Sunday, August 10, 2014

Flashback: Maoist Model Of Hostile Coexistence

Abandoning his recent penchant for band-aid solutions, United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal is preparing to confront head-on his rivals in the party. Well, that’s what Dahal loyalists are letting on ahead of a crucial party meeting later this week.
The rival camp, led by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, isn’t cooling its heels either. Bhattarai has, with increasing acerbity, taken to describing the party as a personal fiefdom of the chairman. His confidante, Devendra Poudel, has taken on Dahal by pressing him to own up to the party’s disastrous performance in the November election.
At the upcoming meeting, separate factions led by Bhattarai and Narayan Kaji Shrestha plan to forcefully raise the issue of democratizing the party leadership’s working style and transforming the centralized leadership into a collective decision-making system. Claiming that perpetual dissidence was undermining the party, Dahal is preparing to firmly implement the principle of ‘democratic centralism’, i.e., retain the party chairmanship while containing his rivals.
As someone who has basked in the party’s glories – mythical and mundane – Dahal probably knew what was coming his way after the electoral drubbing. He has blamed the installation of the non-party election government for the party’s debacle, a position Bhattarai shares.
But Dahal is too human to forget that it was then-premier Bhattarai who, by consistently opposing a successor government by political parties, paved the way for the rise of the technocrats/bureaucrats. Understandably, Dahal is in no mood to be pushed around.
Eager to establish the election results as a dilution of Dahal’s long influence, the Bhattarai faction had hoped to use candidates in the proportional representation category in the new assembly to increase its foothold in the parliamentary party. When Bhattarai and Shrestha absented themselves from a meeting convened to finalize the list of candidates, Dahal dispatched one packed with his loyalists to the Election Commission.
It’s not hard to see that Dahal’s confidence stems from his recognition of the battering Bhattarai’s image suffered as premier. In retrospect, if Dahal had really ever felt threatened by Bhattarai during their tumultuous partnership during years of war and peace, he addressed them fully by acquiescing in his rival’s elevation to the premiership. And he knows he can count on those party members who are not necessarily devout loyalists but are nevertheless miffed by Bhattarai’s ostensible efforts to establish that, in the end, the pen has proved mightier than the sword for the Maoists.
Still, it would be foolhardy to contemplate a formal parting of ways between these two men. (Maila Baje is excluding Shrestha from the broader internecine rivalries largely because of his enigmatic and erratic role in all of this.)
For one thing, throughout their partnership, Dahal and Bhattarai each have been known to encourage all kinds of compromises to keep the other in check. Dahal’s readiness to collaborate with the palace in the run-up to the February 1, 2005 royal takeover and the short-lived Dhobighat alliance between Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya to rein in Dahal are but two illustrations of their capacity for contortions.
For another, the country may not have enough room for the emergence of a viable third Maoist party. On the other hand, any realignment between the existing factions precipitated by a fresh split would no longer carry the necessary ‘oomph’ value, considering that the party has been relegated to third place in the national arena.
The upshot? Count on the factions to continue to press ahead with their crude public spectacle by conflating the personal/political, individual/ideological and procedural/practical.

This post originally appeared on January 04, 2014.