To be or not to beMC Chairman Dahal faces a moment of hard truth: does he want to go with UML or not?
The CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist Centre had planned to formally announce their unification on 22 April, but differences have emerged in the process. It now seems unlikely that the two Communist parties will merge as scheduled. The main reason underlying these difficulties is the insecurity felt by the CPN-MC, and particularly its Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
CPN-MC leaders are worried about their fate after the merger. Many of them are concerned that they will not be able to receive positions of influence in the new unified party. Further, they are concerned that the very identity of the MC will be subsumed under the UML party machine. They fear that agreeing to the terms offered by the UML will lead to complete dissolution of the CPN-MC into the UML. This is why they are so keen to see the new party’s ideology refer to the legacy of the Maoist ‘people’s war’. Without that legacy, the Maoists feel that they would have left no historical trace at all and that their 10-year war was a needless political exercise. The other factors MC wants addressed are: equal representation as the UML in the unified party’s central committee and a party symbol that reflects that of both the parties. Both the demands are fundamentally associated with MC’s identity.
But the central question has to do with insecurities of CPN-MC Chairman Dahal, who is not quite sure which direction he wants to take at this moment. On the one hand, he despairs that MC party and its leaders’ stature (and his own) has been in a steady decline since the 2008 CA elections and hence he needs a merger with a larger party to buttress their politics. On the other, he is concerned about the degree of power he will get to wield after the merger. Though Dahal had initially agreed to the proposal to share the chair of the party with K.P. Oli, he now fears that such a scenario will lead to him being reduced to a ceremonial figure, as Oli will wield executive authority. He is also unhappy with Oli’s reluctance to provide a written commitment stating that he will hand over leadership of the government to Dahal halfway through the tenure of the current government. Of course, none of these questions have easy answers and the two parties will not come together unless they are sorted out.
Judging by recent events, it is hard to avoid the impression that the Maoists have lost their way and that they are purely in survivalist mode. Dahal seems more concerned about his own political life than securing the future of his fellow comrades and his party. He also feels left out. While UML leaders project great confidence and are busy shaping the country’s direction, Maoist leaders seem to be pushed to the periphery on substantial political issues. In the past, they claimed to be representative of Nepal’s marginalized groups. But after their alignment with the UML, they can’t credibly make a claim to that brand of politics either.
If they do want to regain a degree of autonomy, the Maoist leaders need to reach out to the population. They need to start playing a more constructive role within the government, including by raising the concerns of groups that the UML has historically ignored. There three possible scenarios: It is possible that the smaller of the two parties will be politically overshadowed by the larger party; the MC leaders would still want to assert themselves politically and keep their traditional constituencies somewhat intact, thereby keeping themselves relevant. A third scenario – that the MC and, particularly, Dahal decides to go separate ways. Dahal faces a moment of truth and time is running out for him.