When Dahal finally posed that question in public the other day, the leaders in Balkhu went ballistic. The question was a product of a defeated mentality, one insisted. The last election result settled who was and wasn’t, another proffered. But no one seemed to provide the answer Dahal’s question merited. If Marx and Lenin, truth be told, had any way of doing it today, they would have disowned our mainstream comrades. Does that mean the UML is irrelevant? Not quite.
Maila Baje believes the UML exists because it is an important part of the tripod the Nepali polity has always been. After the country’s emergence in its modern form, the monarchy soon found itself pitted against the Thapa and Pande nobles, before the rise of the Ranas turned the battle into a two-front one. But a third front was almost immediately built via the Nepali exiles in India, until the Nepali Congress emerged to give it full and formal shape.
By the time the Rana regime collapsed, the communists had emerged to replace that leg. But the monarchy grew too assertive in its role of projecting Nepal’s independence and sovereignty for those who believed they had restored it so altruistically. Another course correction was warranted, amid the new regional and international equations.
Indeed, the Sino-Soviet split complicated things by fragmenting our Reds. The Nepali Congress was weary and worn out and the palace was able to draw members into the partyless fold.
With the communists split into royalist and republican camps – and much of the latter behind bars – the partyless system felt confident enough to withstand India’s economic retribution without weighing the true extent of Chinese support that might be forthcoming.
Yet Nepali communist leaders that would matter had yet to emerge from the shadows. Remember how we schlubs were wondering who that bloke Madan Bhandari was to have deserved an almost full-page interview in a top Indian daily as part of his coming-out party?
After 1990, the Nepali Congress, UML and the monarchy continued to represent the three legs and things seemed to be okay. But, alas, they weren’t for those around us. The Maoists emerged and wrought havoc, picking up a momentum that surprised even the starry-eyed idealists. As the geo-political equations started shifting in the late 1990s, the Maoists were deemed ready for prime time. In retrospect, the sudden influx of Maoists into Kathmandu Valley in the week before the Narayanhity Massacre made much more sense.
The monarchy was weakened but not broken – good or bad news depending on which side of the geo-political fault-lines you were on. Hard as it might be to believe, the new king consolidated his powers and position not as a power-hungry autocrat. His first intervention on October 4, 2002 barely prompted a murmur of protest from the powers that be. Everyone was busy trying to size up the man. The king must have felt he could do a better job by going the full mile, so he struck again, and harder.
With the Maoists and the monarchy now facing each other, talk of a breakthrough deal was rife. The sigh of relief that the collapse of the second peace talks sent across the southern border turned into a guttural gasp.
If anything, the king’s plan was little more than to wait and watch. His foreign adversaries would have to cobble together a coalition between the mainstream parties and the Maoists. And that was the easy part. They would have to make it work.
It would be tempting to see the 12-Point Agreement as the point where the UML merged with the Nepali Congress for all practical purposes. But even the best-laid plans go awry. The Maoists were supposed to be tamed into a distant third place in the mainstream, not leading a government that would so loudly reverse the traditional foreign itinerary of an incoming premier. If the monarchy flashed the China card in India’s face, here were the Maoists throwing the entire deck. The second constituent assembly elections finally produced the results that were supposed to have emerged in 2008. Notice how everything is running in reverse?
So, yes, Comrade Dahal, the UML is relevant – as relevant as your organization is. Lest you or any other Nepali leader start feeling comfortable, there are built-in tweaks: intra-party factionalism, formal splits and reunions, and the fluidity on fringes of the political spectrum.
As for the UML merging with the Nepali Congress, that possibility exists. It all depends on who replaces the UML in the grand game of triangulation.