Third Force And The Labour Of Sisyphus : Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
The self-indulgence of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai with regard to forming an alternative force in Nepal has surprised some and amused many political watchers. It is surprising because he has thought out loud about such a need while still at the top echelon of the party, which he and Prachanda had formed as an alternative force in 1994, purportedly to accomplish the revolutionary mission ‘betrayed’ by the Nepali Congress and CPN(UML). It is amusing because Dr. Bhattarai has exhibited, among many other distinctions, an exceptional craft to stage farcical political stunts.
Not a novel proposition
For those who do not have a keen sense of history, Bhattarai’s proposition may appear as a novel scheme. But this is not the first occasion when political leaders of Nepal have floated the idea of creating a third force. Following the 1950 revolution, when irreconcilable views of BP Koirala and King Mahendra led to a prolonged stalemate in politics, creating a space for power play, Matrika Prasad Koirala had tried to form an alternative force to overshadow the Nepali Congress led by BP Koirala. The late king Mahendra even appointed Matrika Prasad Koirala as the prime minister on the ground of his leading that force. It is another thing that he could not sustain that force once he was out of power. This embittered relationship between the king and BP Koirala furthered and sealed the political fate of Matrika Prasad Koirala, who had to spend the rest of his life in ignominy.
During the Panchayat period, former general secretary of the Nepali Congress, Purshunarayan Chaudhary, broke away from the Nepali Congress and tried to form an alternative force in 1981 with the support of what was known as the group of 38. But he soon succumbed himself to King Birendra’s mesmerising political deception and accepted ministerial portfolios in the Panchayat government. Once out of the king’s grace, he, too, was compelled to spend his remaining life in disgrace and oblivion.
Even in the 1980s and 1990s, there were attempts to create a third force against the established mainstream parties. When intra-party differences within the then CPN(ML) on whether to go for ‘party freedom’ or for ‘political freedom’ resulted in a political purge, leading to the marginalisation of a large number of political leaders and cadres at various levels of the party hierarchy, some of its leaders tried to create a third force named the Prajatantrik Lok Dal (Democratic People’s Party) under the leadership of Devendra Raj Pandey in 1983. But it could hardly take off. As soon as the CPN(ML) made its position clear by expressing its commitment to the peaceful political transformation through periodic elections, the forum lost its political relevance and vanished into thin air.
In recent decades, the split of the Nepali Congress, under the leadership of its senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and its reunion, and the division of the CPN(UML), under the leadership of Bam Dev Gautam and CP Mainali and its eventual reorganisation with the mother party, constitute the most prominent examples of attempts to create the alternative force and their spectacular failure.
With these stark lessons from history to go by and Dr. Bhattarai’s own party fighting an existential battle to keep its unity together, it sounds funny to hear him talk about the creation of a third force. Still, since he has announced it, that too, during his visit to New Delhi and in the presence of a politician of the stature of Kejriwal, it will be worthwhile to put his idea under scrutiny though the place which he chose to make the announcement has enervated its morale foundation.
Dr. Bhattarai is unquestionably a cream intellectual of the country. The way he is required to deal with the challenges presented by his own compeers, who lack political refinement and have bludgeoned their way to the top party hierarchy, may sometimes make him feel exasperated to the point of opting for a separate platform to prove his worth. His feeling of enduring bitterness for swallowing down injustice and affliction at the hand of his party Supremo, including his incarceration in the labour camps during the insurgency days, may have made him feel increasingly incompatible with Prachanda and his tribe. His inability to maneuver his way to the top job of party chairperson in the UCPN-Maoist might have provoked in him the temptation to form a separate party and to occupy the top chair.
To follow another line of reasoning, he may have also thought that it would be difficult for him to gain international recognition and acceptability if he continues to be judged as an inheritor of the legacy of the bloody ‘People’s War’ which he and Prachanda presided over, and which had claimed the lives of more than 15 thousand innocent people, destroyed structures worth billions of rupees, caused untold sufferings through dislocation and separation of people, and deprived thousands of youths of the opportunity to receive a formal education.
Forming a new party might give him an opportunity to make a clean break with the past and start a fresh career again. This, however, looks implausible in view of the unrepentant manner in which he is defending the war time excesses and the rigid stance he is showing on the issue of the constitution-making process.
t is easy to blurt out something. But it is difficult to walk the talk. From the historical precedence, it can be predicted that if Dr. Bhattarai thinks of forming a separate party by breaking away from the UCPN-Maoist, it may spell doom for his career. If he forms a more radical party than the UCPN-Maoist, he will find it difficult to carve out a niche for himself by outshining Kiran Baidhya and Netra Bahadur Chand, who are already threatening to re-enact the ‘People’s War’. If, in an unlikely scenario, he does this, he will be only stealing their thunder without a chance of proving his originality.
Again, if he chooses to form a liberal democratic party with a tilt to the right of the centre, he will find it difficult to penetrate this space because it is a traditional bastion of the Nepali Congress. Furthermore, the personality of Dr. Bhattarai, who has tainted his democratic image by staining his hands with the blood of the innocent people during the insurgency, exposed his proclivities towards authoritarianism and spilled venom towards the democratic electoral process as a means of settling controversial issues, make him unequal for the onerous task he has contemplated. Similarly, if he is thinking of a party slightly tilted to the left of the centre, there could be no better force to qualify for this space than the CPN (UML).
In such a scenario, Dr. Bhattarai’s dream of a third force may amount to nothing more than an indulgence in intellectual ecstasy devoid of any practical utility. Dr. Bhattarai’s quest for power and the alternating highs and lows in his political career resemble the wasted labour of the mythical hero, Sisyphus, who was condemned to push a rock up towards a mountain summit only to see it rushing down to the lower world. If Dr. Bhattarai wants to keep the rock of his destiny securely on the top of the summit, he has to stop dreaming about the alternative force and spend his effort in transforming the UCPN-Maoist into a people-based social-democratic party, which abjures violence as a means and embraces peace as its strategic goal.
The author is former Chairperson of the Gorkhapatra Corporation and currently an Associate Professor of History at Tribhuvan University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org