Bouncing back

  • To regain its political ground, the UCPN (Maoist) needs to stick to agendas of change
- Dipendra Jha
Bouncing back

Feb 20, 2014-

Is the revival of the UCPN (Maoist) possible? If yes, how? These are questions that have baffled many post the November 19 Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. The Maoists, freshly from a 10-year-long insurgency, became the largest party in the first CA. But the second CA election dealt a massive blow to the party standing, relegating it to third position.

UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, is a communist to the core, so at times, his commitment to democracy tends to falter. His threat to reject the November 19 poll results while the votes were still being counted is but one example. His revolutionary image has taken a beating post the 2006 Janaandolan. Now it appears as though Dahal has lost all hope for his party’s revival. His level of confidence has weakened and as a result, he has deviated from agendas of change. This could be bad for both him and the country.

People pleaser

Before the CA polls, Dahal adopted a policy of attempting to appease all as far as federalism was concerned. He tried to placate all major stakeholders—Brahmins/Chhetris, Janajatis, Dalits and Madhesis—but failed to win any of their confidence. Dahal, who was a symbol of hope for many post-2006, no longer inspires the masses. The split in the Maoist party, an ideological confusion in the UCPN (Maoist) on issues of federalism and identity and the party’s deviation from its revolutionary ideals are the chief reasons why the Dahal-led Maoists lost the second CA election.

As of now, the odds are stacked against this party, but it can reclaim its position in national politics provided it corrects its mistakes. There is a growing sense of confusion among UCPN (Maoist) leaders that they were defeated in the election because of their push for identity-based federalism. What the party should recognise is that status-quoist forces conducted a sustained propaganda campaign that the ethnic federalism championed by the Dahal Maoist would disintegrate the country and destroy communal harmony.

The federalist forces, led by the UCPN (Maoist), failed to counter this propaganda. As result, residents of the mid-hills, the Chure range, East-West Highway and the country’s hill Brahmin/Chhetris remained confused about the real aspects of federalism—that federalism is a binder, not a divider. Many countries across the world have adopted federalism primarily to overcome the threat of disintegration.

The anti-federal forces succeeded in projecting ethnic federalism as a recipe for disintegration, communal disharmony and casteism. The Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML were adamant on not accepting ethnic federalism. But unlike these two parties, the UCPN (Maoist) kept changing its stance on federalism.

The party adopted a tacit policy to keep the Hill Brahmins/Chhetris happy and thus, did not polarise the CA election on federalism. But it also presented itself as the emancipator of Madhesis and Janajatis. Yet, the UCPN (Maoist) remained silent when hill Brahmin/Chhetri voters clamoured for an ‘Undivided Far-West’. Not only that, the party failed to take any action against Lekhraj Bhatta who openly supported that campaign.

Thus, their feet on two boats became the primary reason for the Dahal-led Maoists’ defeat. Consolidated votes from the hill Brahmins/Chhetris went to the NC and UML whereas fragmented votes from Madhesis and Janajatis were divided among several candidates.  

 

In bad company

Additionally, providing political protection to leaders involved in corruption, human rights violations and criminal activities were other reasons for the Maoist’s debacle in the polls. Favouritism and nepotism mushroomed in this party post-2006, which disappointed voters that had once perceived the Maoists to be real agents of change. People who shed their blood and sweat for the party over the years were sidelined and those that appeased the leadership were promoted. Brokers, businesspersons and the mafia got more opportunities within the party. The Maoists, thus, became detached from their base, the marginalised communities.  

Furthermore, Dahal’s desire to promote family members in the party and his love for luxury items also gave an impression to the public that he was no different from others. While it is true that the party did not get a chance to implement its revolutionary programmes, it did not do anything that could win the confidence of the public and marginalised communities either, barring Baburam Bhattarai’s road expansion drive.

 The failure of the first CA to complete a constitution under the UCPN (Maoist)’s leadership was also a reason for people’s disenchantment with the party. They had the chance to deliver a new constitution as per their agreement with the NC and UML, signed days before the term of the CA was to expire. But they failed to convince Madhesi and Janajati leaders on the issue of federalism and as a result, were forced to backtrack on the agreement.

Now the only option for the party is to accept the parliamentary process, cooperate on the constitution-drafting process, express its note of dissent on major constitutional issues that could prevent the marginalised communities from enjoying their rights and, protecting their identity. The only other option is to hit the streets and occupy Tundikhel to challenge the status-quoists.

Strategies for the future

If the UCPN (Maoist) wants to regain its political ground, it needs to stick to the agendas of change that it championed in the past. My advice to the Maoists is this: rather than being co-opted and making compromises on agendas of change, go back to the villages and apologise to the public for the mistakes you made. The party needs to regain the confidence of the public and prove that it remains steadfast in championing the cause of identity-based federalism.

In the future, the UCPN (Maoist) should also use an alternate media strategy to clear the misprojection of its agendas on federalism and inclusion. This is because the Nepali media is a part of the permanent establishment, which includes the bureacracy, army and business communities. Therefore, the party has to be ready to counter all of them with its own strategies. It needs to rebuild its organisational strength on the ground by giving suitable roles to honest and committed cadres. It must also deal with all war-era human rights violation cases as soon as possible through the Truth and Recociliation Commission.

Though the revival of the UCPN (Maoist) is still possible through street movements, it should instead focus on a combination of parliamentary and street-fights. The party can use the CA to push its agendas of social justice, identity and federalism in a strategic way. But it can also  save its image by remaining out of government as long as its organisational strength is not revived. However, compromising with rightist forces, even on genuine agendas of change, can further damage its credibility. A delay in institutionalising the post 2006 changes and prolonging of the political transition will easily dilute its agendas. So framing a new constitution remains an important step towards opening the door for further changes.

Jha is an advocate at Supreme Court

Published: 21-02-2014 10:28

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