May 28, 2008, was a day to remember. Joyous crowds poured out onto the streets of the capital Kathmandu and other cities as well as the villages to greet the announcement in Parliament that the monarchy was abolished. The unpopular King Gyanendra was given 15 days to leave the royal palace. There was euphoria in the air as people looked forward to a better future with palace intrigues dead and buried. Hope was in the air.
After a gruelling decade of armed conflict (1996-2006), the Maoists finally succeeded in getting rid of the last king of the Shah dynasty that had ruled Nepal for over 200 years.
Two years earlier in 2006, the Maoists signed a peace agreement with the government and promised to renounce violence, lay down their arms and join the democratic process. That agreement led to the end of the armed confrontation between the Maoist rebels and government troops that had ravaged the country. Nepalese politics was poised to take a new turn. Expectations were high from the Maoists, with many believing that they were in a position to deliver a clean and efficient government far removed from the squabbling traditional politicians that played the power game to perfection.
The Maoists put Nepal on track to become a modern democracy with people’s representatives right down to the local level. The new Republican Constitution unveiled in 2015, was contested by tribal groups and the Indian-origin Madeshis who felt that they had been given a raw deal. Overall, however, there were many positives in the new Constitution, with the devolution of power to the provinces.
However, people were in for disappointment. Though the revolution succeeded in getting rid of the monarchy, the Maoists failed to deliver on governance. Instead, there was infighting, splits, and instability, when Nepal was in dire need of a government that worked to recover from 10 years of civil strife.
Earlier in 2015, Maoists helped KP Sharma Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPM-UML) to become prime minister. But this was short-lived. The Maoists withdrew support and formed a government under Pushpa Kamal Dahal commonly known as Prachanda. That too did not last and the Nepali Congress chief Sher Bahadur Deuba became PM. Oli once again became PM in 2017 after the Communist Party of Nepal Maoist Centre, and the CPM-UML stitched up a solid pre-poll alliance. The unified Nepal Communist Party won a resounding victory with a two-thirds majority in parliament. But that did not last for a full term either. People realised that the Maoists were no different from the rest of the pack when it came to power politics.
Why have the Communists failed to deliver good governance in Nepal?
"The Left across the world have failed to deliver, and Nepal is no exception. The world has changed dramatically in the last few decades and the Left everywhere has been unable to cope with the transformation brought in by new technology and people’s rising expectations,’’ says Baburam Bhattarai, one of the prominent leaders of the Maoist insurrection together with Prachanda that brought the Nepal government to its knees. He is bang on. The old-style textbook Communism has not been able to deal with the sweeping changes that the world has undergone in the last couple of decades. He said that sustainable development, and environmental concerns, highlighted by climate change, are now major issues, and mass movements are springing up around these vital problems. Somehow the traditional Left has not been able to deliver on these concerns, according to Bhattarai. The Left needs to adapt to change.
"The Left has to change its strategy. The traditional kind of mobilisation no longer resonates with the masses. We need to adapt to the ground situation and opt for a Left which is more socialist and democratic. Liberal, progressive democracy is suited to the changing times," said Bhattarai. Having broken away from his former comrade in arms, he has his own party the Socialist Party of Nepal shaped to tackle the problems of today’s world. He is part of Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress alliance.
"I am very proud that we succeeded in getting rid of the monarchy and making Nepal a Republic. But we failed in delivering a just economic, social, and cultural agenda to the people. Having opted for parliamentary democracy, we are facing the accompanying challenges. In a parliamentary democracy, capturing power and remaining in power is primary. Morality is forgotten as bickering happens sometimes for personal ambition, occasionally on ideological grounds. Splits follow and weaken the Left.’’
Yet, the Left continues to be popular among ordinary citizens despite various factions. Unlike in India where the Left has little impact on national politics, Nepal’s Communists are the movers and shakers of the nation’s political life. The two alliances fighting for power are led by Khadga Prasad Oli of the CPN-UML and Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, the current prime minister. The Deuba camp has left partners like Pushpa Kamal Dahal, as well as Prachanda’s former comrade in arms, Baburam Bhattarai. So, whichever alliance finally wins the elections, the Left representative will continue to be strong.
"Nepali politics has done okay if you consider the fact that democracy survives despite heart-stopping challenges such as the royal palace massacre, the Maoist insurgency, the 2015 blockade, and deep schisms within society,’’ says Kanak Mani Dixit, a journalist and civil liberties activist based in Kathmandu. "Today, Nepal has a federal structure and elected local governments. However, politics has failed to deliver in the sense that people remain poor while the politicians prosper, running a kleptocracy in cahoots with dalals and dons.’’
He was particularly scathing about prime minister Deuba and Prachanda who are today in an opportunistic alliance. "The Nepali Congress of Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN-UML of Khadga Prasad Oli have become less connected to the people, but the most opportunistic and unprincipled politician of Nepal is Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda). The CPN-UML did a failed party unification with him, and Sher Bahadur Deuba has bounded over ideological differences to have a pre-election alliance with the very man who conducted selected killings of the Nepali Congress cadre during the conflict years. This is the level of unprincipled politics we are seeing in Nepal, and the weakening of Dahal and his Maoist cohort through the elections would be the best thing that could happen to Nepal. But that may be asking for too much."
The Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) was founded in 1949 with the aim of establishing a new people’s democracy. Class struggle, armed revolution, land reforms, and the dictatorship of the proletariat were part of the agenda. Abolishing the monarchy was always central of the Communists. The Naxalbari uprising of 1967 was a major event at that time. And Oli as a young man wanted to emulate Kanu Sanyal’s experiment in north Bengal, which was ruthlessly crushed by the Indian state. Various splits in the CPN ensured that Oli broke away.
For the ordinary people of Nepal, it does not matter which alliance gets to rule. What is needed is governance. It is time for the Left to change with the times or perish.