Yuba Nath Lamsal
Stage is all set for the ninth national congress of the CPN-UML, which would be held on July 3-9 in Kathmandu. All preparations seem to be almost complete for the ninth national congress in which, according to party sources, more than two thousands delegates are likely to participate. The delegates have already been elected and selected to take part in the conclave. The political and organizational reports have also been prepared by party chairman JN Khanal and general secretary Ishwar Pokhrel respectively and have been made public for comments and feedback from the workers and sympathizers for their improvement. Also, the CPN-UML is likely to make best use of the information technology in the national congress so that the delegates would be more familiar with and benefit from the newer technology. In other words, the ninth national congress of the CPN-UML is being dubbed by some of its leaders as the ‘high-tech’ conclave, which would be first of its kind in the organizational life of the party.
Two senior leaders of the party are in the leadership race. Madhav Nepal and KP Sharma Oli are the two contenders for the principal position of the party chairman. However, current Chairman Jhalnath Khanal, too, has not totally lost hope as he is still pulling strings from behind to ensure that the mantle of leadership would again be in his hands. Khanal has not spelt out his intention and desire in public but he has said he would be very much willing to take the leadership if the national congress decides so unanimously. However, it will be Khanal’s mere wishful thinking because the leaders who in the leadership race are not likely to give their claim and handover the leadership to Khanal again.
In the present consumerist and market politics, idealism does not prevail. The politics is determined and controlled by intricate compromise and ‘give and take’ guided by personal benefits which often takes place in secret deal. This is the reason why factionalism has so strong and intensified in this party. However, factionalism and factional rivalry is not an isolated case of the CPN-UML but a general phenomenon in all existing political parties. Bigger the parties, more and stronger groups exist and function. Being one of the largest political parties in the contemporary politics of Nepal, factionalism and factional fights within CPN-UML is also intense, fierce and vicious. Some pundits within the CPN-UML call it as a natural and normal in a vibrant and voracious party, which may be true, to certain extent but not fully convincing. Many are of the view that, the way the factions are operating and they are trading charges and counter charges; the CPN-UML seems to be heading nowhere but on the verge of disintegration, sooner or later. Given the attitudes of the leaders belonging to these two principal factions (Madhav Nepal and KP Oli faction), one, who is not aware of its history and past trends, definitely may think that these two groups would not be able to co-exist after the ninth national congress. If we look at the UML factional battles in the past and compare them with the present one, the current factional divide appears more artificial than natural one. There were greater and fiercer factional rivalries and conflicts in the past. Once the factional fighting led to the extent of party split.
Previous factional divides were based on cause and principles. The first ideological sword was raised in the CPN-UML by its founder general secretary CP Mainali as he was stripped of the responsibility as the general secretary by the majority decision of the party on political and ideological ground. As Jhalnath Khanal led the faction against Mainali, Khanal was naturally chosen for the new general secretary. Madan Bhandari was elected general secretary in the fourth national congress amidst similar ideological dispute between the two factions and Bhandari continued to remain the general secretary until his death. The ideological debate and dispute intensified even further and more seriously in the firth national congress in which Madan Bhandari easily and smoothly got his ‘ People’s Multi-Party Democracy (PMPD)’ adopted by the fifth national congress despite opposition from CP Mainali, Jhalnath Khanal and Mohan Chandra Adhikari. The fifth national congress has once and for all resolved the ideological issue and debate in the CPN-UML and PMPD has been the guiding principle of the party.
The factions continued to operate in the CPN-UML, in sixth and seventh national congresses as well. The factional fighting was so severe in the sixth national congress that it paved the ground for party split. Bamdev Gautam, Sahana Pradhan, CP Mainali and other leaders chose to break the relationship with the CPN-UML when CPN-UML stood in favor of the Mahakali Treaty between Nepal and India.
The eighth congress was even unique and ironic in the life of the CPN-UML. In the communist party, one whose polices are approved, is generally entrusted with the responsibility of leading the party. However, CPN-UML saw a serious political contradiction in the eighth national congress. The eighth national congress on the one hand reaffirmed its faith on the PMPD at party’s fundamental guiding principle, while it elected Jhalnath Khanal, who was staunch critic of the “PMPD’, as the party chairman while defeating KP Oli, the true follower and advocate of the PMPD. The problem started in the CPN-UML right from this point.
In the ninth national congress, ideological and political issues and debate are less likely to figure in the conclave as the ideological issue has long been resolved in the party. Both the contenders for the post of the party chairman are supporters and followers of PMPD. Thus, the dispute and debate is not on ideology and political issues but for mere post and position. The entire party has been sharply polarized between these two rival camps and both the camps are engaged in ugly mudslinging against one another. The way they are trading charges and counter charges, some of its rivals and critics are predicting split in the CPN-UML after the national congress. But this may not happen as the leaders are well aware of the fate of the party after its split in the past. Prior to the split, the CPN-UML was so strong it was in the position of sweeping the election if it had remained unified. As Bamdev, CP Mainali and others broke away and formed their own party, the split severely weakened the organizational strength and popular base of the CPN-UML. Although it reunified later, CPN-UML has not yet been able to regain the past glory and the organizational strength it once enjoyed. Both Oli and Nepal are aware of this fact and they may not risk splitting the party again but will remain within CPN-UML even if one group is routed in the ninth national congress. Moreover, the CPN-UML has had democratic exercises for the last 25 years in multi-party competitive system and leaders and workers are habituated to take the victory and defeat in election as a normal democratic process. Thus, the pre-election rivalry will not have any negative impact on the party but will be taken in a normal way as a democratic exercise. If it again splits, it will lose its validity and popularity. Perhaps, its leaders have understood this more clearly than anybody else as they have already had the bitter consequence of the party split.
More importantly, the internal equation in the CPN-UML often change. In the eighth national congress, KP Oli and Madhav Nepal were together against Jhalnath Khanal camp. The KP-Madhav bonhomie lasted until last year. Bamdev Gautam was then in the Khanal camp but he chose to change the camp and entered KP Oli group only five months ago. The equation may change even during the ninth national congress as Jhalnath Khanal is apparently seen as a fence sitter not publicly siding with any of the two principal contenders. But his internal sympathy is with Madhav Nepal as his staunch supporters are publicly backing Madhav Nepal. Similarly Ishwar Pokhrel was with Khanal camp during the eighth congress and he won in the election for general secretary. Now Ishwar Pokhrel, too, has changed his loyalty and is in the Oli camp. Thus, the equation in the CPN-UML keeps on changing and it will continue until the last hour. There are many neutral members who have been elected as delegates. Their support will determine who would win the race. Khanal is now in decisive position. It is being said that most of the neutral delegates are Khanal’s loyalists and they are likely to side with the one who gets Khanal’s backing. Khanal decision and support would change the entire scenario. Thus, it is premature to predict the outcome of the UML ninth congress right now. Let’s thus, wait and watch until the last hours of the ninth national congress of the CPN-UML.