Nepal; Reds Wrestle With The R-Word

It’s come down to the R-word for Nepal’s two top comrades, and, no, it’s not republicanism. Maoist chairman Prachanda and Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal are wrestling harder to establish the other as a royalist in the final weeks before the constituent assembly elections.

This has been a time-tested tag of vilification ever since Keshar Jung Rayamajhi’s pro-palace sympathies after King Mahendra’s takeover precipitated the split of Nepal’s communist movement in the sixties. A generation later, Radha Krishna Mainali, one of the four people who went into the palace in 1990 to press King Birendra to restore multiparty democracy, prompted similar howls long before he joined King Gyanendra’s cabinet.

From Khadga Oli to Bam Dev Gautam to Mod Nath Prashit, countless comrades in the UML have found themselves wearing the royalist tag. But none has received the specificity of Madhav Nepal. After the much-hyped Silguri meeting not long after King Gyanendra’s enthronement, Prachanda stepped up criticism of the UML chief as a neo-Rayamajhi.

Clearly, the Maoist supreme was infuriated by Nepal’s rush to brief the monarch on the contents of that confab. Prachanda, for understandable reasons, brushed aside the reality that the genuine article was still in full play as the Raj Parishad chief.

Madhav Nepal, for his part, has long accused the Maoists of facilitating the revival of royal rule through their misguided “people’s war”. He can’t forget how the Maoists entered peace talks in early 2002 with the palace-appointed Lokendra Bahadur Chand government, upstaging the UML then mired in a divisive party convention.

So when Maoist mouthpiece Jandisha published a photograph of a quizzical Madhav Nepal paying allegiance to newly crowned King Gyanendra at Hanuman Dhoka after Narayanhity massacre, a group of UML activists pummeled a hawker selling copies of the newspaper. (Why do the proletariat always find themselves in the middle of comradely crossfire?)

The photograph was a tit for the UML chief’s tat. Days earlier, Madhav Nepal had lampooned Prachanda as a “wall president,” referring to the wall posters promoting Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the country’s first president. True, the mandate of the April 10 polls is just to elect people who would draft a new constitution. But didn’t the UML join the Maoists in the interim legislature to ensure that Nepal had already become a republic?

Prachanda sees himself as the next president. Big deal. Hasn’t Madhav Nepal always considered himself the next premier? Mindful of this, Prachanda, paraphrasing a line from Tony Blair after Diana’s death, has declared himself the people’s president.

The uncertainty gripping the peace process is at the center of this bitter war of words. The UML, after investing so much in people’s multiparty democracy, isn’t prepared to cede the communist mantle to the Maoists. Prachanda is even less willing to let the UML expropriate the cause of republicanism. It wasn’t long ago, was it, that Madhav Nepal was one of the ardent advocates of the Pandora’s Box Theory of National Reconstruction as far as the constituent assembly was concerned?

Doubts have bred deeper disdain. Prachanda’s top lieutenant, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, has been insisting that the Maoists wouldn’t accept anything less than a full victory in the polls. Another Maoist leader, Bam Dev Chhetri, has already urged us to pay closer attention to the second meeting of the constituent assembly.

Then, almost out of the blue, Rabindra Shrestha joined the UML. The man, who quit (or was expelled from the Maoist party), has been a consistent critic of Prachanda who he holds responsible for abandoning the group’s revolutionary ardor. Normally, you wouldn’t have expected Shrestha to veer so right of the Maoists. Could his Chinese excursion have inspired the conversion?

Could this cacophony in the communist camp merely be a reflection of the Maoists’ difficult adjustment to multiparty parliamentary process? Or is there something more sinister going on? Does the UML foresee, say, a Maoist abstention in the first vote of the constituent assembly, which could work in favor of the monarchy?

Does Prachanda, on the other hand, see Madhav Nepal preparing to vote for the monarchy with the same wink of the eye he used while extending then-premier Sher Bahadur Deuba’s motion to endorse and extend the 2002 emergency proclamation?

With republicans like these … Surely, King Gyanendra can’t be only person completing the sentence with more than a chuckle.

Maila Baje is a native of Nepal, who writes about the convoluted and often inscrutable politics of his country. His insight points out the things we couldn’t see for ourselves.