Sunday, May 15, 2011

Between Elitism and Illusion

Exasperated by the ideological muddle ensnaring his party, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist firebrand Bam Dev Gautam has hit back at his rivals in the leadership. The former deputy prime minister no longer seems in a mood to consider them communists.
Although Gautam was careful not to name names during a speech in Nepalgunj the other day, his targets were clear. “We cannot take those Nepali Congress cohorts as communists, can we?” Gautam asked the audience. The images of Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli and Madhav Kumar Nepal must have been swirling around the place in their assorted manifestations.
At one level, Gautam merely articulated something that has been intriguing a far wider section of the populace. Oli’s public remarks have tended to fall at the right end of the political spectrum, on occasion surpassing those of Kamal Thapa of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, if you take the monarchy out of the equation.
Unlike Oli, Madhav Nepal has been vituperative in his public references to former king Gyanendra Shah. But on other matters, Nepal has generally positioned himself on the right of many in the Nepali Congress. Although both seem to have trained their guns on the Maoists, deeper down it looks like they are going after a particular mind-set.
Yet other parts of Gautam’s speech were a bit grating. “What a surprise, some of our own senior leaders have been supporting a status-quoist party like Nepali Congress,” he thundered. What status quo, exactly? In  post-April Uprising 2006 Nepal, the term status quo, at least in the political context Gautam refers to, is too amorphous to understand. When Chettris are able to bring significant parts of the country to a halt claiming discrimination, you have to concede how our notions of new and old are changing by moment.
Ideological consistency may not be Gautam’s stronghold. But he persisted nevertheless. “Our ideology is Peoples’ Multiparty Democracy (PMD) [and] the heart of PMD is revolutionary change”, Gautam insisted. That was the kind of language Oli and Nepal have long used to position themselves between radicals and moderates, all the while Gautam was taking turns consorting with the palace and the Maoists.
Still, the larger question pertains to the general direction of our politics. There those outside the arena who tend to dismiss as grossly insulting clear manifestations of popular disenchantment with the political class’ inability to deliver the constitution. Many in this group have a history of magnifying and even manufacturing grievances and institutionalizing an industry while masquerading as dispassionate observers. Now that the change they peddled had started losing some of its luster, it’s the people’s fault.
Then there are those in the political class who believe in the power of national consensus to work wonders when it comes to the crunch. It doesn’t matter a bit that the rest of the year is not so conducive to common cause. Those without similar faith in – or perhaps, more appropriately, fantasies about – the durability of last-minute deals are somehow roadblocks that must be cast aside.
Between this crass elitism and eternal confidence, Gautam’s comments point to the imperative of each one of us fighting our individual battles and reconciling ourselves within before pretending to know what it is that we collectively seek.