Thira Lal Bhusal has been working as a journalist for over a decade. At present, he is working with Republica national daily and covers parliamentary, federalism and other political affairs. Previously he worked for various other national and international media.
The unified communist party looks like a club of VIPs with present and past PMs, DPMs, heads of parliament, provincial assemblies and provincial governments
It was around 11 years ago when a group of students and youth leaders close to the then CPN-UML were conversing with a group of journalists over tea, after the conclusion of a talk program at Law Campus in Kathmandu. They agreed that despite having the most efficient organization and dedicated party members across the country, CPN-UML still failed to come to the political center stage due to lack of a charismatic leader. They likened their party to a football team without a scorer who could score a decisive goal at the crucial moment.
“Our party is full of efficient mid-fielders and forwards but it seriously lacks a scorer,” said one of the participants. Others nodded in agreement. “Our party has always remained in a supporting role in national politics.” “We have a dynamic lineup of second-rung leaders and the largest and the most efficient nationwide network of dedicated and democratically-elected cadres on the ground,” added another.
Manmohan Adhikari, the only UML leader to become the prime minister until then, had passed away while four other leaders—Madhav Kumar Nepal, KP Sharma Oli, Bamdev Gautam and Bharat Mohan Adhikari—had become deputy prime ministers in different times.
At the time three Nepali Congress leaders—Girija Prasad Koirala, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Sher Bahadur Deuba—had already become prime minister, some many times. Surya Bahadur Thapa and Lokendra Bahadur Chand of RPP had also become prime minister repeatedly.
We could sense feeling of inferiority among UML youths for their leaders’ inability to be at the forefront of leading the country. Frustration was obviously targeted at Madhav Kumar Nepal who was leading the party continuously for almost 15 years since the death of popular leader Madan Bhandari in 1993.
Fast forward to 2018, some eleven years after that conversation, the situation is different. The UML has witnessed a rapid and huge transformation. Party leaders and rank and file have graduated to a completely new class. UML today has a powerful prime minister and two former prime ministers.
With the party unification with CPN (Maoist Center), the ‘new party’ has become an organization of political elites, comprising of incumbent and former prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, speakers, home/finance/foreign ministers, chief ministers, central and provincial ministers, mayors and other top officials. In the unified party, KP Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal are two-time prime ministers, while Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal each headed governments once. Since the first Constituent Assembly elections of 2008, the Maoists have led the government three times and UML four times. And these parties have remained in the government longer than any other party since then. Opposite is the case with Nepali Congress. The grand old party now has only one former prime minister: Sher Bahadur Deuba.
The unified party has now found a potential striker in Oli, who, supported by good dribblers like Bishnu Paudel and Subas Nembang, holds the best promise in becoming the finest finisher in the contemporary Nepali politics. And he has big-time players like Pushpa Kamal Dahal on his side.
Besides, the 45-member Standing Committee of the unified communist party is packed with current and former cabinet members. Only four—Yogesh Bhattarai, Beduram Bhusal, Lilamani Pokharel and Mani Thapa—are yet to become ministers. Though not yet cabinet minister, Devendra Paudel and Bishnu Rimal enjoy ministerial status and state power and facilities as chief advisors to different prime ministers.
In the erstwhile 22-member UML standing committee, Secretary Yogesh Bhattarai is the only member who never got an opportunity to be a minister.
Beduram Bhusal, who hasn’t even become a lawmaker so far, was promoted to the unified party’s standing committee. This was likely because he was removed, in the eleventh hour, from the list of candidates nominated by the party for National Assembly in order to ensure a seat for Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa. In the central committee of unified party, of the total 441 members, around 150 are present or past ministers.
Rise of political elite
A youth leader recently said: “The same leaders who used to mingle with grassroots cadres, students and peasants and used to have chana, chiura and chiya together are now constantly surrounded by security and by people from different interest groups. They are not easily accessible to party members, let alone the general public.”
Most of these leaders have their own coteries and they all look like dealmakers. Their interest now isn’t in issue-based politics like in the past. Rather their interest is in strengthening factions, providing contracts and business deals with lucrative commissions and foreign trips to their loyal circles.
As these communist leaders have remained in power for quite some time in the recent decades, they are deeply entrenched with the elite class. Their bonhomie is with the same class whom they, for many years, condemned as feudal, bourgeois and capitalist exploiters.
Another significant departure is their family connections. Until two decades ago, the leaders’ family members and relatives used to be their comrades. It has now changed. Their kin and trusted friends are now army generals, top police officers, bureaucrats, businesspersons and contractors.
The practice of receiving large sum of money from family members of top business groups as a support to the party in return for parliament seats is no longer a secret.
Who will they serve?
With this ‘sea change,’ these leaders who once claimed to be champions of the proletariats now love to come up with attractive and catchy programs instead of raising livelihood concerns of workers, peasants and dalits. Their own old agenda appeal them no longer. With self-upgrade to bourgeois class, they are gradually distancing from the general public and downtrodden communities.
They will certainly work to protect interests of their kin, funders and coterie members comprised of army generals, top bureaucrats, top police officials and big contractors, not the workers, peasants and the general public. What they promised during political campaigns now seems to be a secondary concern.
So who will they work for? It’s not hard to guess that they will be less worried about the general public. They have to protect the class and section of their kin and the contractors who helped them during elections and other times. The people might be forgotten. A number of NCP leaders have already started to show the trend. Their position on health and education policies that are under debate for years has shown where the UML-Maoist leaders are headed to. Some of the policies adopted in the recently-introduced budget also indicate this. Take, for instance, the decision to remove the provision of one percent tax on private schools and colleges.
This process of ‘elitization’ is common among other parties but with NCP this ‘transformation’ seems ‘unusually faster’ than in Nepali Congress and other parties. The tendency, policies and practices adopted by the leaders of the party that has control over central government and parliament, six of the seven governments and provincial legislatures and overwhelming majority of local governments hold special significance for the country as a whole.
Decisions taken by this party, which has also strong influence in judiciary, bureaucracy and professional organizations across the country, will have tremendous impact to the country for a long time to come.
It is good for the parties to come together to form a big political entity commanding two-thirds majority government in central, provincial as well as local governments. It may be a ‘dream come true’ moment for political cadres who were worried about UML’s ‘failure’ in national politics 11 years back.
It is now important to make the powerful ruling party and its leaders accountable to the people. Preventing them from becoming puppets of powerful interest groups and making them work for the general public is as much important. We must prevent them from wasting this historic opportunity to make big changes by indulging in their own newfound political aristocracy. This is the big need of our time.