Paradoxically the provisional steps toward unity came after the formal split of the increasingly fractious Communist Party of Nepal-Revolutionary Maoists.
By Maila Baje
Against the subdued backdrop of the 50th anniversary of the eruption of the Cultural Revolution up north, efforts at unifying our half a dozen groups still professing fealty to the Great Helmsman gained traction over the weekend. Paradoxically, however, the provisional steps toward unity came after the formal split of the increasingly fractious Communist Party of Nepal-Revolutionary Maoists.
The stark differences in ideology and unsheathed ambitions of leaders that have stymied unity efforts over the past year nevertheless persist. Despite the latest split, the dominant Mohan Baidya faction remains opposed to unity with the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Baidya and his loyalists want a new ‘democratic revolution’ to complete the ‘unfinished tasks’ of the ‘people’s war’.
Still, the latest development represents a symbolic boost for Dahal’s efforts to maintain the relevance of a once-formidable movement within Nepal traditionally splintered left. After months of rumblings of discontent, a majority of the members of the Communist Party of Nepal-Revolutionary Maoists’ central committee decided to elect general secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa as chairman after ousting Baidya. Moreover, Thapa and Dahal have agreed on 13 bases to accelerate formal unification.
In response, issuing a six-page appeal, Baidya accused the Thapa faction of being opportunist and neo-reformist, claiming that the supposed unification process was an effort to destroy the revolutionary ideology of Nepal’s Communist movement.
The compulsions for Maoist unification are evident. Following the triumph of its decade-long rebellion against the old Nepali state, Dahal’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), became the largest party in the Constituent Assembly in 2008. From that apogee, crowned by Dahal’s nine-month tenure as prime minister in 2008-2009, the party has systematically gone downhill.
Amid numerous splits, there are currently at least seven separate Maoist formations. The largest of these, the UCPN (Maoist) – still led by Dahal following the Baidya faction’s walkout in 2012 after the dissolution of the constituent assembly – ceded ground to the traditional mainstream parties in the 2013 election. Meanwhile, the CPN-RM itself split in 2014 when Netra Bikram Chand broke away from Baidya and created the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist.
Over the past year, as Dahal has been in negotiations with Baidya, major divisions grew within the latter group over reunification. Thapa, a leading architect and early commander of the ‘people’s war’, wanted the party to give up revolution as its plan of action and instead focus on unification with other Maoist parties. He finally threw the gauntlet with the support of key figures like Dev Gurung, Pampha Bhusal, Hitman Shakya and Lekhnath Neupane.
Substantively, however, questions do remain. For one thing, several senior leaders like Chandra Prakash Gajurel and Hari Bhakta Kandel still back Baidya, who is considered Dahal’s ideological mentor. Also, the Chand-led Maoists clarified that they were not involved in the unification process of what was essentially an alliance of pro-parliamentarian forces. Complicating that picture, however, a group led by Basanta Gharti from Chand’s party is unifying with Dahal.
For its part, Dahal’s party is still licking its wounds after former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai quit over differences with the chairman’s handling of the party last September. It’s hard enough to conclude whether Dr. Bhattarai – the erstwhile chief ideologue of the ‘people’s war’ – is still a Maoist, now that he is the principal votary of a new force. How far the other fringe factions led by Matrika Yadav, Mani Thapa, Pari Thapa and Hemanta Oli would bolster unity remains anybody’s guess.
That may not necessarily be a bad thing for Dahal, who has thrived on keeping everybody else guessing about his next moves and motives.