on the adventurism of its people’s war. Baidya is far stronger than many would like to admit and let us not forget, his is already the third largest communist party in the country!
The immediate strategy of CPN-M could then be to preserve its organizational strength for the future. The party has said in unambiguous terms that it wants to rebuild the political order according to its diktat. Whether it can or cannot, it will definitely try to do so at some point. It’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.
On these premises, the split of the Maoist party has many implications for national politics. The first and foremost impact will be seen within the UCPN-M, which could be headed for another internal polarization. The hardliners in the new party will leave no stone unturned to highlight their revolutionary agenda in their bid to attract Maoist cadres who would like to see the ‘revolution’ succeed. The establishment will struggle to retain these cadres.
UCPN-M will be weaker. Consider this: On June 17, its Standing Committee took two important decisions. One, Prime Minister Bhattarai was asked to postpone his visit to Rio de Janeiro, and two, the hardline gathering was requested to pass a unity proposal. Both were reduced to paper calls. Many leaders were unhappy with Bhattarai who was in clear breach of party decision. With Baidya going away, Bhattarai is likely to grow even more defiant and demanding.
To maintain its strength, UCPN-M will have to rely more on Prachanda’s ‘charisma’ (which is sharply waning) as well as on the power of the current Bhattarai government (which is only a caretaker) and whose decisions can be reversed by even an inadequately staffed Election Commission. Both will try to generate mass support for the upcoming election (although they don’t seem to believe the proposed election will go ahead on schedule) through a radical strategy crafted to lure ethnic groups through the agenda of ‘single-ethnicity based provinces’ in federal Nepal.
UCPN-M could further exert its power to polarize opinions within CPN-UML and Nepali Congress as it did in the Constituent Assembly by floating divisive agendas. Party leaders, in the same meeting of June 17, were reportedly convinced that the loss incurred from Baidya’s departure would be compensated by CPN-UML and NC. UML, which began its journey with a Maoist-styled armed movement during mid 1970s to its transformed parliamentary structure after 1990, appears more vulnerable to such UCPN-M tactics because many UML workers are living an unfulfilled dream of a revolution themselves. Romanticization of ethnic revolution has already proven attractive within UML rank and file.
Fierce competition among UCPN-M leaders to lay claim to the positions vacated by outgoing leaders could also invite new infighting among its three (Dahal, Bhattarai and Narayan Kaji Shrestha) factions. The party has called a similar national gathering for July 16-20 to calculate the loss and keep the party workers engaged. First sparks of factional fights may fly there should the party choose to fill up positions immediately. Some senior leaders are said to be intensely lobbying for top positions.
In national politics, Baidya’s breaking away will raise the confidence of UML and NC in their bargaining with UCPN-M. They will assert themselves more, and will not relent to the Maoists as easily as they did in the past over the issues of constitution. They will prefer to discuss constitution and federalism anew and reach out to the dejected Maoist cadres. UML stands to gain even more. In 1998, after a similar split in UML, many of its workers had joined the Maoist movement. Those who made the switch reluctantly could be as likely to get back to their old party.
One more influential party with hardline ideology will further complicate the political dialogue for consensus. More issues will be thrown up during constitution making and their accommodation will get even more difficult.
Most alarmingly, the split has increased the possibility of Nepal entering another phase of armed insurgency within the next decade or so. The new party says it won’t “immediately” return to war, but neither will it participate in any future elections. Its stated long-term objective, however, is to establish ‘People’s Republic of Nepal’. The focus of our political establishment must now be to expedite the end of the prolonged political transition so that the new party cannot get the time to expand its radical base and remains liable to persuasion on adoption of peaceful means.