The CPN-UML stole the political show in Kathmandu early this week. The capital city once again saw red banners with the hammer and sickle fluttering in the streets. In fact, Kathmandu was painted red and was almost UMLized for one day on March 3. This was because of the rally held ahead of the meeting of the party’s Representatives’ Council.
Tens of thousands of cadres, workers and supporters were mobilised and brought to the capital to show that the UML was still popular among the people. Whatever the reason and its impact on our national politics, the UML gathering was impressive, which has shown that the party is still capable of making its presence felt in the country.
Action not words
In the mass meeting held at the Open Air Theater prior to the formal start of the council’s meet, party leaders claimed that the UML was still the number one party and that it would emerge as the largest force in the next election. The CPN-UML is now the third largest party in the Constituent Assembly with slightly over 100 seats in the 601-member House. So far as its performance in the next election is concerned, it will depend more on what it does in action than in words.
Prior to the Constituent Assembly election held four years ago, the CPN-UML was portrayed and projected as a winner. The poll predictions made by armchair analysts had put the CPN-UML in first place, the Nepali Congress in second and the UCPN-Maoist in third place. But the results came out just the opposite. The party that had been projected as the winner trailed third. Quite contrary to the pre-poll surveys and predictions, the UCPN-Maoist emerged as the largest party with 237 seats in the Constituent Assembly.
The Nepali Congress maintained its second position although its strength in terms of seats in the Constituent Assembly was far behind that of the largest party.
The CPN-UML was once the largest party of Nepal. The party was better known for its militant character and tough discipline. Ideology, commitment, honesty and dedication were the hallmarks of the CPN-UML leaders and workers. ‘Do what you say and say what you can do’ was the motto of its cadres. Quality used to count more than quantity. The party was ideology-based, and Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought inspired and energised the entire rank and file.
Patriotism, social justice and economic equality were its declared slogans and policies, which had a strong appeal on the larger mass. Based on these qualities, policies, programmes and slogans, the CPN-UML was a magnet not only for patriotic, progressive, leftists and communists but also the general masses that wanted radical change in the country. However, this has become history now. After the demise of its charismatic leader Madan Bhandari, the party became virtually rudderless.
Madan Bhandari had introduced People’s Multi-Party Democracy, or PMPD, and got it approved by the party’s fifth national congress, which abandoned its revolutionary and radical agenda and embraced the reformist and more rightist approach. Bhandari passed away in a mysterious accident two years after the PMPD was adopted as the party’s political guiding principle, which paved the way for second grade leaders with a bureaucratic mentality to assume the party’s helms of affairs.
The new leaders interpreted the PMPD as it suited them and ultimately led the party to ideological degeneration. This was the turning point in the CPN-UML’s history that made a marked ideological departure. In the absence of a unifying personality in the party, groups and factions germinated and grew like wild mushrooms during the monsoon season. Even now those who are at the party’s helm are behaving as though they are chieftains of their factions. The country and the people are not their priority. Personal and factional interests have occupied more space in their political agenda.
The party was born in the 1970s. The foundation of the CPN-UML was the Jhapa revolt in which some landlords were killed as per its motive to annihilate the class enemies. But the Jhapa revolt was quickly suppressed by the state force and all its leaders were arrested. It was a big setback to the party. Those who escaped the arrest concluded that an armed revolt was not feasible in Nepal.
They changed strategy and began peaceful mobilisation of the people and organisational consolidation under the banner of the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) or CPN-ML. This was the beginning of the ideological deviation in the party as it abandoned the revolutionary method of armed revolution and focussed on peaceful means.
The fifth national congress saw another ideological shift, which formally rejected the idea of a revolution and adopted multi-party capitalist democracy. The ideological deviation slowly alienated the party cadres, supporters and sympathisers. At the same time, the Maoists started an armed insurgency with radical and revolutionary slogans under the banner of Maoism, which attracted many UML cadres and other communist sympathisers in Nepal. Many people quit the CPN-UML and joined the Maoist party. This process continues to this day.
But the UML failed to realise it until the results of the Constituent Assembly elections were out. Even then the UML refused to accept the reality and instead attributed the party’s poor show in the election to the ‘excess of the Maoists’. This could be true to a degree, but all the parties - Congress, UML and Maoists - did whatever they could to win the election.
The UML leaders spewed venom on the Maoists in their public speech at the rally and claimed that they were still the number one party. But the CPN-UML has already lost its credibility among the people, and it can never be the number one party again. The CPN-UML is a waning force. It would be difficult for the CPN-UML to regain its lost glory unless there is a dramatic turn of events in Nepali politics.
People had high expectations from the CPN-UML, but the party failed in the acid test of the people. In the past, the CPN-UML was the mainstream leftist party. Now the Maoists have taken over this role and place. If the CPN-UML leaders really want to revive its past glory and make it the foremost party of Nepal, then they must do some soul searching as to where they failed and rectify their mistakes ideologically, politically and tactically. Unless they are prepared to do this, the UML leaders’ claim would be just wishful thinking.
The CPN-UML leaders might have been overwhelmed by the presence of a large number of people at the rally. But it does not reflect the overall mood of the people because most of those who attended the rally were either card-holding cadres of the UML from across the country or evergreen rally goers who attend political rallies regardless of their hue for a fee.
What appeal to the people are ideological stance, political vision and economic programmes. But the UML conclave failed to make any significant impact from the ideological and political perspective. As a communist party, it has to come up with ideological clarity and correction. But the party has further deviated from its Marxist ideological perspective.
In the political document, party Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal presented his analysis of the different political forces of the country. But his analysis of the Nepali Congress and the UCPN-Maoist does not appear to be based on objective reality. Khanal has described the Nepali Congress as a status-quoist and reformist force and UCPN-Maoist ideology as ultra-communist deviation.
Similarly, he has designated the Nepali Congress as an ally and the UCPN-Maoist its enemy. This is flawed analysis. The Nepali Congress is a capitalist and rightist party whereas the UCPN-Maoist is a revolutionary communist party. If the CPN-UML is a communist party, reformist, rightist and capitalist parties can never be its allies. If the CPN-UML calls the Nepali Congress its ally and the UCPN-Maoist an enemy, this party is no longer a communist party but a rightist bourgeoisie party.
The analysis of the CPN-UML about the other parties has declared itself as a rightist party, which is a complete U-turn in its ideology. Thus, the recent conclave and pageantry at the rally are not going to strengthen but further erode it as more supporters and sympathisers are likely to quit the party because of its ideological deviation.