Tuesday, February 9, 2010

UML Facing Identity Crisis

Yuba Nath Lamsal

The CPN-UML, which is currently leading the non-Maoist coalition government, appears to be in a deep political and ideological dilemma that has created a big identity crisis in the party. Once a vibrant party that had been viewed as an alternate force in the country now seems to be on the decline mainly due to the absence of its ideological and political standing.
Its politics is now polarised between rightist and the leftist ideologies. The Nepali Congress represents the rightist and capitalist ideology which is often called liberal democracy. The Maoists represent the mainstream of the communist force in Nepal.
Until the Maoists were waging a jungle war condemning liberal democracy, the CPN-UML was a moderate and parliamentary communist force. Such a moderate communist force was necessary in the country given the large chunk of the population that had faith in leftist politics. This has been evident by the results of all the elections held after the 1990 political change in Nepal.
In every election, the total votes of the leftist parties garnered were more than those of the Nepali Congress or other rightist parties combined. The Constituent Assembly election that was held almost two years ago has more clearly justified this claim. The leftist parties garnered more than two-thirds of the votes in the election held for the Constituent Assembly.
Prior to the Constituent Assembly election, the CPN-UML was projected as a possible winner whereas the Nepali Congress and the Maoists were viewed as the underdogs. Some pre-election polls and arm-chair analysts had predicted a stronger position of the UML in the election. This was based on the UML’s earlier organisational strength and its ability to vigorously pursue alternative political programmes and policies.
In the past, all people believing in both radical and reformist policies supported the UML as there was no other party that had carried the socialist plank. This situation no longer existed after the emergence of the Maoists. When the Maoists were fighting guerilla warfare, they had already established themselves as a revolutionary communist force and a clear alternative to the existing system itself.
When the Maoists joined peaceful politics expressing their faith in the western model of liberal democracy, the position of the CPN-UML suddenly declined, which was clearly seen in the Constituent Assembly election. The CPN-UML was reduced to a poor third position.
The election results have raised a big question about the viability of the UML as a party in the new political situation of the country. The poor showing of the UML was attributed partly to its declining organisational base and partly to ideological vacillation and oscillation. In the name of appeasing all sections, the CPN-UML lost its ideological distinctness. It tried to project itself as a democratic force, as a result of which it lost the faith of the radical and revolutionary section that comprises a large chunk of the voters.
The people who believe in liberal democracy also did not trust the UML because of its communist tag. The UML became neither a democratic nor communist party and could not win the trust of both the communists as well as liberal democrats. This ideological dilemma cost the CPN-UML heavily in the Constituent Assembly election.
The ideological dilemma crept into the CPN-UML after the party’s fifth congress held in 1991 adopted ‘People’s Multi-party Democracy’ (PMDP) as its guiding political doctrine. Late Madan Bhandari, who not only reformed the party and adopted democratic ideals but also had the courage and ability to transform the UML into a liberal democratic party and accordingly convince the voters, propounded the PMDP. The party adopted the PMDP as the guiding political doctrine overwhelmingly despite sharp criticism from some leaders, including the present party president Jhalanath Khanal, who dubbed the decision as ideological deviation.
The ideological dilemma came up more openly after Madan Bhandari’s demise. The leaders who came to fill the void left by Bhandari’s death lacked vision and necessary courage to face the newer challenges and lead the party forward in the newer context. Bhandari had the vision, courage and commitment to lead the party and also mobilise the people. But other leaders failed to understand the inherent meaning of the PMDP and took it as a tool to reach power.
Moreover, the CPN-UML failed to strengthen its organisation in the last one decade, when the Maoists launched an armed insurgency. It thought that those who voted for it in the last parliamentary election would again favour the UML. But this did not happen. A sea change had taken place in Nepali politics. The Maoists had already taken control over two-thirds of the territory in the country and in all probability were in a position of strategic equilibrium.
At the local level, the Maoists had already destroyed the organisational base of the other parties. It was more so with the UML as many of its workers and supporters were easily lured by the revolutionary programmes and slogans of the Maoists. The dalits, indigenous people and different ethnic groups were attracted by the Maoist policy and slogans of ethnic-based self-rule and inclusiveness. These parties failed to assess the new situation and their waning organisational position.
In the last one decade, parties that were at the helm of affairs could do virtually nothing to strengthen democratic rule and national interest. When both the mainstream parties failed to deliver, the people definitely looked for an alternative and found one in the Maoists as they had not yet been tested in real politicking. As a result, the Maoists emerged as the largest political party in the Constituent Assembly, reducing the CPN-UML to a distant third position.
The CPN-UML, it seems, has not learnt its lessons. The party is now caught in ugly rivalry among the different factions. They seem to be least concerned about the party’s declining position and organisational base.
The CPN-UML is a comical party dominated by political jokers rather than leaders. In a communist party, a leader is chosen on the basis of the political programmes and policies he presents. One whose policies and programmes get the endorsement of the party is given the opportunity to lead the party. But it has not happened in the CPN-UML, which is the main cause of the political dilemma and declining organisational health of the party.
The eighth congress was the height of this political and ideological dilemma in the UML. While the party gave continuity to the PMDP as its political programme, its leadership was given to Jhalanath Khanal, who is opposed to the PMDP, as Khanal overwhelmingly defeated his rival KP Oli in the election for the party leadership.
Although defeated, Oli is the consistent advocate and authentic interpreter of the PMDP. Had the UML cadres been trained on the basis of ideological clarity, Oli should have been elected to the party chairperson. The party’s leadership selection clearly shows the UML’s fundamental political and ideological flaw. This indicates the failure of the party and its leaders to politically and ideologically educate the workers and delegates.
The decision the eighth congress took relating to the party’s policy and leadership are in sharp contradiction, which is not communistic in principle. This inconsistency is an indication that the party had deviated from its set principles on which ground the party had been founded and advanced. If this inconsistency continues to persist, the CPN-UML is doomed to fail and be reduced to the status of a fringe party in the near future.
The inability of the leadership to sharpen the party with ideological clarity and equip it with the political tools to face the ideological and political challenges posed by the other parties is the reason why the UML lost the faith of the people in the past. The UML still has its relevance if it corrects its weaknesses and guides the party in the right direction.
Change of leadership
Since the present leadership has failed miserably, a change of leadership is a must for which one who is untainted and one who has clarity of ideology and can lead in the new context must be given charge. Perhaps, K.P, Oli is the best choice in the present context, who is likely to give a distinct identity to the party.