Yuba Nath Lamsal
All political parties in Nepal are currently in serious internal turmoil. The internal feud in the parties has taken an ugly turn recently with factions and their leaders trading charges against their rival. The charges and accusation range from political and ideological deviation and compromise in national interest to financial corruption.
The political parties are being torn apart due to internal feud over the last four years since the new political process (peace process) began. As political game has taken a sharp twist and turn, the role of political actors, too, has changed. The political scenario in Nepal is fast changing, so are the political actors. Until two decades ago, the monarchy was the dominant force, whereas political parties had been banned and they were operating underground. The political change of 1990 brought about change in Nepal’s political equation and scenario. The change marked a sharp reduction in the power of monarchy and made the parties powerful actors in the politics of Nepal. The king became a ceremonial head whereas prime minister to be elected from parliament held executive power. The dominant role of the monarchy was reduced whereas the parties that had earlier been in the oblivion became the crucial actors in the newly emerged political scenario. The royalists that had enjoyed power and perks during king’s absolute regime were so badly marginalized that they were virtually routed in the first general election held in 1991. The principal players during the movement against the Panchayat regime proved their worth and prowess as they became dominant forces. The Nepali Congress was the winner in the election held in 1991 and formed the government on the basis of its clear-cut majority in parliament, whereas the CPN-UML emerged as a formidable opposition force. With the total 205 seats in parliament, the Congress won 114, the CPN-UML bagged 69 seats and the rest 22 seats were shared by almost half a dozen different parties. This was the composition of parliament and political equation in the immediate aftermath of 1990 political change.
However, this equation and scenario did not remain static. As the time changed so was the political equation. The Nepali Congress majority government could not complete its full five year term due to internal feud and factionalism within the Congress party. The internal wrangling turned in the Congress turned so acute that the Congress government headed by its own leader Girija Prasad Koirala was reduced to minority status in parliament during the voting on government’s annual policies and programmes, which forced the Prime Minister to take a harsh move of opting for a fresh election. This was the beginning of instability and a new round of political crisis in Nepal.
In the snap polls held in 1995, Nepali Congress lost to the opposition CPN-UML. But the winning CPN-UML still fell short of majority required for the formation of its own government. In the situation of hung parliament in which no party had majority, the largest party—CPN-UML—was given a chance to form the government but in minority status only to be pulled down in nine months. In the period of four years since then, five governments were changed, which was the height of instability in Nepal. In this state of instability, the royalists, who had earlier lost powers, were primarily behind the state of the flux as they often switched their allegiance and stance. But the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, which were the catalyst forces to bring about change in 1990, failed to comprehend and visualize the situation, instead they were locked in confrontation just to grab power and retain it. While the royalists were trying to further defame the multi-party system by creating instability and chaos to reap political benefit, the Maoists analyzed that the tangible change they wanted was not possible under multi-party system, which they called a bourgeoisie democracy. A revolutionary communist party believes that only armed revolution can achieve its political goal—be it for socialism or new democracy. According to revolutionary communists, multi-party polity is the capitalist and bourgeoisie system that exploits and cheats the people under the façade of democracy and protects the interests of only a group of elites, capitalist and feudal elements but not the large mass of the people, majority of who are poor, downtrodden and backward. Thus, the Maoists, who did not believe in multi-party system, found the sordid state of parliamentary system during this period as a best example to justify their political logic. The Maoists then abandoned the electoral politics and launched armed insurgency against monarchy and parliamentary system.
The failure of parliamentary parties to deliver services had caused disenchantment among the people, on the one hand, Maoists’ popular slogans of patriotism and guarantee of basic needs had a strong appeal to the people especially from the lower strata of society, on the other. As a result, the insurgency grew and developed so fast that the entire rural areas came virtually under the Maoist control. The insurgency began from strategically defensive position developed into the state of strategic equilibrium and finally reached the strategic offensive state, which made the Maoists virtually in the position of dictating terms to the king and also the political parties. When the king took over power marginalizing parliamentary parties, there had been contacts and talks between the insurgent Maoists and the monarchy in order to strike a political deal. The Maoists did try to dictate their terms to the king demanding that the monarch either give up power or the throne. But then king Gyanendra refused to accept the Maoists demand instead he insisted the Maoists to give up insurgency and join the government under monarchy, which was unacceptable to the insurgents. Gyanendra Shah’s intention was to crush parliamentary part8ies with support of the Maoists. Marginalizing parliamentary parties and joining hands with feudal monarchy would have been a suicidal game for the Maoists. The proposal of the king was, thus, politically dangerous and disastrous which the Maoists were quick to comprehend. But the intention of the Maoists to enter into the dialogue with the king was not to strengthen the monarchy but to persuade the king to relinquish throne and agree for a republican system.
At the same time, the Maoists were also trying to dictate the parties in which they became partially successful. The Maoists had been demanding the constituent assembly to write a new constitution, federal system, abolition of monarchy and secularism, among some others. The Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML were staunchly opposed to these agenda. They were neither in support of a republic nor for federalism, secularism and a new constitution. They wanted amendment in the 1990 constitution and incorporate some cosmetic changes to accommodate some of the minor demands of the Maoists. When the king tried to further marginalize them, parliamentary parties slowly turned against the monarchy and became flexible to Maoists’ conditions. Herein came New Delhi to reap political benefit in the name of brokering a peace deal between the Maoists and Nepal’s parliamentary parties. Against this background, 12-point agreement was reached between the Maoists and the alliance of seven parliamentary parties, in which parliamentary parties agreed to most of the agenda of the Maoists, whereas the insurgents agreed for a Nepali Congress demand of temporary reinstatement of parliament. Under these conditions, the Jana Andolan II was launched against monarchy and the movement succeeded to compel the king to surrender in just 19 days.
Earlier the Maoists had run a parallel government and they soon became a dominant power even in parliamentary politics after the 12-point agreement and beginning of the peace process. The position of the Maoists continues to be dominant even now. The other parties’ role is secondary. The royalists are virtually in the oblivion although the Gyanendra Shaha and his loyalists are still trying to regain the lost image and power. However, the efforts of royalists are not likely to yield any fruit as it is their vain attempt to turn back the clock to the old days. Monarchy is something like a corpse that has already been buried and attempt to revive monarchy is like trying to revive the soul in the dead body, which is impossible. This is the nature of science.
The current internal imbroglio within the political parties is a product of party’s changed role and their differing ideological perceptions. The parties have found it difficult to adjust their role in the newly emerged situation. The parties had never visualized the present political situation. The parties are trying to find their space in the present politics, the course of which is uncertain. The ideological orientation and doctrine of the Maoists does not suit in this odd time but they have no alternative other than to adjust and readjust in it. This situation has created confusion and fierce ideological and political debate in the Maoist party. The Nepali Congress, too, is at odd because its leaders had never thought that they would ever have to face such a difficult position. The Congress always championed a multi-party parliamentary system but it is in a position to compromise certain values it stood for, which is definitely not easy. This has created debate and disorientation in the Nepali Congress. The CPN-UML is in the cross road for its survival and existence because of Maoists’ inroad into its vote banks. Until a few years ago, UML was the sole representative of communist ideology in Nepal’s parliamentary politics. Its position became shaky after the Maoists joined peaceful politics and they have pushed the UML to a poor to third position in the last election. The UML is now in dilemma which course and strategy it would fit in the present political scenario. This existential dilemma is the fundamental factor behind the present confusion-induced friction within the parties. But once hazy political atmosphere is cleaned, the confusion in the parties would also be cleared which would resolves ideological debate and factional wrangling in the parties.