Charismatic leaderWho had thought that a communist party with a Naxalite background would make competitive multiparty democratic politics its guiding principle?
Who had thought that a communist party with a Naxalite background would make competitive multiparty democratic politics its guiding principle? As political parties started finding their bearings in the early 1990s, Madan Bhandari, then the powerful general secretary of the CPN (UML), surprised many when he announced that People’s Multiparty Democracy (PMD) or Janatako Bahudaliya Janabad (JaBaJa) would be his party’s ideological line.
Few political leaders caught the public imagination like Bhandari even though he spent a mere four years in open politics from 1990-94. But during this brief period, Bhandari made his mark for which he is remembered till date. He changed his party’s ideological line, transformed it into a social democratic force, and led it to becoming the second largest party in the first parliamentary election in the 1990s.
The announcement of PMD, or JaBaJa as it is now popularly known, was perhaps the biggest ideological shift any Nepali political party had made in the 1990s. In terms of ideology, it was a huge leap for the party that came into the limelight through the Jhapa movement in which eight landlords where beheaded in the district by the then CPN (ML).
Bhandari was wise enough to gauge the changing political paradigm internationally, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Shunning a radical communist line, Bhandari opted for multiparty democracy, which transformed the UML into a social democratic force.
PMD was officially endorsed by the party’s fifth general convention in 1993, but not before a strong ideological battle within the party. Despite his popularity among the party rank and file, Bhandari did face strong resistance from his two contemporaries, CP Mainali and Jhalanath Khanal, during the party’s fifth general convention. Mainali and Khanal both were his predecessors who led the party during its underground days, and had their own documents which they thought the party should adopt. While Mainali put forward Janatako Naulo Janabad, Khanal proposed Naulo Janabad.
The endorsement of PMD made Bhandari one of the towering figures in Nepali politics in the early 1990s when Nepal had just begun exercising political freedom after three decades of absolute monarchy. The fact that most Nepali communist parties adopted multiparty system and took part in periodic elections is perhaps Bhandari’s biggest influence in Nepali politics.
According to UML leader Ghanashyam Bhusal, Bhandari led the communist party towards the democratic process at a time when the movement was in a defensive mode in the international arena. “Had Madan Bhandari not led the UML towards the democratization process under its own name, the left movement would not be in today’s form,” said Bhusal.
Bhusal remembers Bhandari as a courageous leader who took a bold decision on an ideological shift at a time when the party was in a dilemma about whether or not to adopt the democratic process as multiparty democracy was considered to be a ‘weapon’ of the bourgeoisie and the capitalists used to weaken the revolution.
—By Tika R Pradhan