Those who bore guns are being taught to win hearts
Starting February 2, UCPN (Maoist) is holding its first general convention in 21 years in Hetauda. There is a lot of speculation surrounding the general convention with many questioning its relevance, as important ideological questions and leadership positions have already been settled before its commencement. Republica’s Kiran Pun and Biswas Baral talked to Barsha Man Pun, former Maoist Standing Committee member and currently the finance minister in Baburam Bhattarai government, to get more insight into the impending general convention and the likelihood of a breakthrough in the stalled political and constitutional process in the near future.
How is the general convention of a communist party different to those of other democratic parties?
For any communist party, its general convention is important in two ways. First, to devise strategies to take the party forward in terms of ideology, politics and organization for the next five years. Second, to elect the leadership to carry out the first task. In other parties, there is less discussion on ideology and more focus on selection of new leadership, ours is the other way around. In the case of UCPN (Maoist), through the upcoming general convention we are trying to make sure there is competition in terms of ideology and organization leadership from the grassroots to the top level.
But the party leadership has already been settled and so have the documents to be approved by the general convention. In this situation, what is the rationale for the general convention?
The main questions have been settled, but discussions on them remain. There might be new opinions expressed from the floor during the general convention. These need to be incorporated. We have only hinted of a way forward. The general convention will add clarity to this road. And although the top leadership has been settled, other leadership positions are yet to be settled. If need be, there might even be election to settle certain issues and positions.
What kind of an impact will the general convention have on the national political landscape?
When we conducted our last general convention 21 years ago, the parliamentary system had just been established. We were in the House as the third largest party. But at that time, we didn’t have a full-fledged loktantra. Hence the party decided to mount its struggle, both through the street as well as the House. But we were not given due space. We then adopted the route of armed struggle, after which we again joined hands with traditional parliamentary forces to reach the current stage. That general convention 21 years ago brought about a sea change in the country. We are holding the seventh general convention at a time we are discussing important questions like federalism, the question of identity, ending of class, caste, geographical and gender based discrimination, and creation of new basis of national unity. We were able to bring about such radical transformation in Nepali state apparatus even as the third largest party 21 years ago. Now, as the largest party, the impact of our general convention in shaping the national politics, economy and society will be even greater.
There is a belief that the Maoists have been biding their time and there could be a breakthrough on new government formation soon after the general convention.
The likelihood of a breakthrough will depend on the mandate of the general convention, which is likely to be centered on institutionalizing the mandate of people’s war and Jana Andolan. Since there is no alternative to going to the people, the general convention will try to find the best course to reach this goal. We are confident that the general convention will give us a clear line and strong leadership to move forward on national politics. We will come up with one or the other solution at the end of the general convention.
As things stand, what is the Maoist bottom line for government change?
The main issue is coming to a breakthrough through consensus and preparation of a new constitution. Our first proposal is a package deal on government leadership, when the Maoist party will first lead the consensus government, clear the constitutional hurdles and make necessary appointments. Then, there will be a Nepali Congress-led government to conduct polls. Second, we propose going into new polls under third-candidate leadership. Third, the dissolved CA can be restored and a constitution promulgated on the basis of the issues that have already been settled. We are ready to take up any one of these three options.
Hasn’t Nepali politics left the agenda of CA revival far behind?
New CA election is undoubtedly the best way forward. Failing that, the old CA can be restored and a constitution be issued based on past agreements.
There was reportedly an agreement to conduct polls under NC leadership, which later fell apart. What happened?
Yes, there was a package deal to clear the way for Congress leadership, but the party could not convince us that it was capable of conducting polls on time. It could not assure us of its ability to clear constitutional hurdles, form transitional justice mechanisms and own up past agreements. Thus, in order to achieve these goals, we asked the opposition parties to join the current government for time being, after which the country could go for election under Congress leadership. Such a move from the opposition would create an atmosphere of trust. Otherwise, if the new government backtracks on transitional justice mechanisms and on owning up past agreements, election might again be postponed. What is the guarantee that the impasse witnessed between 1950 and 1960 won’t be repeated? How can we trust the opposition parties when they aren’t willing to express trust in us by joining the government even for a short time? If the opposition joins the government, 15 days should be enough to clear the constitutional hurdles and fill up constitutional bodies.
You talked about the option of third-party candidate for government leadership. Have you discussed this option with opposition parties?
Yes, the option of government leadership by a small party or independent candidate is being discussed with the opposition. A lot will depend on the kind of mandate we get from the general convention. I believe once Nepali Congress and CPN-UML put forth their views before the people on the street, they will be more amenable to agreements on the table. Since both the ruling and opposition parties have discussed each other’s conditions among themselves, it is time to take these arguments to the people. For our part, we will try to clarify why there was no constitution, no election, and what our conditions are for government change. They will offer their own views. This will hopefully create common ground for discussions. But the opposition needs to understand that in a democracy a legitimately elected government cannot be overthrown from the streets. Street can be used only to build pressure and air one’s position. Besides, the opposition has no ground to agitate at a time we have been repeatedly asking them to come to the table.
With its seventh general convention, has the evolution of UPCN (Maoist) from a cadre-based to a mass-based party started?
Traditionally, communist parties are purely cadre-based, while the bourgeois parties are purely mass-based. Our goal is to become a mass-based-cadre-party. Neither can a purely mass-based party lead the momentous changes in Nepal in recent times, nor can a completely cadre-based party lead the people. Thus we want to be a cadre-based party that also enjoys broad support among the masses.
There has been criticism from various quarters about the extortionist donation drive of UCPN (Maoist) on the eve of the general convention. How do you respond?
Our focus is to collect most of the needed funds through our members and well-wishers. We will take Rs. 5,000 each from representatives/observers at the convention, which will amount to Rs 1 million. We collect money from even the lowest rung party cadre. During general conventions, each party member contributes to the best of his or her ability. Thus, donations are only our fourth option. We have also learned a lot form the controversy surrounding the donation drive of the Baidya-led Maoist party ahead of its own general convention. Also, we have found that some people are spreading rumors of forced donation so that they are not bothered for donation later.
Ahead of the general convention, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been talking about bringing about a ‘democratic revolution’ while abandoning the old course of ‘new democratic revolution’. Can you explain what this means for the layman?
In Europe, there was an industrial, capitalistic revolution against feudalism. But after the development of hegemonic forces, the capitalist class abandoned its revolutionary path. They started working in concert with the feudal forces. Then, the laborers had to unite against the feudalists. Since this was a new development, it was termed a ‘new democratic revolution’ by Mao. In Nepal’s context, the parties of laborers and victimized and oppressed people must complete this revolution by getting people’s mandate in a peaceful manner. This is what we have called ‘democratic revolution,’ aimed at solving the questions of nationalism, democracy and people’s war.
Some people have interpreted the Maoists’ new way forward as sidelining of the old cadres who took part in the armed struggle, while embracing those likely to do well in parliamentary politics.
Yesterday, those who knew how to fight were at the forefront of the revolution. Today, the challenge is to teach them to win people’s hearts and minds. This is important as the party aims to complete the revolution through peaceful means.