The long awaited unification of Nepal’s two big communist parties, Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) is concluded. The two parties have signed a 7-point agreement that accepts Marxism and Leninism as guiding principle and calls for establishing party’s hegemony through peaceful means. As per the agreement the Maoist Centre leader Prachanda and UML leader KP Oli will hold party president and prime minister’s post by turn. This marks an end of official Maoism in Nepal, one of the most exiting chapters of the country’s Left history. Now there is no official communist party in the country that is guided by Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s thought or Maoism.
By merging his party with the UML Prachanda has, in a way, put a full stop in his own political career as a supreme leader of the party. From this point he will not have the last words, as he is used to, in the party’s affair but has to acquiesce to the collective decisions of more influential leaders including three current and former prime ministers KP Sharma Oli, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal. Another leader Bam Dev Gautam too is no less powerful. In the party these leaders lead factions. Although Prachanda too is entering with his own set of loyalists, their number will be reduced sharply. As per the understanding, the highest decision-making body of the new party will have less than 100 Central Committee members and proportionally Prachanda will not be able to merge his party with more than 15 to 20 members. This is a catch 22 situation for him because even if he becomes the president of the new party today with the promise of being made the prime minister after 3 years, the CC might rule out this understanding and let Oli continue to head the government for full term.
It is interesting to see how Prachada is planning to deal with the new situation. Can he cultivate his influence in the new party or will he be cornered to the point of no return? This question has no certain answer yet but look whatever way, currently the odds are against him and it looks that by accepting the merger Prachanda has in fact signed off on the end of his own political career.
In the UML there are leaders who dislike KP Oli. The dislike is so strong that they are ready to trust the outsider Prachanda as the party president. Oli became prime minister in 2015 as a compromise candidate of three strong party factions of Nepal, Khanal and Gautam. However his elevation coincided with the unofficial economic blockade by India. It gave him the chance to enhance his clout inside and outside party by playing nationalist. When Nepal was hit hard and its markets, which are completely dependent on Indian goods, emptied, he used the situation to market himself as the staunchest nationalist leader who was ready to brave India’s pressure. He fanned the hill-plain divide by blaming the Madhesi movement as India-sponsored. In UML’s history no other leader ever had such mass appeal as Oli has today. This has threatened the other three leaders and they have been looking for his replacement since long. By importing Prachanda, they have found one. Even for Prachanda this is a home ground. His whole career as a politician is an act of balancing contradictory views and taking forward his party. He will be hoping to use this expertise to remain relevant in the new party.
The merger of two parties has given the anti-India voice one strong platform. In the last 3 years, India’s cult in Nepal has shrunk. Its eroding base in Nepal is its own doing. The 2015 economic blockade is a wound that will take a long long time to heal. That painful blockade taught its people that total dependence on India has a cost. It is a lesson that clichés like ‘long-lasting friendship’, ‘unique relationship’ don’t exist in the new India of Narendra Modi. Consequently, it has forced Nepal’s leaders to look north for a reliable partner. Last May, Nepal joined the One Belt, One Road initiative of China. Along with this, China’s investment in the country has increased manifold while India has reduced its aid budget to SAARC countries by almost 30 to 50% under Modi. In 2016 India’s aid to Nepal saw a 30% cut even when the country was recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2015 and was looking for more help from friend India. However this year India has increased its development aid to Nepal but that might not help now and Oli, with Prachanda onboard, is expected to keep sailing north.
Vishnu Sharma is a freelance journalist based in Delhi