[Chairman] comrade been slapped?”
“Do the Maoists really believe the slap was a conspiracy hatched by reactionaries and extremists?”
Some Rolpali Maoist comrades and villagers—who had fed Dahal and other Maoist leaders, and provided them shelter and security during the insurgency days—telephoned to inquire about the now famous ‘slapgate’. After the split in UCPN (Maoist), these comrades were divided into ‘Cash’ and ‘Dash’ Maoists, but their reaction to the incident was more or less the same. They said party leaders should be careful about matching their lofty words with actions. Also, both groups expressed their worries that the Maoists were totally ignoring the voice of grassroots cadres.
The slaps on the faces of major party heads—Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal (in addition to the ‘photo-frame toss’ at Congress President Sushil Koirala)—are ‘reminiscences’ of commitments and colorful dreams they sold to their cadres, but soon forgot. They failed to draft a new constitution and have failed miserably to break the political and constitutional deadlock.
The incidents discussed above are indications that cadres and common people have not forgotten. Yet the parties don’t seem to have bothered to take these meaningful events seriously.
Padam Kunwar, the one who slapped Dahal, was beaten black and blue by Dahal’s comrades. UCPN (Maoist) also gave the incident a political color by terming it a ‘pre-planned conspiracy.’ The Maoists also conveniently ‘forgot’ what Dahal had said while UML chairman Khanal was slapped around two years ago. Dahal had famously said inside the parliament that people would slap their leaders with shoes if they failed to come up with a constitution.
During the insurgency, Dahal planted colorful dreams in the hearts of people and cadres through his torrent of commitments. Dahal assured that his party would never walk the path of Nepali Congress and UML, who had ‘betrayed the people as well as their own cadres’ in their quest for power.
During insurgency, Dahal assured that the hungry would get food, sad people would be happy, and victims of state excesses would get justice. He promised that all Nepalis would live as valued human beings.
School-going youths were assured that they would get ‘war veteran’ certificates that would be more valuable than PhDs.
The hapless youths readily accepted these colorful dreams. It is for these dreams that thousands of youths joined the war, and put their lives on the line. Around 17,000 were killed and 2,000 ‘disappeared’. Hundreds more were injured; thousands displaced.
They sacrificed everything in the name of revolution, believing that all their sacrifices would be honored and would help bring happiness to the people.
As luck would have it, both Maoist supremo Dahal and vice chairman Baburam Bhattarai would become the country’s prime ministers, the top executive post in the country. But soon it became evident that they were no different from Surya Bahadur Thapa, Girija Prasad Koirala and Madhav Kumar Nepal. Once in power, their cheeks started resembling luscious Mustangi apples, while those of the rank and file took after dry paddy fields. Their leaders, the Maoist cadres started saying, were replacing the elite Ranas and Shahs.
A new ruling class emerged in the party. It could not have been lost on the cadres that while they were at war, the instruction from the ‘headquarters’ had been to ‘finish off’ the ruling elites or ‘class enemies.’ The headquarters was no other than Chairman Dahal.
But Maoist cadres and common people could not feel any meaningful improvement in their lives even after the announcement of the republican secular state. This is the reason a generation of Maoist youths finds itself at crossroads: neither can they survive the bitter party politics, nor can they integrate themselves fully into the society.
Padam Kunwar is the prime example of this generation of Maoist youth. His father Prem, sister Sadhana and brother Tek Bahadur were all involved in the insurgency. Sadhana and Tek Bahadur still await treatments for the wounds they sustained during the war. Tek Bahadur has mental problems. Their ancestral property has been destroyed by security forces. Consider the agony Padam was forced to live with when he was not even allowed to meet his chairman to express his frustration, the same person he and his family spent their lives serving with all they had.
The truth is that Dahal and Bhattarai have used many Padam Kunwars to enter Baluwatar. The Maoist leaders have clearly forgotten that thousands of people fed their leaders by cutting down on their own diet, and it is they who made Prachanda out of Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
The people who sacrificed their body parts and family members for the ‘great cause’ are now facing hand-to-mouth problems. Many have made their way into Saudi Arabia, their old dreams shattered, while others continue to languish back in their homeland, jobless and forlorn.
Undoubtedly, the slap on a top leader is to be condemned. But it should also be seen as a reminder to the Maoist leaders who have made it a habit to ‘use and throw’ their cadres instead of hearing and addressing their genuine grievances. No wonder the former respect for party leadership has been transformed into hatred.
Deprived of hearing, Padam Kunwar grabbed the only opportunity he got to get the message across to party leadership. The slap on Dahal’s face was a resounding message to party leadership that the rank and file would be silent no more. The slap, viewed this way, is a symbol of Dahal’s betrayal of the Maoist youths.
Right after signing the 12-point deal with parliamentary parties, Dahal’s distance with the grassroots started increasing. His luxurious lifestyle and the pressure of national and international forces made his reconnection with the grassroots simply impossible. Therefore, Dahal must know in his heart of hearts that many such slaps are in store for him.
If he is to avoid this terrible fate, he must try to regain the lost trust of the grassroots level cadres. He has the unenviable task of convincing all those who bought his tall dreams, that those dreams were false, and something he resorted to out of compulsion.
But it won’t be easy. It will be hard to bring around the cadres who lost the most productive years of their lives, gave up their most cherished personal dreams, lost their families and well-functioning bodies, all for the ‘great cause.’
The author is a reporter who handles the Maoist beat at Republica