Nepal’s polity continues to fracture July 5, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Dowler, Amy, Nepal , trackback
On 19 June 2012 the ‘hardline’ faction of the ruling Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (UCPN-M) formally split to form a new party. The new party, confusingly called the Communist Party of Nepal, Maoist (CPN-M), is led by former UCPN-M Vice-Chairman Mohan Baidya. (Note the People’s Front of Judea-level subtlety of the move from a dash to a comma, to avoid replicating the title of yet another party).
Since 28 May 2012 Nepal has been ruled by a self-styled transitional government with no constitutional basis. The government is led by the UPCN-M, which had the most seats in the now dissolved Constituent Assembly (CA), and its Vice-Chairman Baburam Bhattarai has continued in his role as Prime Minister.
The transitional government arose after the CA’s failure to promulgate a new constitution by the 28 May deadline, itself a product of parties’ failure to agree on a basis for forming states. Bhattarai has said his transitional government will remain in place until elections are held in November. Opposition parties have been calling for Bhattarai’s resignation and either the reinstatement of the CA, or formation of a consensus government to oversee the fresh elections.
The ideological rift between Baidya and the ‘establishment faction’ of Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) and Vice-Chairman Bhattarai dates from 2005 when the Maoists embraced parliamentarianism. (The UPCN-M itself was formed in 1995 when then-considered radicals Prachanda and Bhattarai split from another Communist party in reaction to its participation in the parliamentary process.) Baidya was strongly opposed to the move, made while he sat in a jail in West Bengal, India (some say he blames Bhattarai for setting him up).
Implications for the UCPN-M
The move has serious ramifications for the UCPN-M. Although Prachanda and Bhattarai will no doubt be glad to be decisively rid of the renegade in their ranks, Baidya takes with him a significant portion of the Maoist base. The new party has the support of 44 of 148 Central Committee members, an unclear but substantial number of the UPCN-M’s sister wings and 72 of the UPCN-M’s 236 members of the recently dissolved Constituent Assembly.
It is that support that saw Prachanda striving to avert the split, and continuing to talk as if it is not irreversible. The UPCN-M was already likely to receive a diminished vote in the upcoming election compared to its strong 2008 showing due to its inability to deliver a constitution and its lowering to the station of just another political party since it traded arms for parliament. The Baidya split weakens its electoral position further.
In one worst case scenario, the UCPN-M’s weakened position will lead it to consolidate the current undemocratic arrangement. Even before the formation of the CPN-M there were worrying signs. In June the government was chided by the Election Commission of Nepal for going well beyond the purview of a transitional government by making key changes to the leadership of police. A further worrying development was the demotion of the acting general manager of state-owned Nepal Television for televising an opposition protest.
In a better case scenario, the diffusion of power will lead Prachanda and Bhattarai to the negotiating table. Without the ability to control a future CA with only a junior coalition partner, they will have to take a more collegiate approach to make headway on the constitution and other matters. There are early signs Bhattarai and Prachanda are inclined to take this more moderate path. Indeed the exit of Baidya, well known for being ideologically radical and stridently anti-Indian, means that the UPCN(M) no longer has to accommodate his extreme views and demands, allowing it to continue down the path of moderation and compromise.
Implications of an unencumbered Baidya
The CPN-M is against parliamentarianism and elections. It describes itself as revolutionary: Baidya will not rule out a people’s revolt to achieve the party’s goal of a ‘people’s republic’. There have already been isolated instances of violence between UCPN-M and CPN-M supporters, ostensibly over party property, in Pokhara and Bharatpur.
Although the CPN-M has significant grass roots support – support which tends to be of the politically motivated variety – it is not clear that it will win any new followers with its persistent hardline stance. While no polls have been conducted, it is doubtful many Nepalis would greet threats of a return to violence positively. Certainly the business community has been put off side by the CPN-M’s extortionate ways. The CPN-M’s hardcore stance also makes it less likely, though not impossible, that opposition parties will seek its cooperation in efforts to depose the UPCN-M-led government.
How genuine, or even feasible, the threat of revolt is remains unclear. One of Baidya’s major gripes against the establishment faction was its move since Bhattarai became Prime Minister in August 2011 to disband former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cantonments and hand over weapons. The significant progress on both fronts – on the latter, ex-combatants opting for retirement have been sent home, while those electing to join the Nepal Army have been delayed, although reports say the process will resume this week – makes Baidya’s threats slightly less menacing.
India will not be pleased by Baidya’s new freedom. Vocally anti-Indian, he has already been in contact with India’s Maoist movement. India-Nepal relations have come a long way over the last few years with Prachanda moderating his stance and India making an effort to be less interventionist. Baidya threatens to undo that progress. There is growing evidence that India’s Maoists are building networks in that country’s restive northeastern states and, with the open border between the two countries, and the recent arrest of northeast Indian rebels at Kathmandu airport, it is easy to imagine Indian security agencies’ distress at the prospect of a Baidya-Naxal-northeast insurgent nexus.
Postscript: keep one eye on Gyanendra
This week the last Shah King, Gyanendra, made his first foray into the public eye for some time, apparently testing the waters. He arrived in the Terai town of Bhairahawa, reportedly greeted by “thousands of supporters” who urged him to “take the country’s reins”. Even before May 28 some Nepalis were beginning to hope for, or express a belief in the inevitability of, a return of the monarchy. Such sentiments reflect the fact that political parties have failed to address the fundamental issues that led Nepal to civil war in the first place: primary among them, the concentration of power in the hands of a few in the Kathmandu Valley.