Serious cracks seem to have appeared in the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) weeks before the promulgation of a long awaited new constitution. The ideological mentor and pupil who became close friends through good times and bad are busy slinging mud at each other.
The rebellious group led by party vice chairman Mohan Baidya, the former mentor, has threatened a split if the establishment headed by Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the pupil, continued to slide into revisionism.
The question, therefore, is whether these cracks are real or are they part of a larger political strategy to force other parties to concede to more concessions and get the popular mandate in the next election.
Cracks and divisions are not new to communist politics in Nepal. The Communist Party of Nepal, established in 1949, has since split into more than a dozen splinter parties. The Maoists were themselves on the verge of a split between Dahal and his deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, during the insurgency. After the peace process began in 2005, first Baidya and Bhattarai teamed up against Dahal and then Dahal and Bhattarai shared the bed of political convenience, leaving Baidya out in the cold.
The Baidya faction has accused the establishment of discarding the revolutionary ideology and betraying the spirit of the decade-long insurgency. Publicly, the rift seems so bad that pro-Baidya UCPN General Secretary Ram Bahadur Badal has labeled the establishment as the neo-CPN (UML) party and added it to the list of their enemies, together with Nepali Congress and UML.
The Baidya faction has called on the disgruntled combatants and party members to work towards capturing the state and promulgate a communist constitution. It has labeled the incumbent Baburam Bhattarai government ‘a puppet of an external power’, just like the previous one headed by Madhav Nepal. Both factions have held separate meetings, marking their widening differences.
Amidst these expanding schisms, the current disagreement has been triggered, prima facie, by the integration of Maoist combatants into the army and the lack of transparency in financial matters.
Baidya has called the modality of integration ‘humiliating capitulationism’. Dahal and Bhattarai were under enormous pressure to resolve the issue of integration for two reasons. First, the Nepali Congress and UML had made sorting this issue out first a pre condition for any serious engagement in writing the constitution, which has to be completed before the Constituent Assembly is dissolved by 27 May 2012.
Second, and more importantly, the number of combatants interested in getting into the army was declining so fast in favor of the voluntary golden handshake that Dahal and Bhattarai had to take a bold decision before the combatants deserted them altogether. Out of 19,000 UNMIN verified combatants, only around 3,000 have opted to join the army. That number could further decrease by the time the integration actually takes place.
A lack of transparency in financial matters has also driven a wedge in the Maoist party. Dahal recently bought a sprawling mansion in Kathmandu for around Rs 150 million, way beyond his means. He bought it under one of his close confidantes’ name, because the Maoist leaders have vowed not to own any property. Maoist leader CP Gajurel has alleged that Dahal has siphoned off billions of rupees given by the government to the former combatants.
A senior journalist has put this figure to the tune of more than Rs 5 billion. Besides, the money extorted from businessmen and wealthy persons and looted from the state and banks during the insurgency has not been properly and transparently accounted for and spent, according to Maoist sources.
Dahal has dismissed all such allegations and instead boasts he has taken the bold decision to make a compromise and resolve the integration issue, empty the Maoist cantonments and advance the peace process consistent with the 12-point agreement, which mainstreamed the Maoists. He has blamed the Baidya faction for disrupting the peace process.
While the Baidya faction has already formed an alliance with 11 fringe left and ethnic parties and created Samyukta Rastriya Janadolan Nepal (Joint National People’s Movement), the Maoist chief whip in the Constituent Assembly, Dev Gurung, has ruled out any possible split in the party.
Gurung may well be right. Experience suggests that factions have emerged and differences have escalated in the Maoist party, after 2006, whenever the Maoists have sought major concessions from other political parties or whenever they have to avoid a hard but necessary decision. During the insurgency, such phenomena occurred whenever the Maoists were engaged in dialogue with the government. Such factions mysteriously vanished and differences subsided once the concessions were extracted from other parties.
This background gives rise to suspicions about Baidya faction’s current shenanigans being part of a deliberate strategy, a staged drama, to serve two key objectives. First, it helps Dahal and Bhattarai squeeze out more concessions from the Nepali Congress and the UML on key issues like the form of government, the number and nature of states and status of the judiciary in the new constitution, among others.
Second, the Maoists have also been eying the next election for which they need all their arrows in the quiver to win. None of the non-Maoist analysts and politicians we have spoken to believe that the Maoists can win a majority in the next polls without using violence, intimidating people and capturing poll booths, as they had done last time. The Maoists need to keep the outgoing combatants and Young Communist League members in their fold to muscle through the next election.
Thus, the public fallout between Dahal and Baidya could well be a tactic born out of a private understanding to achieve these two objectives. As the Nepali adage says, ‘I pretend to be beating you and you pretend crying to chase the guest away’.
The public fallout between Dahal and Baidya could well be a tactic born out of a private understanding to achieve the common objective of ‘capturing the state’.
Baidya presents the revolutionary façade of the Maoist party and prevents the disgruntled former combatants from deserting it altogether. His call for continued revolution helps Dahal and Bhattarai not only extract more concessions on the constitution, but also squeeze out more resources from the government to offer a generous financial package to the Young Communist League members, in the pretext of preventing another insurgency.
Both YCL members and outgoing combatants could thus be kept as full-time workers of the UCPN (Maoist) and be fully used in the next election to snatch victory.
In another possible scenario, the rift in the Maoist party could be real. But it seems more like some staged drama to achieve the ultimate goal Dahal, Baidya and Bhattarai share in common - capturing the state. Lies and deceptions are inalienable parts of Maoist strategy; the Maoists are capable of going to any extent to extract maximum possible concessions from democratic parties and capture the state by force to impose their authoritarian will.
To take the intra-party rift in the UCPN (Maoist) at face value would be both unwise and naïve.