UML-Maoist Centre Merger A Historic Experiment
Ritu Raj Subedi
Just about a few months back, the electoral alliance and unification between the two rival communist parties - CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre - appeared to be highly improbable venture. But these two parties proved the naysayers wrong. In a dramatic move, the UML and Maoist Centre first forged an election alliance that enabled them to secure nearly two-thirds seats in the federal and provincial polls held last year. Then, amidst swirling negative speculations about the party unity, the two parties inked a 7-point deal to expedite the unification bid. They expect to complete the merger process by April. This is a historic event in the 68-year-long Nepali communist movement marked by splits, merger and renaming. The unification drive seeks to bring back the glorious days of Nepali communists when they were united and fought for a common cause.
Established in 1949 to wage relentless fight against feudalism, autocracy and imperialism, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) started to suffer from vertical splits following its third convention in 1962. The UML and MC were the offshoots of the CPN and evolved through different schoolings and movements. After 55 years of division and mutual animosity, they have struck a deal for a surprise reunion with the lofty goals of attaining peace, stability and development. Of course, they have to sort out tricky ideological, power-sharing and organisational issues before finding a coherent position to operate the unified party and strong government capable to carry out socialist reconstruction as envisaged by the new constitution.
Both the communist groups rose to the political scene with their ruthless violent campaign. In their initial phase, both the parties had embraced Maoism as their guiding thought. The UML was born from the womb of Jhapa revolt that was inspired by Naxalite movement of India and Cultural Revolution of China. Scores of youths joined hands to launch a campaign of beheading the feudal landlords against their exploitation of farmers in east Nepal. It shook the autocratic Panchayat system to the hilt, forcing it to spring into ruthless suppression of young revolutionaries. The Jhapa revolt was nipped in the bud with many of its leaders landing in jail. Its leaders soon realised that they came under the sway of ultra-left whim and committed a blunder. They abandoned violent means of revolution and adopted the path of peaceful movement and socio-economic transformations. Nonetheless, the Jhapa movement added a new lease of life into the moribund Nepali communist outfit. It kicked off the unification of various left groups that coalesced into the CPN-Marxist-Leninist, the precursor to the incumbent UML.
The Maoist Centre has also gone through various stages before taking the present shape and position. It carries the legacy of Chautho Mahadibeshan (Fourth Convention) and passed through various nomenclatures, such as Masal, Unity Centre, CPN-Maoist and UCPN-Maoist. It accumulated power through the decade-long insurgency that took the lives of over 17,000 people. It emerged as the largest force from the first Constituent Assembly poll. But it experienced gradual decline after the second CA poll. The party oscillated between the UML and the Nepali Congress in a desperate attempt to stay afloat in the national politics.
The UML and CPN-Maoist Centre were arch rivals during the armed conflict. The Maoist rebels had slayed hundreds of UML functionaries under their class extermination campaign. Though the armed insurgency caused a political upheaval, the Maoist party acknowledged its limit following the lethal blows from the Nepal Army in several places. The Maoist insurgency, among others, created widening rift between the parliamentary forces and monarchy, setting the stage for 2006 April Uprising. The CA poll was conducted as a peaceful means for bringing the Maoist rebels to the peace process. The first CA meeting abolished monarchy, paving the way for the federal democratic republic.
Unlike the UML, the Maoist Centre still basks in the glory of violent movement of the past, which is hard for the UML cadres to digest. In essence, the Maoist Centre has accepted the UML’s People’s Multiparty Democracy (PMD) propounded by its charismatic leader late Madan Bhandari. The PMD democratised Nepali communist movement at a time when the world’s communism had fallen on the stony ground. Bhandari reenergised the Nepali communist movement by incorporating the ideas of peaceful struggle and multiparty competition in the party’s document so as to achieve the ultimate goal of socialism. The then UCPN-Maoist had adopted ‘Maoism and the 21st Century Democracy’ from its Hetauda convention that took the course of peaceful people’s struggle and competitive open political line.
In Point 3 of the agreement they signed last week, both the parties have agreed to establish their superiority through the peaceful multiparty competition. In Point 4, the UML and the Maoist Centre concurred to take PMD and ‘Maoism and the 21st Century Democracy’ to their unity convention for debate and refinement. In order to avoid unnecessary disputes with regard to the name and ideology, both have decided to accept Marxism-Leninism as the guiding principle of unified party and name it as CPN. They also agreed to devise an interim statute and political document to run the party till the convention.
The 7-point accord is a big stride in the direction of party unity. But it is still on a bumpy road. Managing a large number of ambitious leaders of both parties is going to be a tricky issue. Even if the two parties finally merged, the two-line of struggle is likely to continue within the party. The Maoists will hardly detach themselves from the hangover of Maoism. For the UML workers, it is a sore point to defend the Maoist insurgency and its atrocities in the past. It has been widely believed that the Maoists will be neutralised once they come under the broad banner of peaceful and competitive Marxism practiced by the UML for decades. The Maoist leaders must shed the toxic ethno-centric identity politics that created socio-cultural cleavages in the Nepali society. The Maoist Centre and its supremo Prachanda can be bullied and blackmailed by India and West over his bad human rights records. In such a situation, his peer UML chair KP Sharma Oli will face a tough time, requiring him to demonstrate tact and shrewd diplomacy guided by national interest, sovereignty and dignity. If the Left Alliance successfully delivers stability and development to the people, it will easily ride out many domestic and external obstacles and silence its critics.