Chand has very little to lose and everything to gain by creating mayhem. The NCP has everything to lose and nothing to gain by ignoring him forever
In a move rich with irony, the government of Nepal Communist Party (NCP)—colloquially called NCP Double—claimed that the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist led by Netra Bikram Chand was a criminal group and proscribed all its activities. Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa issued these orders. He was a mentor and comrade-in-arms of Chand during decade-long armed conflict.
Having obtained the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) in a political deal of outright acquisition, Supremo Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli is perhaps correct in his assumption that he now has the monopoly right over the communist brand name in Nepal. It’s but natural that Chand appears to be an imposter from the vantage point of the controlling shareholder of the biggest and richest political party in the history of the country.
Never too well-known for political correctness, the Supremo called Chand an absolute looter and rejected any chance of dialogue with the upstart Maoist. The paradox of the stance is dazzling. Supremo Sharma Oli was once associated with a similar gang—the so-called Marxist-Leninist—in the 1970s and spent over a decade in prison on even graver charges.
In politics of deception, duplicity follows closely on the heels of irony and paradox. Though decorated with grandiose titles of alternate pilot and one of the two chairmen of the party, the role of Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been reduced to that of a political usher ever since he merged his outfit in what was then the UML and is now called NCP Double. His call to renounce violence doesn’t just sound hollow, it’s downright duplicitous. One can’t be a Maoist and peddle the idea of ‘peaceful politics’ at the same time.
Comparable to the concept of a vegetarian fox, a non-violent Maoist isn’t just an oxymoron but a ruse intended to fool its victim. In its ideology, peace is possible only by waging a ‘People’s War’. Thus a non-violent Maoist is at best a utopian, often a charlatan, and mostly a cunning carnivore claiming to be vegan.
Postulations about the past are sometimes useful in understanding present predicaments. If it were not for his association with the politics of plunder and beheading class enemies, which is what the Jhapalis, the Nepali version of Indian Naxalites, did in the 1970s, Supremo Sharma Oli would have probably been serving as a priest in some obscure temple. Indian Naxalites and Nepali Jhapalis once proudly claimed that China’s Chairman was their Chairman too. Supremo Sharma Oli is a Maoist of the closing years of the Vietnam War.
Explanation is somewhat essentialist, but Maoism is based on two fundamental assumptions—vanguardism and violence. Vanguardism implies that the Supremo decides the way, presides over the way and drives on the way in regal splendor. Violence is intrinsic to all revolutionary ideologies, but only Maoists believe in the dictum that ‘power flows from the barrel of a gun’ is the foundational principle of all political actions.
Once one imagines Dahal never having been a Maoist, the picture of a street-smart operator bidding for some lucrative USAID consultancy comes to mind! The letter-head chairman is what he is because of what he did and he has no moral authority of preaching Chand not to do the same.
Despite grand claims of scientificity, the record of communist ideology on repeatability, reproducibility and replicability scale is extremely poor. Lenin may have had good intentions, but Stalin turned out to be the strongest tsar in Russian history. Unless President Xi Jinping manages to break his record, Chairman Mao shall continue to remain the most powerful Chinese emperor that the world has ever seen. Sheikhs of Arabia must envy the absolute power of the third-generation Chairman of North Korea Kim Jong-un. No wonder, communism holds such fascination for political desperados. Unlike messy democratic processes, communism is an all or nothing game.
Traumatized societies yearning for a savior embrace utopian ideologies for clear-cut solutions that they offer. When King Mahendra began to indulge Nepali Stalinists after the royal-military coup of 1960, there was a method in his madness. He had correctly assessed that Stalinists will be more open to the idea of activist monarchy than democrats. It served him well throughout his reign.
Where King Mahendra failed was in his assumption that Maoism didn’t travel in motorcars. Predisposition toward an ideology is as much a product of one’s experiences and aspirations as the physical environment. In the end, Maoism did travel by tipper trucks and blew away the Shah Dynasty. But that’s a different story.
Centrality of the political entrepreneur—a form of savior incarnate—apart, Maoism is also similar to Bahunism in its everyday practices. The proletarian vanguards belong to the group of warrior-priests that are expected to guard their Supreme Deity, which is appropriately called the Supremo. Ritual sacrifice of meek animals and birds in Bahunism and the emotional laity in Maoism are common features. Unpredictability of nature strengthened the appeal of fatalism. Undependability of the State prepares the ground for the spread of extremist ideologies of the left and right.
When the State becomes dysfunctional, incentives for political entrepreneurs are high. The possible cost of an extremist course is low. Probabilities of benefiting from such radical experiments are high. With a large supply of unemployable youths, recruitment base of low wage workers is huge. Capital can be collected relatively easily from comprador class that owes its prosperity mostly to unethical means. Little wonder Chand claims that extracting ‘donations’ is his right. Having been one of the enforcers of Dahal in the past, he knows techniques of extraction and has the capability to assemble sufficient tools.
Almost a decade ago, a Princeton scholar Avidit Acharya had concluded in an academic paper of Stanford about Nepali Maoists: “I find no evidence that political and economic grievances are linked to the incidence of political violence,” and had asserted that results of the study supported “a theory of conflict that treats an insurgency as analogous to a profit maximizing firm.”
Perhaps that’s where a window of opportunity opens for Supremo Sharma Oli. It’s impossible to convince anybody against his or her convictions. But when politics is treated as a contest of losses and gains, deals of acquisition and mergers are feasible options.
The problem with Chand is that he is treading on extremely thin ice this time. Objective conditions for the success of his adventures don’t exist at the moment. The State is even more dysfunctional than in mid-1990s to be sure, but it has been able to maintain its allure with slogans of chauvinism, jingoism, xenophobia and mono-ethnic nationalism. People are unhappy with the State, but after their disillusionment with the Bhattarai-Dahal project, they aren’t ready to try anything new so soon.
Dissension within the ruling elite is an important condition for the success of any revolution. Armed revolts succeed only when they manage to obtain a powerful outside sponsor or are able to create dissatisfaction in the ranks of security forces. It’s extremely unlikely that any international power would risk burning its fingers in Nepal.
The Chinese are quite happy with the Supremo in Baluwatar and Indians wouldn’t dare do anything to antagonize Beijing. With the constitutional creation of Khas-Arya ethnicity, the traditional rivalry between Bahuns and Chhetris in the corridors of power is over. Chhetris have acquiesced to the supremacy of Bahuns in the society and polity.
In the 1970s, Jhapalis neutralized incipient claims of dignity from Janjatis of Eastern Nepal and Kathmandu Valley with empty rhetoric of mono-ethnic nationalism. The Janjatis have lost the will to resist Khas-Arya hegemony. The Maoists diffused identity politics of Western Nepal by promising communist utopia to Tharus and Magars. Dalits suffered most during both phases of resurgent Bahunism in the name of Maoism.
Consequences for revolting communities haven’t been very reassuring. Success, or otherwise, of Chand will depend upon his ability to mobilize Madhesis—a group that has everything to gain and nothing to lose in its confrontation with extractive institutions and exploitative instruments of the State. Assumptions of mono-ethnic nationalism, however, will not allow Chand to organize Madheshis. Maoism appears a lost cause for now on all counts.
That’s precisely why Supremo Sharma Oli needs to talk to Chand in all humility. Chand has very little to lose and everything to gain by creating mayhem. The NCP Double has everything to lose and nothing to gain by ignoring him forever. A win-win proposition would be to yield some space to the fresh batch of Maoists in the Mahendrist political order.