Comrades come togetherNepalis are nervous whether recent politics will bring stability and prosperity or not
The unification of the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre), which had seemingly conflicting ideologies, is a startling political development for many political pundits in Nepal and beyond. However, for some, it is a carefully planned concept move by two centre-left parties which respectively were the largest and third largest parties in the 334-member Parliament. While the nascent Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is busy carrying out its socio-economic and political programmes, the main opposition, the Nepali Congress (NC), is bogged down in an organisational morass.
The alternative force?
Meanwhile, Nepal passionately talks about the rechristened communist party and possible ramifications of its new journey towards scientific socialism under the veil of ‘stability and prosperity’. The International Conference of the Communist and Workers’ Parties held in Kathmandu to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx adds political insinuation to the fusion of two self-styled anti-capitalist forces. Their union is in line with the aspirations of the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties which held its 19th meeting in Russia in 2017.
The emergence of a new left force advocating scientific socialism with democratic centralism at its core adds a new dimension to the present competitive Nepali politics. The NCP has attempted to give a message to the international community that Nepal is also a country eager to be part of the global communist movement. Whether the message will yield encouraging results for the NCP or not, led mainly by embourgeoisied comrades, remains to be seen. But the political development has provoked anxiety among liberal sections of society. They are fearful of the ultimate destination that the NCP is proposing.
Their worries stem from the new policy of ‘people’s democracy’ at the cost of ‘people’s multiparty democracy’. The UML had worked for almost 25 years under the democratic dispensation to realise the goals set by ‘people’s multiparty democracy’. This guiding principle, envisioned by the late Madan Kumar Bhandari, was instrumental in giving the UML global recognition as an alternative democratic force in Nepal. The UML desired to be on a par with the NC in terms of democratic credentials internationally, and it even mulled removing the word ‘communist’ from its name.
Likewise, it lobbied at the international level and attempted to gain formal association with the Socialist International (SI). In 1994, the then UML chairman and prime minister Manmohan Adhikari wrote to the SI seeking membership for his party. The then SI president Pierre Mauroy is reported to have asked the NC for its opinion, and the then NC president
KP Bhattarai advised the SI that it should wait until its democratic seasoning was completed. Despite a number of challenges, the UML was able to earn the reputation of an alternative democratic force. It is relevant to recount here that the US State Department was shocked when the UML came third in the 2008 Constituent Assembly election. The State Department had hoped that the UML would secure the second position at least.
Unleashing hope and fear
Meanwhile, the NCP government has published its annual budget for 2018-19 which invited mixed reactions. The budget has been criticised for not only threatening individual property rights and freedom of private market forces but also giving a strategic role to cooperatives. The budget has provided an enhanced role for cooperatives in various sectors including industry, which is again at the cost of market forces. It could be sheer coincidence, but given the NCP’s countrywide control over cooperatives, it reminds of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union which in 1921 had recognised cooperatives as a vital element for the implementation of the New Economic Policy. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who was robustly behind the concept of cooperatives, had argued, “Cooperatives are the main economic vehicle for bringing about socialism in Russia.”
The conclusion is that the birth of the NCP and its overt political programmes with socialist intents have unleashed both hope and fear. In the light of their pugnacity in Parliament, the NCP together with the Nepal Federal Socialist Party ensure the general electorates’ desire to have stability in society. People now expect a rapid socioeconomic transformation. Additionally, the unification of two fiery and moderate left forces may also help democratic seasoning of extremism, if it exists within them at all, and ultimately help the evolution of two robust parties in Nepali politics.
Despite these positive prospects, the clouds of dreary transition lurk on the political horizon. Given its two-thirds majority in Parliament, the NCP-led coalition government is pushing litigious socioeconomic and political measures including a presidential form of government.
Yet, the NCP’s recent political document suggests that it might also go for a foreign policy shaped more by ideology than pragmatic aims. Meanwhile, the NC stridently criticised the ruling coalition for indulging in anti-democratic activities at its district presidents’ national conference. These developments nonetheless augment the prospect of a fresh political transition, which induces edginess among the people as they think that a political tussle between communism and parliamentary democracy will ruin their treasured dream of stability and prosperity.
Chalise is an AvH Fellow