After rift with Yadav, Bhattarai renews bid to set up ‘socialist centre’The former Maoist makes his pitch to Maoist Centre chief Dahal, but the latter is unconvinced.
On Sunday morning earlier this week, CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal said at a function that an environment is being developed for the former Maoists to come together.
Later in the same day, Dahal, reached the residence of Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun, where he held a meeting with Baburam Bhattarai, a former Maoist leader and currently the federal council chair of the Janata Samajbadi Party, according to at least two leaders familiar with the development,
Vice President Pun is also a former Maoist leader.
Dahal and Bhattarai led the “people’s war” from 1996 to 2006. Both maintained a close relationship, with Dahal as the leader of the masses and Bhattarai as an ideologue. Nonetheless, they had a fair share of bitterness—on one occasion in 2004, Dahal even initiated punitive action against Bhattarai.
After the end of the war, the Maoists joined mainstream politics. Immediately after the promulgation of the constitution, the two leaders drifted apart.
Bhattarai launched his own party—Naya Shakti. But it failed. He merged his party with Upendra Yadav’s Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal to form the Samajbadi Party Nepal.
Dahal over the years has seen many of the leaders from war days deserting the Maoist party.
Whether Bhattarai and Dahal will come together again may be a matter of speculation, that both face some sort of a crisis is a fact. Dahal may have got some boost after some significant wins in the recently concluded local elections, but he is increasingly burdened by the “Maoist” tag in his party.
Bhattarai, on the other hand, could not secure any win in his own constituency, Gorkha, for his party in the local elections, and appears desperate to recoup his political career.
Leaders close to Dahal and Bhattarai said that the duo dwelt on the possibility of forming a “socialist centre,” a concept the latter has been floating for quite a while.
Unlike Dahal’s idea of bringing all the Maoist leaders together, Bhattarai has been calling for a Socialist Centre of “like-minded” people.
According to leaders close to Bhattarai, he had taken serious steps around a year ago towards the formation of such a socialist centre and after the invalidation of the Nepal Communist Party, he had said the need for a socialist centre had become even more significant.
“My request to comrades of various communist parties in Nepal: why has the objective of ending all kinds of repression and discrimination against people by people taken a regressive path?” Bhattarai wrote on Twitter in August last year. “How will we reach a new destination by pursuing the same old path? Shall we march towards a new direction with new ideas.”
Bhattarai had held several rounds of discussions for the formation of the socialist centre with Dahal, Madhav Nepal and Upendra Yadav before the local polls so as to give a message to the country.
But since all the three leaders were part of the coalition and planning to fight local polls under an alliance, the idea failed to gain momentum.
“Bhattarai is still committed to forming a socialist centre but other leaders do not seem to be ready for it,” said Bishwadeep Pande, a central committee member of the Janata Samajbadi Party, who has been a close aide to Bhattarai for many years. “I don’t think the idea of socialist centre will gain traction until the upcoming elections.”
According to Pandey, new dynamics could emerge after the polls depending upon the parties’ performance.
Bhattarai is currently seeking to part ways with Yadav, which will mean a vertical split in the Janata Samjabadi. Whether Bhattarai wants to lead the Janata Samajbadi by claiming a majority or wants to make a renewed pitch for a socialist centre is not quite clear though.
Dahal may be not quite hesitant to shed the Maoist tag from the party, but whether his party members would agree is also a question if a socialist centre idea gets traction. Maoist members still believe the “communist” tag is still attractive when it comes to the vote base.
Bhattarai, however, does not seem to have any faith in the so-called “communist movement” as he believes the world has moved ahead.
Had Dahal not been able to assert himself in the party from the eighth general convention and if the Maoist party had failed in local elections, there could have been some activities towards bringing the former Maoist leaders together, insiders say.
“Bhattarai’s experiment with a party that lacked a communist tag failed but Dahal somehow managed to revive his significance,” said Yubaraj Chaulagain, a central member of the Maoist Centre. “Therefore, it's Bhattarai, who should compromise and even if the two parties decide to merge shedding the Maoist tag, Bhattarai will have to accept the communist tag.”
According to Chaulagain, the degree of acceptance of Bhattarai as their leader among Maoist members is very low.
“Chances of Dahal and most of the party leaders accepting Bhattarai’s proposal to shun the communist tag are slim,” he said. “Now Bhattarai has already lost his significance in Nepali politics and his popularity is fading fast.”
Ever since he left the Maoist party, Bhattarai has been talking about five principles—sovereignty, inclusiveness, good governance, prosperity and remodelled socialism.
He had made these the core values of his Naya Shakti Party.
Bhattarai believes all the existing communist forces should come under the one umbrella of “socialist centre.”
According to Bhattarai, he decided to quit the Maoist party after Dahal rejected the former’s proposal to transform the party into a socialist party.
“Since then, I have been pressing him for the same at every meeting and the same discussions continued during our latest meeting on Sunday,” Bhattarai told the Post. “I have been asking him to shed the Maoist and the communist tags, but he wants me to accept the communist tag.”
Bhattarai came up with the idea of setting up a socialist centre to develop a two-party system in the country—one led by Nepali Congress, a liberal democratic capitalist force, and the other a strong democratic socialist force of the existing communist parties.
“Instability in Nepali politics will persist unless the so-called communists turn into socialist forces and bring clarity and consistency as well as a focussed programme,” said Bhattarai. “But both the Maoists and the UML are not ready to embrace the idea because their brands are still popular. But the two communist forces won’t last for long.”
He said the existing setup will continue until the next polls leading the country to political instability for another five years, and only then will the people and the parties understand his concept.
“I think the parties and the people will understand my concept only after another five years of political instability,” said Bhattarai.