Reporting on the launch of a new party-affiliated body of rowdy students and youths aptly named ‘Akhil Force’ on Dec. 22, 2011, newspapers published photos that depicted CPN-UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal as an uncompromising revolutionary. His Fidel Castro-like body language (with angry face and tightly clenched fist raised high above his head) has once again unleashed confusing signals about the beliefs and characteristics of his party.
UML leaders have long since abandoned fist clenching— the revolutionary salutations of ultra communists—and adopted Namaste—the time honored tradition of our civilization. Many of their leaders in fact feel embarrassed when someone shouts ‘Comrade Lal Salam
[Red Salute]!’ with his/her fist clenched. Their response, on such occasions, is a cool namaste.
UML is a house divided along ideological, factional and personal lines, which often mix or overlap. In the process, friends turn into foes and vice-versa. This time, chairman Khanal—the friend-turned-foe of the Maoists—initiated reconciliation with his arch-rival, KP Oli, a known Maoist baiter. However, the rapprochement has been possible not only because Oli is an old enemy of Khanal’s new enemy but also because antagonism with Oli, who has a sizable following in the party ranks, hasn’t paid Khanal much dividend.
As there are neither permanent friends nor permanent foes in politics, there is nothing (un)holy about any marriage of convenience between Khanal and Oli. However, the opening remarks of Khanal’s 11-point ‘Proposal of Unity’, mainly aimed at offering third position to Oli in the party hierarchy, and which was adopted by the party standing committee, is filled with hypocritical rhetoric. “Communist parties are formed and operated on the principles, programs and policies formulated as per the guiding principles of Marxism-Leninism and the experiences of the class struggle launched within the country,” it reads; as the teachings of Marx and Lenin or lessons from ‘Nepal’s class struggle’ prompted Khanal and Oli to join hands! Moreover, the opening remarks have no relationship whatsoever to the rest of his proposal.
UML folks explain their difference with Maoists mainly on two grounds. One, they argue that although they are Marxists, they believe in sirjanatmak prayog of the philosophy, which advocates peaceful application of Marxism. Two, unlike the Maoists who vow to bring a one-party communist dictatorship (satta kabja, in their jargon) they believe in multiparty system, along with other democratic freedoms. In private, most UML leaders frankly admit that theirs is not a traditional communist party, as they have left classical communism two decades behind. Besides these admissions, their divergence with the Maoists on issues of socioeconomic change and operational modality also speak volumes.
CPN-UML is at historic crossroads. The choice is between a completely democratic course and some form of watered-down communism.
Going by the party’s actions and pronouncements including its election manifestos, especially the more recent ones, CPN-UML is now a bourgeoisie political party rather than a communist or an ideological outfit. However, its very name—Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)—in its official documents and resolutions adopted during various party forums and which are still valid suggest that is it is (still) a communist party just like its other communist cousins in Nepal.
Madan Bhandari, the visionary and charismatic Party General Secretary, introduced the concept of People’s Multiparty Democracy (PMD) as far back as 1992. It was later adopted as the future political course of the party by its fifth General Assembly. The time of the inception of PMD sent mixed signals to Nepali communists. Global communism was collapsing at a breakneck speed, but in the home front Bhandari’s party had emerged the second largest in the polls. However, he, unlike some of his more orthodox fellow party men, was quick to realize that electoral gains were result of his party’s partnership with Nepali Congress (NC) in the struggle to restore democracy and it had little to do with communist ideology.
He also knew that his party’s organizational and strategic superiority over NC—now an election rival—also helped them reap electoral rewards. He was aware that neither the domestic power balance nor the international situation, especially the geo-political situation—one of the deciding factors in the realpolitik of this country—was favorable for a communist takeover, a realization that would dawn on Maoist leaders like Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai two decades down the road.
Bhandari, therefore, envisaged that eventually the party would have to do away with communism altogether. But he also knew that because of the indoctrinated cadres (the most valuable asset of a cadre-based communist party) his vision of transformation came with risks and that it might not be implemented easily and quickly. Hence the invention of PMD.
Notwithstanding the communist jargons and long and often confusing explanations meant for the consumption of the cadres, the ultimate goal of PMD was to convert the party into a social democrat body. PMD, therefore, was cautiously introduced as a test case, and more was to come later. Bhandari’s plan was to release its advanced versions in the days to come; the sequence and the mode of the transformation would, of course, depend on the response and acceptability of its earlier versions and installments by party rank and file. His untimely death orphaned PMD; since, the whole program has been in limbo.
Bereft of vision and lacking adequate hold in the party to further define and chart the course of PMD, his successors reduced the term to a passing reference. In the name of sirjanatmak prayog (creative application) of Marxism, the party has lost its direction and fallen prey to all sorts of contradictions, confusions, self-seeking politics and power-oriented opportunism. Anyway, with or without a properly defined and fully discussed PMD, UML cannot revert to its old communist mode or belief.
With the eme`rgence of the Maoists as the number one political and communist force in the country after the start of the peace process, UML faces an imminent danger of annihilation. For good or for bad, most of its hardliners, especially those who joined the breakaway CPN-ML when the party split in 1998, have defected to the Maoist camp in the last 15 years. The latter have snatched its traditional support base that comprised of the poor and the working class; its support base has now shifted upwards to educated circles like various professional groups where NC is still dominant.
Should UML decide to retain its communist identity, its battle for survival will continue with both factions of the Maoists as, no two communist parties, whether moderate or hardliner, can simultaneously become and remain number 1; either they have to merge or disappear. In case UML decides to officially brand itself as a social democratic party (which it is tempted but not confident enough to do) with its superior organizational capabilities, it can emerge as an alternative and formidable contender to NC. However, there are pros and cons of either option.
UML should be prepared to lose something to gain something. It can neither live in self-satisfying illusions nor can it fool all the people all the time and enjoy the benefits of both worlds. Time has come for it to choose one clear path, be it on socioeconomic issues or ideological/organizational direction. Vagueness and inconsistency won’t work and won’t pay anymore. Once and for all, it has had to choose between namaste and clenched fists.
Two comments, one on substance, and the other on semantics.
The author has given a very succinct analysis of the inner character--"dwed charitra"-- of the UML. It seems to represent a party of the middle men with meddling nature run largely to safeguard the petty interests of kirana and khudra prabritti in the political landscape of Nepal. The party consistently demonstrated ´kamred mukhiya´ mentality over the years. UML failed several times to rise up to the historic oc
Author´s analytical views on UML is very interesting and contemporary. Yes one hardly thinks that UML is anymore communist party of Nepal. As author pointed out most of the UML leaders either central or grass root feel shy and awkward when somebody pronouce them comrade and raise hand to give red salute. They have also drifted from their communist economic ideology. All leaders or cadres want to have a vast portion of properties in their name as could as possible. One can easily see the p