Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lord Of The Left

Madhav Kumar Nepal was elevated to the premiership to split Nepal’s communists, if you believe Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) leader Bam Dev Gautam. If you trust Gautam’s critics within his own party, on the other hand, he is a Maoist in all but name.
Given its sordid history of fission and fusion, Nepal’s premier centrist communists could have done without this latest burst of vitriol. But the deep factionalism in Nepal’s communist movement is something we must learn to live with more and more.
Part of the factionalism is understandable. The organization, despite its strong anti-Indian orientation from the outset, originated as a virtual offshoot from across the southern border. As such, it ignored Nepal’s peculiar class formation. Railing against feudalism had its limits, given the wide connotation the term acquired. So Nepali communist leaders thought they could mechanically apply prevailing international dogmas to local realities. Caught deeper between the monarchy and the Nepali Congress, the communists put their faith in the people. Having won a mere four seats in parliament, our comrades were left in a funk.
When King Mahendra took power in December 1960, the strains had to spill over. The royalist and communist wings came into prominence. Yet the Nepali Congress, especially B.P. Koirala and his coterie, remained a repellent. Following the Sino-Soviet split, the Indian communists could clearly part ways on ideological grounds. Not our comrades. Nepal’s geographical location between China and India, fast resembling a Soviet satellite in region, introduced strategic considerations.
Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution up north and the Naxalite movement out east inspired our young and restless. But the Jhapa Movement crumbled under the palace’s effective counterinsurgency strategy. In prison and on the run alike, the pro-Chinese faction indulged in soul-searching. The new Marxist-Leninists (M-L) sought to construct an indigenous road to socialism.
The M-L edged out the pro-Soviet groups, but the pro-Chinese camp was still in a churning process. People like Mohan Bikram Singh and Nirmal Lama emerged in the form of the Fourth Convention, only to confront the fallout from the overthrow of the Gang of Four.
While the M-L actively boycotted the referendum in 1980 by encouraging support for the partyless system and began expanding its cells across the country, the rival pro-Chinese camp sought to spread its wings. In 1984, the Mashal – as this group was now known – became a member of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. Since only one faction would adopt the line that would extend into today’s Maoists, the bad blood continued.
For a while, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it seemed the pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions – or at least segments of them – would bury the hatchet. Those who expected the United Left Front-Nepali Congress alliance to collapse with the Panchayat system were not to be disappointed. The radicals were left sulking that their exertions in front of the palace had actually brought about the limited gains in the form of the midnight compromise legalizing political parties.
The emergence of the UML was supposed to have addressed the fragmentation of the left. An amalgam of disparate factions, the new party believed the Nepali communist movement had been severely weakened by both internal and external factors. The more revolutionary comrades had their own interpretation. They attributed the factionalism to the internal contradictions between the revolutionary teachings of the communist ideology and the lack of consciousness and commitment in the communist organizations. Simply put, the People’s Multiparty Democrats and the People’s Warriors and had to go their separate ways.
As the radicals went to the jungles, the UML started heading in all directions. C.P. Mainali, whose views were discredited as the M-L became the UML, was edged out. Bam Dev Gautam became deputy general secretary but only as long as his boss, Madhav Nepal, remained deputy premier. The Mahakali Treaty pushed the party to the brink. Gautam, Mainali and others broke away to revive the M-L, which soon projected itself as the nationalist communists.
The war of words between the UML and M-L camps, which took turns collaborating with Girija Prasad Koirala in power, escalated. But it soon centered on which was more corrupt than which. With the Nepali Congress and UML finally holding parliamentary elections, the M-L wipe-out was perhaps to be expected. But since Koirala contrived his own unity with rival Krishna Prasad Bhattarai to win a majority for the Nepali Congress, the UML took on the role of chief agitator.
If you cannot beat them, you join them. So Gautam returned to the UML, soon to be branded a royalist.
With so many royalists now officially having become Maoists, Gautam probably does not mind his latest critics in the UML. As for his point on our current premier and factionalism on the left, does he really think we needed Madhav Kumar Nepal for that?