And the chairman proclaimed: ‘I am the chairman; elect me’The Maoist Centre convention is much ado about nothing, as its sole aim was to reinstall Dahal as leader, insiders and observers say.
What it all meant was—a proclamation by the chairman: “I am the chairman; elect me chairman.”
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) on Monday “elected” Pushpa Kamal Dahal as chairman, again, for the next five years.
At the first meeting of the Central Committee on Monday, Narayan Kaji Shrestha proposed Dahal be elected the chairman. The committee members—all 236 who were appointed by Dahal himself on Sunday—gave the nod with a thunderous applause.
The party has yet to appoint the remaining 63 members for the 299-member Central Committee. The Central Committee now needs to elect 14 office bearers, but no date has been fixed when it will happen. The party has amended its statute to have one senior vice-chair, six vice-chairs, one general secretary, two deputy secretaries, three secretaries and one treasurer. All office bearers are also likely to be appointed by Dahal.
The Maoist Centre held its general convention from December 26 to January 2 in Kathmandu. Though the party was initially planning to hold just a “national conference,” it was changed into a convention at the last moment.
Despite criticism from among the delegates, Dahal’s 45-page political document was endorsed unanimously. Some delegates had presented their differing views on Dahal’s document, saying the chairman had failed to make it clear how the party would move forward.
Dahal’s document “Nepal’s Road to Socialism in the 21st Century” talks at length about various issues, including environment and climate change—but delegates told the Post over the past few days that there was confusion as to how the party indeed wants to achieve socialism.
A delegate told the Post last week achieving socialism is not possible through “peaceful means” as claimed by Dahal. Another delegate, Lekhnath Neupane, had questioned the party chair’s extravagant lifestyle.
This time around, Dahal faced more criticism than before.
But after his re-election, Dahal said that a big responsibility has come to him once again.
“I am feeling a big responsibility has come on my shoulders again,” said Dahal while addressing the Central Committee meeting. “I feel indebted to the people and the country standing here after taking the oath again [as party chair] as I have been in leadership for a long time.”
Observers and analysts say Dahal’s reelection as party chair proves that he has been running the Maoist Centre not like a party but like a fiefdom, with centralised control. The convention has failed to find a political line for the party, according to them.
“It looks like the whole objective of this Maoist convention was reinstalling Dahal as party chair,” said Hari Roka, a political commentator. “The question is whether his reelection could re-energize the leaders, which is unlikely.”
According to Roka, the convention has failed to figure out a party line and its programmes to achieve its goals.
“What can anyone expect from a party which lacks programmes and a proper ideological line?” Roka said. “They have not even identified their agendas for the upcoming polls.”
The upcoming elections are a major concern for the Maoist Centre, which launched its “people’s war” in 1996 under Dahal’s leadership. The war ended in 2006 with a peace deal. Since then, the Maoist party, according to insiders, has lost its way, failing to devise a proper guiding principle in the changed context. Despite emerging as the largest party in 2008 Constituent Assembly elections, the Maoist party lost 2013 elections badly, and was relegated to a distant third.
The Maoist Centre merged with the CPN-UML in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) after the two communist forces swept the 2017 elections.
However, it did not take long for a tussle to start between the two chairs–Dahal and KP Sharma Oli–of the party.
After months of infighting, Oli, the then prime minister, dissolved the House of Representatives on December 20, 2020. The Supreme Court restored it on February 23 last year and a month later on March 7, it invalidated the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
Dahal got his Maoist party back.
His party is now a key coalition partner in the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government, which was formed on July 13 last year as per a Supreme Court order a day before in which it not only overturned Oli’s second House dissolution but also threw the UML chair out of office.
In 2017, the Maoists managed to reclaim their relevance riding on the back of the UML. Now, when they go to the polls, there is a dilemma. The current coalition is likely to continue only until elections.
In 2013, the Maoists held their seventh convention in February. Elections in November that year gave them a shock. The party for some time even refused to accept the results, alleging vote rigging.
This year again general elections will be held in November-December. But the party lacks the agenda to go to polls, say insiders and observers.
“We are in a do or die situation,” said Devendra Shrestha, Bhaktapur in-charge of the party. “If we fail to transform, our party will lose its significance.”
After the UML concluded its general convention in late November last year, Dahal was quite critical of the party’s undemocratic style and Oli’s way of appointing leaders of his choice.
“We all saw a convention by the UML. I saw nothing but a gathering of sycophants,” Dahal had said while inaugurating provincial conferences of the party virtually on December 11. “There was no ideology, no discussion, no procedure and no system. The world saw it.”
Now Dahal has followed suit. He handpicked all the leaders. In his document, he has failed to offer any clear ideological line that is different from the UML’s. He has not spent even a single drop of ink on the Nepali Congress, a party he in the past called traditional and bourgeois.
Observers say Dahal has followed the oft-repeated maxim: “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”
“What Dahal said, or what his political document has for that matter, is nothing but a ploy to fool party cadres and delegates. There is nothing new compared to what the Nepali Congress or the UML say,” said Bishwo Bhakta Dulal, a former Maoist leader. “How will the Maoist cadres see other parties now as there is nothing new written in Dahal’s document?”
Some party leaders, however, said regardless of criticism, their party did what it could do in the given context.
“Our party needs to think of multiple issues at this time. So this convention by and large went well. We now have to reorganize ourselves,” said Buddhi Nepali, a Dalit leader. “Right now, we can’t break our ties with the governing coalition,” he added, referring to Dahal’s uncanny silence on the Congress party, which usually used to be his target of attack.
As far as the UML is concerned, Dahal does not seem to be ready to alienate it also completely, as it gives him a chance to keep the Congress on tenterhooks.
“Perforce, we have to,” Dahal said in an interview with Kantipur when asked about the possibility of an alliance with the UML, in relation to a potential partnership between Deuba and Oli over the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Ganesh Sah, a newly appointed Central Committee member who was one of the Standing Committee members earlier, said it would be wrong to downplay the convention.
“We had to hold the convention given the legal and constitutional obligations. So a convention is a good idea,” Sah told the Post. “As far as the content of the document is concerned, it will depend on how it orients the members and guides the party. The chair’s political document has been endorsed. The new leadership and the Central Committee have the legal status.”
But people like Dulal, who has seen the party holding extensive discussions on documents and deliberations on party ideologies and programmes, say there’s not much hope from a party with rudderless leadership.
“Ever since the party joined the peace process 15 years ago, there has been no schooling, no publication and no orientation for party cadres,” said Dulal who currently leads a party called Baigyanik Samajbadi Communist Party. “The convention, and the leadership for that matter, failed to enthuse members and cadres about transformation and change. There’s no orientation. It’s just deification of one leader.”