Sunday, April 28, 2013

What Really Irks Our Comrades

For a movement still spinning in a frenzied fission-fusion cycle, anniversaries tend to make little sense. So when our principal comrades used the backdrop of the 65th anniversary of the founding of Nepal Communist Party to exchange abuses, you couldn’t really say they spoiled the moment.
Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, freshly energized from a high-profile visit to China, boldly proclaimed the end of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML). Having packaged his record of flip-flops
as pragmatism, Dahal also dismissed his dogmatic one-time mentor Mohan Baidya, saying the rival Maoist faction was leading a revolution on paper that was ultimately doomed.
Since Baidya himself has lately unleashed tirades on his erstwhile protégé, Maila Baje thought anything Dahal said at this point could not have meant much there. However, the CPN-UML was infuriated.
The leadership trio – Jhal Nath Khanal, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Khadga Prasad Sharma Oil – drew out their long knives on the Maoist chief, albeit from different angles. Khanal virtually called Dahal an idiot, while Nepal called him insane. Oli described Dahal and his party as outlaws.
Nepali communists are still arguing over whether Pushpa Lal Shrestha, the founding general secretary of our own communist party, was or was not a traitor – and why and why not. In the process, the original party has split into pieces too numerous to count – often as much on personality clashes as on ideological ones. Outrage is hallmark of our comrades.
It’s not hard to begin to understand why the UML is so mad. The Maoists were supposed to be a fringe group, living on the crumbs the UML deigned to offer. UML leaders, after all, were the ones who established the relevance of communism in a post-communist world. By pouring perestroika and glasnost into a Nepali brew called People’s Multiparty Democracy, the UML sat atop the world’s first freely elected national communist government in 1994.
Yet, months later, the Maoists emerged to challenge what they saw was a brazen dilution of the faith, beginning a decade-long spree of murder and mayhem. An amalgam of communists including the once-feared Jhapali headhunters, the UML considered the notion of armed uprising untenable in Nepal’s context.
Once the insurgency spread, the party joined the rest of the mainstream – which then included the palace – to suppress the warriors. At one point, Comrade Nepal even petitioned the palace that he was the best man to complete the task, although he was also furtively meeting with rebel leaders on foreign soil.
Miffed by repeated royal rebuffs, the UML and its six allies pivoted against the palace, but only after the Maoists forced them walk behind in an interminable journey toward nebulous newness. And insult of insults, the Maoists – who had disproved the UML on the validity of armed action – now reinvented themselves as peace messengers to dominate the left flank of Nepali politics.
Yet Comrade Nepal, who the Nepali electorate doubly determined did not deserve a seat in the new legislature, still managed to sneak in, as the Maoists threw another crumb his way. Today, Dahal might seem to have grown an inflated image of himself as the consummate Nepali geopolitician. Still, he looks better than his UML critics.
Admittedly, these two big communist parties have a major challenge in maintaining their claim to the brand name. If the Maoists become the next UML, caving and compromising on everything, that would further hollow out their diminishing reputation. If the UML becomes more radicalized in order to supplant the Maoists on the extreme end of the field, well, they don’t seem to have it in themselves to do so.
For now, each can try to be what it is not and hope to make some headway. But the basic contradiction of seeking to universalize an ideology meant for little more than twentysomething utopians will not have gone away. And that realization is probably what makes our ageing comrades the angriest.