Print Edition - 2014-04-27  |  Free the Words

Pathways to power

  • A healthy pre-electoral alliance with a long-term vision has never been tried in Nepal
- Khagendra N Sharma, Kathmandu
Pathways to power

Apr 26, 2014-

Dr Baburam Bhattarai has created quite a furore by pointing to the need for a ‘New Power’. This is a positive gesture from the pen of the propounder of unilateral power to grab state authority. This change in the great Maoist ideologue is the result of the people’s disposal of the actual power as shown in the election to the second Constituent Assembly (CA). The first CA election had given the Maoists the unfounded confidence that they could manipulate the people in any way they liked. But the results of the second CA election proved a shock to them because the people exercised their sovereign power to cut the political forces down to size.

Mishandling power

It would be naive to point out to Bhattarai that politics is a game of power. In the first CA, the Maoists had a golden opportunity to hold absolute power. Alas, the absolute corruption in the party to grab military might by dismissing its chief in an illegal manner boomeranged on them. Power needs to be handled carefully. May I humbly remind the learned ideologue that state and governance are run in a continuum; and if there is an attempt to disrupt the rhythm all at once, the state machinery cannot hold itself together leading to complete anarchy. The military has remained the holder of core state power despite an attempt to stifle it. Similarly, the federal republic has failed to be institutionalised despite the dislodgement of the monarchy. The harbingers of the republic did not possess even the primary skills to lay the foundation of a federal structure. Nepal is still a unitary state, and although I do not see even a remote possibility, there are ample gestures from different sections of society, including the fourth largest party in the CA, to restore the monarchy.

Road to power

Although the new power concept of Bhattarai defies specific description, there is no harm in suggesting some ways to accumulate power. The first way is forming a grand coalition as the Maoists did after the first CA election which its leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal had the opportunity to lead. The decade-long insurgency had generated some hope from the Maoists in the minds of the people which the other forces were circumstantially forced to accept. That coalition could have accomplished anything if it had acted through mutual consideration and sharing. But the Maoist leadership failed to reap the harvest.

Another way to accumulate power is through unification or merger of forces with identical objectives. The presence of about a dozen communist parties under different names has emerged as a surprise in a semi-feudal agrarian society without an organised and centralised labour movement. There were just four communist members in the first ever elected Parliament in 1959. But the abhorrence of king Mahendra towards BP Koirala and the parliamentary system created a fertile ground for the communists to thrive during the long gap following the dissolution of the Nepali Congress (NC) government. The political void was well filled by leftist cadres who unfortunately could not remain united and split into several factions. This disunity stemmed mainly from personal rivalry rather than ideology.

There were some attempts to unify these diverse groups in the form of the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) which could challenge the monopolistic domain of the NC. Then came the decade-long insurgency under the leadership of the CPN (Maoist). An attempt at power was made through the merger of a few leftist factions and the CPN (Maoist) became the Unified CPN (Maoist). But it again became a victim of the Nepali syndrome of splitting, and the hardliners were able to forge a new party under the old name. Thus, another opportunity was lost. Bhattarai and his patron Dahal could have averted this crisis if they had seen their power diminishing. Now Bhattarai laments the loss of power. There is a culture of self-criticism among the communists, but I have never seen a need for introspection  (soul-searching).

There is one more way to acquire power through alliance among two or more opportunistic forces. The unholy alliance that Bhattarai led as the prime minister is an example of this. The Maoist party made use of the seemingly fragile Madhesi Morcha to support the continued usurpation of power even by dismissing the CA that had supported the cabinet, pushing the country towards uncertainty. A more healthy alliance can be forged by aligning with parties before an election and forming a government together if it secures a majority. But this kind of alliance needs firm commitment. The Maoists are not a lone example of forging opportunistic alliances. In the aftermath of the first mid-term election called by then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the hung parliament had been a breeding ground for unhealthy opportunistic alliances in which the Rastriya Prajatantra Party played the role of a villain, blackmailing the NC and the UML.

Good alliance

But a healthy pre-electoral alliance with a long-term vision has never been tried in Nepal. Bhattarai is more familiar than any other political leader with the current state of politics in Nepal. I do not think he has any magical formula of creating a new power. He has now come around to realising the taste of people’s power through his analysis of the two recent general elections. He can identify trustworthy leaders by their pet names. He can prove his worth by carving out a long-term alliance with an identical agenda. The first on the chart would be the CPN (Maoist). Their reunion may restore part of their lost power. Next in line would be the UML, but for this, both the parties will have to stop treating the other as a rank enemy. Both of them are the progeny of the same Marxist philosophy. Third, if the UCPN (Maoist) can demonstrate democratic credentials, a number of small parties could come together with them.

The Maoists do not tire of talking about street power. But let me remind Bhattarai that even a weak prime minister like Madhav Kumar Nepal could defy the Maoists’ street demonstrations after the resignation of Dahal as the prime minister. His erstwhile colleagues in the CPN-Maoist talk of enforcing a ‘People’s Constitution’ from the streets. But it rings hollow to most people.

Sharma is a freelance political analyst

Published: 27-04-2014 09:12

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