Urbanites of asocial media generation may not know or care anymore that the person who made the emergence of Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist—better known by its acronym UML—possible was a lifelong democrat and one of the Nepali Congress triumvirate of 1980s: Ganeshman Singh.
He sternly told fractious apparatchiks of anachronistic Communist Party of Nepal factions in early-1989 that if they wanted to make common cause with NC for the restoration of democracy in the country, they had to first come together under a single umbrella. Thus was born the Left Alliance in mid-1989 that ultimately created the ground for the formation of the UML.
After the quiet implosion of the Soviet Union, there was fear among communists that their political future was all but over. Self-proclaimed democrats harbored somewhat similar hopes. In retrospect, it now appears that the confidence of Ganeshman that he had succeeded in trapping Marxists-Leninist in the democratic net was an illusion. When communists forsake their beliefs, they become neocons, not democrats. The two belong to such diametrically different political breed that expecting the evolution of one into another is similar to the tale of washing a buffalo clean in the hope that it will somehow turn into a cow.
Krishna Prasad Bhattarai too initially thought that the UML stalwarts had become fully-paid members of the democratic club. He was awakened with a rude shock when a feather-weight politico from the periphery named Madan Bhandari wrestled with him in a Kathmandu constituency and wangled his way into the first parliament with relative ease.
If Ganeshman had mistakenly believed that he had succeeded in netting communists, Bhattarai realized to his chagrin that all attempts of turning them into pets of the democratic system had come to naught when a political nobody piped him to the post in a by-election sometime later.
It may have had something to do with an early political schooling in Indian socialism or a mere commitment to the ideological legacy of his elder brother BP Koirala who had preferred to put his faith in the institution of monarchy rather than risk cohabiting with Marxist-Leninists, Girija Prasad Koirala never really trusted even those communists that had enthusiastically embraced revisionism. It’s true that mainstreaming Maoists in Nepali politics wouldn’t have been possible without GP’s political initiatives, but he did what he had to do under extreme internal duress and unrelenting external pressures.
Premier Sher Bahadur Deuba has enough political smarts to appear naïve in public but he schemes skillfully in private. Luck matters, mentors do play a role and acolytes are useful in preparing the playing field, but nobody becomes a prime minister repeatedly under a parliamentary system without the ability to fool a lot of people a lot many times.
From Ganeshman, Deuba has learnt that politics of renouncement leads to irrelevance. Bhattarai has taught him the value of compromise. However, it’s from GP that Deuba has acquired some of the most important lessons of political survival. The line that differentiates pragmatism from opportunism is often very thin, but it’s so sacrosanct that one risks crossing it at his or her own peril. Deuba did so once in May 2002 by becoming the instrument of dissolving the parliament. He committed a similar sin in 2004 by accepting to be the political weapon of a self-destructively ambitious king. Will it be any different the third time round? That may depend more upon strategy than tactics.
There indeed are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, but the ability to judge when one becomes another is crucial. Willingness to fight is important in political contestations, but often it’s terms of engagement and the selection of a referee that really matters. However, like Parashuram’s curse upon Karna that he would forget all that he had learnt when he needed it most for acquiring knowledge by fraudulent means, Deuba had to repeatedly suffer the disgrace of being declared incompetent due to his own overconfidence.
Communists have always been Deuba’s biggest bugbear. The anecdote dates back to the later part of 1995, but it’s illustrative of McCarthyism inherent in Deuba. The dissolved parliament had just been restored by the orders of the Supreme Court. Unruly cadres had hit the streets clamoring for the head of the Chief Justice. Indian newspapers were editorializing against the judgment. The venerable mouthpiece of the New Delhi establishment had called the order ‘judicial activism’.
Another paper had termed the judgment an ‘invitation to anarchy’. Sympathizers of NC, however, were adulating Bishwonath Upadhyaya: After all, he had delivered the party an undeserved victory on a silver platter.
Prior to a program to honor Justice Upadhyaya, the-then Premier Deuba had observed rather laconically in the smoke room that the court order had merely postponed an inevitable conflict between communists and democrats. Perhaps it was the same mindset that later made him scornfully ignore the so-called 40-Point demand of the Maoists. He was itching for a duel and was given the opportunity to fight it out for King Gyanendra. He lost in February First coup in 2005, not to the Maoists but to the monarchists and the military!
Perhaps due to his deep indoctrination in McCarthyism, Premier Deuba seems to be unable to accept that the real challenge to democracy in Nepal is not communism, but proto-fascism of Panchayat variety. Paranoid prognosis inevitably leads to exacerbating the disease through wrong prescriptions. Whatever the external dimension of the patch-up between the UML and the Maoist Center, it’s clear that the product is going to be an authoritarian neocon political outfit with fascistic ambitions. The NC, if it wants to maintain its relevance, has to prepare itself to resist an assault from the right flank rather than the left.
Cold War extraction of neocon weapons is clearly discernable. In order to neutralize international solidarity of socialists, authoritarian Cold Warriors fashioned the idea of ethnocentric nationalism. The concept of human rights was monopolized to deride leftwing regimes. The Soviets were framed as everlasting enemies and after the Nixon-Mao rapprochement in early-1970s, it became kosher for Third World regimes to accept Beijing as a model of developmental politics.
Militarism, andocentric beliefs bordering on misogyny and overt emphasis on so-called martial characteristics are integral components of national security states that are portrayed to be permanently in danger of losing their sovereignty and independence. Nightmares of Mahendrism had begun to recede by the end of noughties; the Oliological (neither logical, nor illogical, but merely ethnocentric machismo of callous oratory) policies in the wake of 16-Point Conspiracy of June, 2015 have brought them back all over again.
Communist regimes own the media and all other instruments of the marketplace such as banking, insurance, production, distribution and retail. Neocons have no patience for managing minutia—they are happy to control them instead through what are euhemeristically called the ‘nationalist capitalists’. There is a readymade model. By some estimation, the Government of People’s Republic of China is the biggest commercial enterprise the world has ever known since the collapse of the East India Company, with an army of private companies vying with each other to do the bidding of the supreme entity.
Unlike old school conservatives, neocons aren’t inherently religious, but they fastidiously observe traditional rituals for political profits. Since cartels, syndicates and gangs are inalienable components of a neocon order, unaffiliated labor organizations are ruthlessly crushed to protect the corporate power. Resulting cronyism and corruption are dismissed as aberrations rather than being the rule of the political economy of plutarchy.
Disdain for intellectuals and the arts and an obsession with crime and punishment are some other early signs of incipient fascism, which is what neocon politics is all about. Fraudulent elections are then held to manufacture post-facto legitimacy for the regime.
During his descendent years, Ganeshman used to quote Robert Browning from the Prospice: “I was ever a fighter, so — one fight more / The best and the last!” Destiny has delivered the third and last chance to Deuba to redeem himself. Sadly, this is going to be toss where heads NC wins and tails UML-MC turns up trumps. The marginalized and externalized—the Janjatis, the Madheshis and the Dalits—are going to be losers either way.
Politics of the country is back to where it was in the early-1990s; the only difference this time round is that the supreme authority now rests with the military rather than the monarchy.