Sunday, July 22, 2012

Split Personalities And Scrappy Pragmatism

Like much of the nation, Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai concedes that his government has been a failure. Maila Baje, however, sees no reason to be taken in by this atypical act of admission from someone known for bigheaded aloofness. Far from blaming himself personally for the fiasco, Dr. Bhattarai complained that the times were simply unpropitious.
The sheer letdown our first Ph.D. prime minister personifies was becoming apparent long before the concluding ceremony of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) plenum on July 21, where he made the qualified acknowledgement. If anything, events there certainly propelled Dr. Bhattarai toward some candor.
Infuriated party cadres accused the prime minister of virtually selling Tribhuvan International Airport to India in an effort to prolong his stay in power. They also revived allegations of treason surrounding the BIPPA and other accords with New Delhi.
After almost being manhandled by a senior member of the party, close to chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, all Dr. Bhattarai could assure the assembly was: “Our war (struggle) with India and the US is continuing at another front. We will make no compromise on issues of nationalism.” (Translation: You need me as prime minister to save Nepal from foreigners, who I need to prostrate before to stay in office.)
Dr. Bhattarai can take solace in the fact that he is not the only Maoist leader whose stars came crashing. One irate party member, reputedly a Bhattarai loyalist, hurled a chair the once-feared party chairman.
Hobbled by relentless personal problems, Dahal still attempted to put on a brave face. In his address to the closing session of the plenum, he claimed full credit for the advent of republicanism, federalism, inclusive representation and secularism. Of course, that was not the place to see how all those are working for Nepal.
Superficially, Dahal, Bhattarai and the third member of the triumvirate – Narayankaji Shrestha – emerged from the plenum proffering a posture of unity. The trio, among other things, decided to forgo their luxurious lifestyles and donate their property to the party.
The Maoists’ decision to hold a general convention in mid-January is emblematic of their attempt to transform the organization into a mass-based democratic movement. That, as we have recently discovered, is a course of action the Maoists, or at least a significant section of them, have contemplated since 2002.
The democratic-peace theory is bolstered by the plenum’s decision to adopt peace and constitution as the party’s tactical line. The Maoists professed commitment to investigate allegations of financial irregularities, should it be sincerely implemented, could herald new transparency and openness in a party known for imperviousness and obfuscation.
Yet the festering divisions within the party, underscored during the plenum, casts a shadow on the scheduled general convention, which would be the first in 23 years. After all, the previous two efforts to do so faltered on Dahal’s reluctance to cede control of the party apparatus.
Dahal, furthermore, has undermined his credibility as an agent of transformation, within his party and outside, by almost flaunting his ability to widen the gulf between his words and deeds.
The establishment faction of the Maoists needs to become more persuasive about wants to represent, now that the ostensibly hard-line and obstructionist Mohan Baidya faction has gone in its own direction. The plenum did little toward that end. The persona Dahal had managed to build during the ‘People’s War’ and the power he exuded throughout the insurgency rested on the ideological and organizational base provided by men and women who are today in the Baidya group.
The pragmatism Dahal wants to pursue can now only come through working with Dr. Bhattarai and Shrestha, who have been steadily building their own fiefdoms. With Dahal and Dr. Bhattarai palpably weakened, what might Shrestha – someone who joined the party after it entered the peace process – do to strengthen his hand? Who else might step in to stake a claim for the leadership and upon what internal realignments? And at what cost to ideology and/or organization in a party that insisted it was different? As for the rest of us, did we think we would be asking these question so deep into such a supposedly historic transformative process?