Murari Sharma: For whom the bell tolls∗

The German politician Otto Von Bismark has said politics is the art of the possible. The latest effort of the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center) cooperate for the coming provincial and national elections, leading to their potential merger, has rocked Nepal’s political landscape.

Some people in Nepal complain when political parties quarrel and when they cooperate. Some people have ridiculed it as a futile effort. Some have criticized it as a marriage of convenience without any principle. Some have suggested that either the CPN (UML) leader KP Oli or the CPN (Maoist Center) leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s clever stratagem to destroy the other. Some have feared it as the potential game changer.  

Indeed, the collaboration could end in one of those three possibilities. It could be a short-lived marriage of convenience. Or a futile exercise, as the Nepali Congress leader Gagan Thapa has said. There is ample evidence for it. Marx had called for the unity of the labor worldwide, and this means the unity of communists around the world. Pushpa Lal Shrestha, the founding leader of the CPN, also tried to keep the CPN together.

However, communists worldwide and the communist of Nepal have consistently quarreled and their unity has fractured. Established in 1949, the CPN had about 17 factions, all calling themselves as full-fledged parties. At the same time, the communist parties have also merged with each other and expanded to become the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center).  Anyway, the effort toward unity is a good step.

It could well be that Oli and Dahal are trying to destroy each other and take the mantle of communist leadership. Both have proven their smarts: Oli by rising to the top of his party, becoming a nationalist visionary with some quirk, and winning the local elections for his party.  Dahal has been the leader of the Maoist insurgency and of the largest party of the first Constituent Assembly, as well as the prime minister twice. 

Some, mostly left-oriented pundits and politicians, have sincerely hoped that the new alliance could be a potential game changer. For some, change of government could be a change in the game. But for me, the new alliance will not be a game changer until it leads to two conditions. First, if the two leaders and parties have not been seeking to destroy each other.

The rumor is that they would try to destroy each other, and the budding collaboration is a trap. If that is really the case, then they would try to destroy each other through political propaganda and even violence between the supporters of the two parties. 

Second, if the new alliance robustly nudges the country towards a relatively stable and strong two-party state, something Nepal desperately needs for its progress.

Nepal needs a stable government, along with the peaceful transition of power from one government to another, for political maturity and socio-economic progress. While the first-past-the-post election does not provide a guarantee that one party won the majority in the house, proportional representation often results in unstable government, subject to whims and fancies of smaller coalition partners that have little to lose if the incumbent government fails to deliver. 

There is a genuine fear in the Nepali Congress Party that the attempt to set up a wide leftist tent could put it out of power for several years. Evidently, the fear prompted Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to call the meeting of non-communist parties recently. While only time will tell whether a broad non-communist alliance would actually materialized, it will be good for stability, democracy, and the country. 

In addition, smaller parties have also clamored for unity and consolidation. For instance, several Madheshi parties have merged to form the Rashtriya Janata Party. Now, the ∗and the Federal Socialist Forum have also agreed to form an alliance for the provincial and national elections. Smaller communist parties have also formed a coalition recently. 

This is a good thing. Rather than ridiculing those leaders and parties that have been seeking to come together, we should encourage them, so Nepal evolves into a strong-two-party state. However, it might not be easy for different parties to engage in seamless cooperation, let alone obtain such integration. Even if the senior leaders choose to follow the ambitious path, junior leaders and local political workers might find it difficult to palate.

We know it from the NCP experience. Prime Minister Deuba separated from the mother party and formed a separate one when the NCP President Girija Prasad Koirala did not cooperate with him 2002 to extend the state of emergency to combat the Maoists. Though Deuba reunited with the mother party later, the two factions could not integrate at the district level. So for a long time, there was 60-40 division between the two factions.  

It is premature to suggest whether the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center) would last or result into their eventual integration. They might be the victims of history or they might beat the past and start a better future together. But it will only be good for the country if they integrate, and the NCP also forges a grand coalition of non-communist forces.

I do not know for whom the bell tolls if the UML and Maoist Center effort fails. But I have no doubt that politics is the art of the possible. Nepali politics has sprung many surprises in the past, so nothing should be ruled out just yet.

∗I have taken the title from one of Ernest Hemingway’s novel.

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