MURARI SHARMA/BHAGIRATH BASNET
PARTIES’ DEMOCRACY DEFICIT
Unfortunately, Nepal’s political parties have all along been stricken by rifts, fissures, divisions and factionalism. All parties—UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Madheshi and Rastriya Prajatantra Party—have suffered from these diseases and splintered consequently. Honesty has been in scarce supply among Nepali political leaders, even though evolution of a robust democratic and competitive society calls for strong and honest democratic parties.
Let us focus now on UCPN (Maoist), the largest party in the dissolved Constituent Assembly. This party is a product of a series of fractures and mergers. Although some of the divisions among the Maoists have in the past been ideological and personal, the reasons for rifts in recent times have often been money and power. Factionalism in the Maoist party was well pronounced from the sixth plenum held in Palungtar, Gurkha, itself. It had led to the formation of three separate groups and presentation of three separate papers in the meeting by Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Vice-Chairmen Mohan Baidya and (current Prime Minister) Baburam Bhattarai.
Dahal and Baidya factions blamed Bhattarai for being a “bourgeoisie leader” trying to drag the party along a revisionist course. Bhattarai was also accused of submitting to “foreign imperialism” and “Indian expansionism” and of fearing to declare India as the party’s principal enemy. Baidya and Bhattarai factions had blamed Dahal of financial irregularities and alleged that he was enjoying supremacy in the party from his monopoly over financial resources. The party cadres had also heavily attacked the “bourgeoisie” lifestyle of top leaders, especially Dahal.
The year 2012 has been one of the worst for the Maoists. Chairman Dahal organized the seventh plenum, among other things, with the intention of resolving the differences in the party and boosting his political image in and out of his party. But the meeting went awry when the disgruntled members vented their ire at him and other leaders, and the opposing factions threw chairs and bottles at each other. The situation was so bad that senior leaders had to be whisked away for their safety by the security complement.
At the plenum, Dahal’s faction severely criticized PM Bhattarai for the poor performance of his government and for signing the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA) and Extradition Treaty with India without any consultations in the party. It also accused the government of preparing to hand over the management of Tribhuvan International Airport to an Indian company. The faction alleged that Bhattarai had been working under the direction of New Delhi to prolong the life of his government.
The Bhattarai faction retaliated in kind. It trashed Dahal for lack of financial transparency and a clear political road map and for his expensive lifestyle. This forced Dahal to announce that he would vacate his posh Lazimpat residence and return the luxury vehicle that he had received from the government.
But to everyone’s surprise, all these criticisms and counter-criticisms vanished after a closed-door meeting of senior leaders. The next day, they happily appeared in the plenum with praise for one another. Bhattarai unequivocally lauded Dahal as ‘the leader of the leaders’ in the party and expressed his intention not to challenge his leadership. He also informed the gatherings that their solidarity would take the party to a new height that would amaze the whole world.
After the split of UCPN (Maoist) into UCPN (Maoist) and CPN (Maoist) led by Mohan Baidya, Dahal is walking a very fine line. He is supporting Bhattarai while trying to contain his influence and strength in the party while Bhattarai is trying his best not to antagonize Dahal. This is simply a marriage of convenience between the two leaders that could break as soon as Bhattarai government falls, because mutual grievances and contest for resources and power have not gone away.
The acrimony and violence in the seventh plenum bruised Dahal more than anyone else. His popularity and public image suffered. To add insult to injury, Dahal’s only son Prakash has been continuously cited for his notoriety that could only be compared with that of former crown prince Paras. Prakash divorced his first wife to marry the second one; and then he ran away from home with his new girlfriend Bina Magar, a married woman, even though both of them have not divorced their legitimate spouses. This is a matter of shame for a public figure like Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Bhattarai has not remained unscathed either. He has failed to deliver on his promises and has become probably the most incompetent prime minister in the country’s democratic history. Some of his decisions, such as BIPPA, have been criticized by his own party members and cabinet colleagues. His wife’s illegal monetary activities have been widely covered in the media. Bhatarai told the seventh plenum that he had become prime minister in an unfortunate time. Recent revelations about his dealings with the Indian spy agency, RAW, during the insurgency and his admission that he has been working under external influence have damaged him even further.
Maoist workers complained in the seventh plenum that they could not benefit much even though their party was heading the government. This is the misfortune of the country. At a time when political leaders and workers must devote their time and energy to convert bad times into opportunities to transform the country and build the nation, leaders and workers of the largest party are complaining about their own selfish interests. The result is there for all to see. In the history of Nepal, the Bhattarai government is one of the most corrupt and undemocratic, running in the most unconstitutional way.
Maoist leaders also have been at the forefront of telling lies and injecting unprecedented level of dishonesty into Nepali politics. Dahal has broken all records of flip-flopping. Now he is for single identity states; now he is not. He is for the change of government; and he is not. He is for democracy; and he is not. Lies and dishonesty have been an integral strategy of the Maoists to “capture the state.”
The latest example is PM Bhattarai’s disingenuous argument that he would resign as soon as there is consensus on his alternative. Well, there will be no consensus without his party joining agreement; and his party would not join any agreement that forces him to resign. He has created a constitutional vacuum and been milking it to the hilt. So he has not taken serious initiative for dialogue with opposition parties to resolve the political crisis, created by the dissolution of the CA without delivering a new constitution and by his announcement of new elections not provided for by the Interim Constitution.
The Maoists must recall that they had rejected a similar argument from then-Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and forced him to resign. Some honesty from the Maoists and their prime minister will do a lot of good to improve their reputation and help Nepal find a way out of the current political crisis, contributing to the country’s evolution as a truly democratic society.
All parties need internal democracy and transparency to become resilient and strong. And they have to be honest so their own cadre and people in general can trust them. The Maoists lack these virtues more than others. Without the Maoists and other main political parties developing these traits, Nepal cannot evolve into a strong democratic society.