Maoist Centre goes to convention to retain Dahal as party chairWith too many aspirants for various posts, the party is considering increasing the number of office bearers. Elections are unlikely, as they could be handpicked.
Tika R Pradhan
The season of political gatherings is on, and after two large forces’ conventions, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) is holding its national conference starting Sunday in Kathmandu. The party has not called the three-day event a convention, but has projected it as a “historic first national conference”.
Leaders have dubbed it an event to develop a “revolutionary thought” and build a “revolutionary” party.
The leadership status quo, however, will continue, as Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who has led the party for the last 35 years, is going to be reinstalled for the next five years.
The party’s statute envisions a vice-chair, a general secretary, a deputy general secretary and a secretary as office bearers.
Since there are too many aspirants, leaders are making a push for increasing the number of office bearers. A team led by Dev Gurung is preparing a draft to amend the existing provisions of the statute.
A competition is likely for the general secretary post, considered a powerful position after the party chair.
Major contenders are Janardan Sharma, who is currently the finance minister; Barshaman Pun, a former finance minister; Krishna Bahadur Mahara; and Pampha Bhusal, who is currently serving as energy minister.
Insiders say Dahal is likely to pick Mahara as general secretary, who is currently the party spokesperson. Sharma lately has drawn criticism from various quarters over his poor performance as finance minister, with charges that he has been working beyond his party chair’s briefs to serve the interests of a small group of businessmen. Against this backdrop, the chair is likely to steer clear of any controversy meaning that he may not make Sharma the general secretary, according to insiders.
Pun, the other contender, has not been keeping well for a while. He is currently receiving treatment for jaundice in China. “He won’t be joining the conference because doctors didn’t give him the permission even though his health has improved,” said Santosh Pun, his personal secretary.
Nonetheless, Mahara’s promotion to general secretary is also likely to stoke criticism, as he was embroiled in a rape allegation in 2019. He was forced to step down on October 1, 2019 as House Speaker following the charge.
Amid this, Sharma sees a chance for himself, and he has been lobbying to get the post. Lately, he has launched a charm offensive on his party chair—at times he is extolling “Prachanda Path” and other times he is giving interviews that “there is no one to replace Dahal” as yet.
“Pun has already agreed to become vice-chair but Mahara has been trying to obstruct Sharma’s way to become general secretary,” said a leader close to Sharma. “Dahal wants his successor from the base area of the people’s war.”
Sharma is from Rukum and Pun and Mahara are from Rolpa. The districts are the cradle of the Maoist movement. Both Sharma and Pun were deputy commanders of the Maoist people’s army.
Given the larger number of aspirants for various posts, the party is also considering increasing the number of vice chairs.
The Gurung-led task force has proposed 15 office bearers with one chair, seven vice-chairs, one senior vice-chair, one general secretary, one deputy general secretary, three secretaries and a treasurer.
“We have not discussed the leadership selection issue yet,” said Haribol Gajurel, an aspirant for either general secretary or vice-chair post. “Discussions would begin after the chairman presents his political document.”
Gurung argued that in a communist party like the Maoist Centre, leadership is decided based on the need rather than on the basis of leaders’ aspirations.
“We determine the responsibilities of leaders on the basis of the need to implement the party’s programmes,” Gurung told the Post. “So we have not discussed the leadership issue. It is not appropriate for leaders to lay claim to various posts. Some leaders’ claims for the posts could also be an agenda during the conference.”
Ever since Dahal took over the party in 1986 from Mohan Baidya, his mentor, following an unsuccessful attempt to attack police posts in Kathmandu, the former rebel has remained the uncontested leader. Those who challenged him or his working style or his ideas were forced to leave the party.
A majority of leaders from the “people’s war” days like Baidya, Baburam Bhattarai, Hisila Yami, Netra Bikram Chand and Mani Thapa, among others, have left the party in different times.
Insiders and observers say, in the Maoist party, Dahal has become a banyan tree; nothing grows under him. More than 15 years after it came above ground and joined peaceful politics, it has failed to develop the culture of grooming new leaders to steer the party. It has held only one general convention since it laid down arms in 2006—in Hetauda in 2013.
The party lacks clarity on Dahal’s successor even as it goes to its national conference.
Dahal has maintained that he is going to lead the party again because his “friends want so”.
“I have been saying in interviews that actually I am at the helm just because our leadership, party cadres and even the public wants me to take the lead for a few more years,” Dahal said at a meeting with some editors on Saturday. “There were concerns that the Maoist party would collapse in my absence. There are several leaders to run the party even if the current leadership ceases to exist.
Thapa, who left the Maoist party in 2005 saying Dahal had deviated from the core ideology, said the Maoist leader was never interested in grooming new leaders even though he used to say that he won’t stay in the leadership like Mao Zedong until he died.
“Dahal has continued the rhetoric of grooming leaders from the people’s war days. He used to say those who could come up with a new thought would succeed him,” Thapa told the Post. “He, however, never created an environment for leaders to grow or come up with fresh ideas. A new ideology for the party under Dahal is a chimera and those who are in the party lack the heft to challenge him.”
As many as 1,631 delegates from across the country, including 148 nominated by Dahal, will participate in the conference. Chances of voting to elect office bearers are unlikely.
In the next three days, party members and observers will keenly follow who becomes the general secretary, as whoever takes the position is likely to take the party over from Dahal.
“Everything depends on the chairman’s planning,” said Yubaraj Chaulagain, a Central Committee member. “If he thinks he can manage leaders, he may fish out a list from his pocket and read out the names of the leaders as office bearers. If not, the gathering could allow the new Central Committee to select them later.”
In the recent convention of the CPN-UML, despite elections, party chair KP Sharma Oli appointed office bearers as per his wish, and Dahal could do the same, according to insiders.
Meanwhile on Saturday a Standing Committee meeting of the party decided to change the “national conference” into the “eighth convention.”
“A proposal will be taken to the Central Committee meeting,” said Leelamani Pokhrel, a Standing Committee member. “Once the meeting endorses the proposal, we will be holding the convention.”
Observers say the Maoist party should follow other parties that held their conventions recently to elect new leadership.
“Since elections can bring unexpected results, top leaders often tend to avoid the process and handpick office bearers so as to maintain their control,” said Khagendra Prasain, a political analyst. “That Dahal has failed to groom new leaders in the last 35 years is nothing but an absolute failure on his part.”
According to Prasain, an associate professor of philosophy at Nepal Open University, Nepal’s communist leaders have been misusing “democratic centralism” to consolidate power.
“They interpret the term democratic centralism as a tool to make the party chair more powerful,” Prasain told the Post. “If the Maoist Centre indeed wants to reinvent itself, it needs to democratise itself and follow democratic processes. It should elect new leadership through elections.”