The recent weeks have been marked with transformative events in the Nepalese politics. It is not just about the breakthrough in the peace process that came about last week. Along with it came a phenomenal shift in the Maoist ideology. The Maoists are themselves shifting from nayan janabad (New Democracy, a Mao-defined form of communism) to modern democracy that entails the characteristics of liberal and social democracy. Inclusiveness, proportionate representation and participation of all segments of society are what the Maoists are calling for to infuse into a new political system in the post-republican set-up. Happily, these are also the ideological premises for the parliamentary forces like Nepali Congress and CPN-UML. As a result, there is a high possibility of the convergence and interaction of three important ideological streams – Democratic Socialism of BP Koirala, Janatako Bahudaliya Janabad (People’s Multiparty Democracy) of late Madan Bhandari and democracy of the 21st century of Maoist chairman Prachanda.
Years of experiences following their entry into the peace process might have impelled the Maoists to move towards a moderate political system. A few weeks ago, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda while interacting with party workers in Chitwan declared that there was no possibility of ushering naya janabad in the nation in the present situation. "The situation between when we started the revolution and now differ vastly. If we move by pursuing old values, failures are inevitable."
Echoing Prachanda’s views, his deputy and Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai said that his party is for participatory democracy. "Nepal is in need of participatory democracy at this juncture of time. It will work in favour of the oppressed and downtrodden people. The highest measure of democracy is neither the extent of freedom nor the extent of equality but the highest measure of participation," PM Bhattarai said during his visit to India recently.
If these acknowledgments of Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai were from their heart, this would have been a big ideological departure of a party that still enjoys clinging to the Maoist sobriquet. They had adopted classical communism with its basic tenets of the dictatorship of the proletariat and class struggle in its initial and hay days. Prachanda led a 10-year long ruthless insurgency in the Nepalese forests and hinterlands to establish nayan janabad. Their armed revolt, considered to be a half-way success, cost the lives of 14,000 plus people and billions of rupees. With a series of peace deals with the parliamentary forces, they are now standing on social democracy platform and striving to meet their goals without the alteration of class equilibrium.
Democracy that combines Greek words demos (people) and kratos (power) is itself a participatory system that stipulates people’s involvement in the decision-making and operation of governance system. But, in the past, different forms of democracy were experimented and it continues to be refined to address new problems and concerns of the society. The participatory democracy has become more popular as it seeks to remove the shortcomings of representative democracy and integrates the positive aspects of the grassroots or direct democracy. In the representative democracy, certain number of elites rules the roost by satisfying the electorates. But, the participatory democracy gets more people involved in the political, social and economic activities. It strives to create opportunities for all members of social and political groups and recognizes their contributions to the nation building. In the Nepalese context, it ensures the access of marginalized groups, dalits, ethnic communities, Madhesis, women and other oppressed groups to the mainstream, opportunities, and resources of the state in an equitable manner.
Dr. Bhattarai’s eagerness to follow and apply the tenets of participatory democracy may be a nasty thing to the hardliner Baidhya faction that is still harping on the old formula of revolution but it is a good news that the former rebels have come to sense that they could realize their goals through peaceful means. The Maoists have eventually recognized the democratic tools to secure inclusive growth and equitable distribution of national income. Although the Maoist journey from New Democracy to participatory democracy reflects an affirmative change in the life of an orthodox communist party, one can’t resist oneself from raising these questions: Was there no appropriate political climate for the Maoists to exercise the participatory democracy when they began their armed uprising? Was it necessary to carry out a violent campaign to finally adopt the competitive politics after a decade? What did actually hinder them from realizing the goals of participatory democracy at that time?
According to Prachanda’s statement mentioned above, the time around 1996 when the Maoist war started seemed to be appropriate for the insurgency. And now the time does not favour for continuing the same, he argues. In fact, Prachanda’s statement is not correct from any perspective. The period of early 1990s could not be termed a mature period for the violent revolution despite vast inequality, poverty and unemployment rate. Since the Cuban Revolution in 1957, no Left insurgents captured the state power in the world through the guerilla warfare. The dissolution of Soviet Union and collapse of communism in the East Europe dealt additional blows to the possibility of the communist revolutions on the Leninist and Maoist line. Realising this historical constraints, late Madan Bhandari decided to develop a creative version of Marxism that evolved into People’s Multiparty Democracy. Bhandari’s innovative approach and charisma offered fresh impetus to the moribund left movement here.
Actually, the early 1990s was quite favourable for exercising the participatory democracy as the representative form of democracy started showing its non-inclusive characters. Bhandari has already crafted an ideological ground to experiment the participatory democracy but the Maoists dismissed him as ‘revisionist’. Ironically, the same communist swearing word is now being heaped on Prachanda and Bhattarai by Baidhya faction. The ultra-leftist of the Maoists and ultra-rightist path followed by the then Nepali Congress leadership were to blame for the decade long tragic political course. Now all the forces are realizing their defective approaches. The NC seems to be rising above the procedural democracy while the CPN-UML has woken up from its inaction and submissive role in the past. The adoption of the peaceful democratic path by the Maoists offer a bigger opportunity for the NC and UML to secure broader consensus for implementing the forward-looking progressive agenda and consolidate the gains of the political changes of the last sixty years.