Communists, socialists or whateverThe real test for Madhav Kumar Nepal's outfit will come during the elections in a year’s time.
Lest we ever had any illusions over the past few months whether the intra-party acrimony within the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) had to do with matters such as principles, we can now rest assured that was not the case. Yes, there was this situation with KP Sharma Oli riding roughshod over the constitution and seemed dangerously close to mounting an autogolpe. But for all practical purposes, it was plain old jockeying for power. If confirmation was needed, it comes from the horse’s mouth, or rather the next best thing to it. Prominent former UML leader Radha Krishna Mainali was clear where the blame lay—on both sides. In fact, Mainali said that Oli’s complete marginalisation of the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction was a tactic he had perfected under the tutelage of no other than Nepal himself, and the latter was now getting a taste of his own medicine.
Even giving MK Nepal and the freshly minted Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Socialist) the benefit of the doubt, we cannot but be disappointed while going through the “manifesto” it came out with. The document was rather concise, a welcome development from the voluminous ones we are so used to seeing from the Left. Unfortunately, brevity did nothing to endear the short six pages since more than half was taken up by setting the stage for the emergence of yet another communist party, with the rest comprising the usual homilies about creating a just society for all the citizens of Nepal, and so on.
What’s with the name?
Let’s start with the name of the party itself. Not having done or seen any kind of comprehensive survey of all the communist parties that ever existed in the world, I do not say this with absolute certainty; but never have I come across a party that juxtaposes communism and socialism in its name. Granted that the first successful communist experiment in the world, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR, declared itself to be a socialist country. But that was only because its leaders decided that they were at that stage of historical development, and that the ultimate goal was nothing short of communism.
With some tweaks here and there, that is the very line taken by our various communist parties as well when forced to come up with a raison d’être under a liberal democratic polity after 1990. It was also articulated by the People’s Multiparty Democracy adopted by the UML in 1993, and which has served the party well over the decades even as it metamorphosed into something quite unrecognisable from its original self. The Unified Socialists dispenses even with that customary nod to complete revolution in its political document.
The identity of the socialists uniting under its banner, as the name suggests, remains unknown since everyone in the party is a former UML cadre, that is, communists by their own reckoning. Since the only self-proclaimed socialist party of note in the country is the Nepali Congress, and we have yet to note any defection from the latter into the new outfit so far, the Unified Socialist moniker appears to be more aspirational than rooted in reality.
The marriage between communism and socialism is not all that convincing either unless it is to signal that it is really a socialist party (whatever that means in the Nepali context with the Nepali Congress being a prime example) while retaining the communist brand for electability. That probably explains why the CPN (Unified Socialist) lays claim to being the “current form” of the original CPN founded in 1949.
In terms of its political programme, the manifesto comes with the expected dedication to “scientific socialism” along with a competitive multiparty system and all the trappings of a liberal democratic system. For added measure, it declares the party’s guiding principle to be Marxism-Leninism. Yet it also mentions that in the present world, emulating models of Marxism practised so far will not take them anywhere, so it will have to “follow revolutionary behaviour while adopting ideas in keeping with the special conditions existing in the country”. How that is going to pan out is for us to figure out, but there is no need to hold our breath.
Nepal for Nepal
Taking a leaf out of its earlier avatars, the party manifesto mentions supremacy of the party over the individual, and collective leadership. If we are to believe RK Mainali on MK Nepal’s leadership style, that may be a bit too much to expect. For it seems that while not as abrasive as Oli, Nepal, too, has similar tendencies, as Mainali and his comrades learnt in the lead-up to the 1998 split of the UML and the unrelenting side-lining of the minority group that made it untenable for them to remain in the party.
Looking at Nepal’s record, there is not much going for him. He led the UML for 15 years as its general secretary; and apart from the one time in 1994 when they emerged as the largest party in Parliament, the party’s track record was rather dismal during that time. He presided over its split (and eventual reunification some years later). As leader of the opposition, he was forced to participate in the feudal ritual of paying obeisance to the newly enthroned king Gyanendra in 2001, something his critics never fail to point out. Even more humiliating was his applying for the post of prime minister in one of those eccentric exercises that Gyanendra cooked up for reasons unknown. MK Nepal did take personal responsibility though by resigning from his party position for having led the UML to third place in the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections, with he himself having been defeated in two constituencies.
Despite that background, in the game of political musical chair, he landed the plum post of prime ministership in 2009. But his tenure, like everything else before and after him, was uneventful. He did manage to stay in place for nearly two years for the simple reason that the Constituent Assembly could not produce an alternative to him even after 16 rounds of elections. Ultimately, his main claim to fame could be as the man who delivered the country from Oli, whatever his real reasons may be.
For now, there are many UML cadre in leadership positions who have signed up with MK Nepal. There is sure to have been personal calculations since the Unified Socialists are now in a position to be part of the government at the centre and in a number of provinces. The real test will come with the elections in a year’s time, and thereafter. He may be in for another act. Otherwise, he will have no recourse but to fade away gradually like the many other CPN general secretaries have done in the past.