Prime Minister KP Oli said that the united communist party will be like a jet aircraft that has tow pilots, not an auto rickshaw with a single driver. It was his response to a question related to two leaders co-chairing the merged Communist Party of Nepal. This left unity might lift or ruin our lives, depending on what the new, powerful party chooses to do in the days ahead.
The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) have merged on 17 May 2018 to for the new party. Until the next party convention, the new party will have Mr Oli and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal will be co-chairs.
Communists of Nepal have earned a well-established reputation that they are better at splitting, rather than uniting. The Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), established in 1949, splintered into nearly a dozen and a half parties in the later years. Their mergers have proved less enduring than their splits.
One of the few enduring mergers has been between the CPN (Marxist) and the CPN (Marxist-Leninist) and the CPN (United Marxist-Leninist). Even though the CPN (UML) broke over the Mahakali Treaty with India, the splinter groups came together after a disastrous defeat in the general election. What will be the fate of the newly minted CPN without any adjective, when it has a two-thirds majority in the upper house?
It is hard to say for sure at this point because I don’t have a crucible to the future. No one has for that matter. Therefore, the only way to guess would be to look at the cases elsewhere. There are two examples in our own region: China and West Bengal.
Even though one might be tempted to use the example of China, it does not exactly fit our situation. China is still an authoritarian one-party-state politically, though economically it has embraced capitalism. Therefore, West Bengal is a more appropriate example here, because both Nepal and West Bengal have communist party rule in democratic societies with competitive politics.
Under the communist rule that started in 1977, West Bengal launched a series of land reform and promoted labor militancy. As a result, lost its economic ground considerably. According to Prof. Subba Iyer, West Bengal’s contribution to India’s GDP went down from 7.2 percent in 1980/81 to 6.1 percent in 2000-01 and per capita income from 1.02 times to 0.96 times. The share of manufacturing slipped from 21 percent to 13 percent. Infrastructure also suffered under communist rule, while there was some gain in poverty reduction, though less than Tamil Nadu.
Communist leaders in democratic countries make populist land reform and labor militancy as their first port of call — a quick fix to please the poor and win the election. While land reform and workers’ rights are important to reduce poverty and promote justice, too much of them stifles growth and makes everyone poorer by hollowing out the economy. in the long run. If Nepali leaders also pursue this quick fix, Nepal will suffer the same fate as West Bengal, making Nepal and the Nepali people poorer.
However, if the left government delivers on what it has promised, Nepal could be a blossoming country in next 10 years. The promises have indeed been tall. As Prime Minister Oli has pronounced that Nepal will double its per capita income in 10 years, remove the blackout and tuin (single-rope river crossing), and rail connection to Kathmandu from India and China in five years, to name a few.
Policies and pronouncements often come up cheap, while their implementation is expensive and complicated. It requires strategic thinking, commitment, hard work, and perseverance for a prolonged period from government and people and sustained support from development partners. And external assistance depends largely on how major donors perceive the communist government.
India is not pleased with the communist government, even though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to sooth the wound he had given to Nepal with his undeclared economic blockade in 2015/16 in support of the disagreement with the new constitution shown in the parts of the Terai plains. While India needs to work to slow down the Chinese inroads and continue to engage, Western countries are under skeptical about the Nepali communists’ commitment to democracy.
In this situation, the question now is whether PM Oli and his colleagues follow the path of West Bengal under the Marxists or do something more creative to ensure that the Nepali economy and society avoid the stagnation suffered by the Bengalis. Because the recently unified CPN commands a nearly two-thirds majority in the federal parliament, on the party will depend on the fate of Nepal for the next few years.
The co-chairmanship of CPN will come with its own additional conflicts and perils. I hope it will be as short as possible and as little damaging as possible.