Two years after merger, differences remain in Nepal Communist Party over ‘people’s war’While former Maoists continue to extol the war as a historic event, former UML leaders are yet to endorse it wholeheartedly.
Dahal on Thursday shed light on the significance of the “people’s war” that his Maoist party launched 25 years ago. He merged his party in May 2018 with Oli’s UML to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
The only senior leader from the former UML who attended the event was Bamdev Gautam, who, addressing the function, said more than 200 UML leaders and cadres were killed by the Maoists during the war.
Since the formation of the Nepal Communist Party, Thursday was the second “people’s war” anniversary. Oli did not attend the function last year as well.
Party leaders say even though the UML leaders agreed to merge with the Maoist party to form a “large communist force”, they are yet to fully endorse the “people’s war”.
Oli’s criticism of the war has been known for years, even though he himself forayed into politics through a bloody class struggle in Jhapa in 1969.
Oli has not minced his words in the past while questioning the rationale of the “people’s war” that continued from 10 years until 2006, resulting in the deaths of 17,000 people and the displacement and disappearance of thousands of others.
Two years after the merger, party leaders still say that the unification was done in a haste and that it has never been organic, as differences on a wide range of issues, including the ideology and the “people’s war”, continue to persist.
“The reluctance to participate in a programme that commemorates the sacrifices made by our comrades shows the UML leadership still does not accept the former Maoists’ ideological part,” said Mani Thapa, who represents the former Maoist party as a Standing Committee member in the Nepal Communist Party. “It’s, however, strange as the party’s political document and the party statute mention the contributions of the people’s war.”
Among the majority of party leaders, there, however, is no confusion that the decision to merge the two parties, which came from opposite schools of thought, was largely strategic.
Oli was buoyed by the nationalistic stance he had taken in the aftermath of the Indian border blockade in 2015. He also largely believed that it was him who convinced the Nepali Congress and the Maiost party to cobble together the constitution in the wake of the 2015 earthquakes. His earlier stint as the prime minister in 2016 was short and he wanted to return to power—with more strength. But his party lacked the wherewithal and the base to win a majority. On the other hand, after facing a drubbing in 2013 Constituent Assembly elections, Dahal was struggling to maintain his relevance. He was even ready to renounce his Maoist ideals.
“But Dahal will never undermine the significance of the people’s war,” said a former Maoist leader in the Nepal Communist Party. “After all, it’s the people’s war that he led brought him to where he is in national politics."
While differences between Oli and Dahal are surfacing once in while, the party is divided along the UML and Maoist lines of ideology.
Even though Dahal of late has been able to rope in former UML leaders like Madhav Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bamdev Gautam, he fears they could abandon him when they have to choose between UML’s “people’s multiparty democracy” and the Maoists’ “21st century people’s democracy”. In the former UML camp, many believe “people’s multiparty democracy” works as the glue to hold the leaders together.
Currently, the party does not have a concrete political ideology and it has taken a middle path for the time being, saying it will follow socialism-oriented “people’s democracy” as its tactical programme.
Since abandoning the war, the Maoist party had been marking Falgun 1st of Bikram Sambat every year as “janayuddha diwas”—or people’s war day. But this year, it was called “a condolence meet to commemorate the martyrs of the people’s war and people’s movement”, which leaders believe was largely aimed at placacting former UML leaders.
“Both Oli and Dahal have a violent past,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator and writer. “While Oli refrains from talking about the bloody class struggle he was once part of; Dahal never misses any opportunity to glorify the war he waged.”
For Dahal, who has already abandoned the spirit of the “people’s war”, it’s his compulsion to extol it to remain relevant and in power, according to Shrestha. “Oli has nothing to gain by talking about his bloody past. Nor does he want to openly endorse the Maoist war even though his party has merged with the Maoists.”
Though some former UML leaders say there’s no need to read much into Oli’s absence from Thursday’s programme, his press advisor on Thursday appeared completely dismissive about the “people’s war”.
In an interview with the News24 channel, Oli’s press advisor Surya Thapa said the UML did not decide to merge with the Maoists to celebrate “janayuddha diwas”.
“Actually that was not [even] a people’s war and that’s why it came to a halt and it was abandoned,” said Thapa. “After deciding to merge with the Maoists, it’s us [the UML] who have agreed to carry the baggage of the people’s war. But it does not mean we are going to celebrate it.”
Former Maoist leaders have taken exception to Thapa’s statement and demanded action against him.
“He went a bit too far,” said Sudan Kirati, a central committee member. “If what Thapa is saying is to be believed, why was there this unification? To become the prime minister by lying to the people?”
Former Maoist leaders believe UML leaders have always been suspicious even after the party unity and that is not doing good to the unified party.
“I don’t think such behavior of the leaders [from the former UML] will make the party stronger,” said Thapa. “The party observed the function throughout the country with much enthusiasm except in Kathmandu. It’s a historic day and the party leaders should not undermine it.”
Analysts say the unification between the two communist forces is based on a weak ground and that differences over the “people’s war” were there and will continue to be there.
According to Shyam Shrestha, a political commentator with a deep understanding of Nepal’s leftist movement who also closely followed the Maoist insurgency, it was not Oli who proposed unification.
“It was Dahal who gave up all his previous ideals and joined hands with Oli,” said Shrestha. “By nature, Oli is rigid, adamant and he barely listens to others. He won’t accept people’s war.”