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Rift within a Rift

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By S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

On April 28, 2014, two Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) cadres loyal to Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda were seriously injured after cadres loyal to former Prime Minister and former Vice-Chairman Dr. Baburam Bhattarai exchanged blows at the opening ceremony of the Rasuwa District Convention, following a heated debate over the duration of the political event. Cadres from remote areas had demanded that the convention be concluded on the day itself, arguing that they did not have enough money for overnight accommodation.

Earlier, on January 1, 2014, four cadres of UCPN-M were injured in a factional clash in Parsa District, while protesting the 'unilateral' decision of the party leadership in the selection of candidates for Constituent Assembly (CA) members under the Proportional Representation (PR) system.

With the deepening intra-party rift among factions led by Dahal and Bhattarai, cadres loyal to the two blocs held separate District Conventions in Rautahat District on April 29, 2014. While those loyal to Bhattarai held their function at Dharahari Village Development Committee (VDC), Dahal's supporters organized a parallel Convention at the Gedahiguthi VDC in the District. Interestingly, the organizers of both Conventions claimed their event to be the official one.

Earlier, on April 26, 2014, addressing the Kathmandu District Convention of the UCPN-M, Dahal declared, “I want to reform the UCPN-M. I urge leaders to quit the party if they have joined the party with the sole objective of holding coveted posts.” Dahal also asserted that factionalism in the party should come to an end. Meanwhile, Bhattarai has been arguing that the party needs new structures, ideology and leadership, to institutionalize the achievements of the past. Another senior leader, Narayankaji Shrestha, argued that the Party had lost its support base after it backtracked from nationalist agendas.

Indeed, District Conventions, which are precursors to the party’s National Convention, could not be held in several Districts, as one contender was completely opposed to the other. Although several Districts, prominently including Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Morang, Rukum, Baglung, Kailali, Sindhupalchowk, Nuwakot and Dhading, among others, elected their representatives for the National Convention, they were unable to elect office bearers due to factional disputes.

Unsurprisingly, the five day long National Convention of the UCPN-M, held at Biratnagar in Morang District between May 2 and May 6, 2014, with the objective of strengthening Party organizations, witnessed tensions and divisions among rival factions. Addressing the Convention on May 2, 2014, Dahal claimed, "Some of them (members) joined the party with the hope of becoming CA member and Minister. We had to welcome them by sprinkling red vermillion powder instead of offering Tika due to lack of time. We had thought that there might be a wave of deserting the party. It's been four-five months; apart from one or two there is no such wave."

Meanwhile, addressing the Convention on the same day, Bhattarai said, "We have initiated a serious debate once again… Working guidelines, organizations and leadership of yesterday are not enough. It is necessary to transform the Party and its organizations in order to achieve the new tasks of revolution." Narayankaji Shrestha also underlined the need for transformation of the Party. Most party leaders present at the Convention came down heavily against Chairman Dahal's working style. Major issues of dispute included power-sharing in the Central Committee (CC), among office bearers, and in other Party Committees; the system and principles of leadership; handover of charge and ways of forming Party organization in line with the Party’s political line; system of addressing differing views within the party and method of registering dissent in the Party; system of cultivating party ideology compatible with the changed context; and ways of defining the Party´s political line.

Indeed, to settle the party’s ideological and leadership issues, on May 3, 2014, Bhattarai demanded that the party should hold a General Convention at the earliest, claiming, "In totality, Dahal´s document is a continuity of the older one. It can’t do away with the crisis facing the party in an objective way. Therefore, it has become urgent to start healthy debates on broader issues, including the party’s ideology, its political line, organization, leadership and working style." The ‘Dahal Document’ was tabled at the National Convention, and emphasised the consolidation of communist parties, and the formation of a "powerful communist centre", and sought to end "crippling factionalism".

Remarkably, on May 6, 2014, Dahal was re-elected party Chairman, even as Bhattarai again refused to remain in the Party’s newly formed CC. Addressing a closed session at the Convention that lasted for around 10 minutes on May 6, 2014, Bhattarai declared, “The Party turned intolerant toward different views in the Party. I prefer to work on research and will not stay in the CC. We will support the Party from outside, but will not occupy Central Committee posts.” Along with Bhattarai, 16 leaders who supported him, also walked out of the closed session. Leaders of Bhattarai's panel claimed that their voices were ignored by Party Chair Dahal in the Convention, and argued that Dahal acted highhandedly in the selection of CC members. Leaders close to Bhattarai put forth two major conditions for their entry into the CC, including a date for the Party’s General Convention and intra-party freedom to openly advocate their political agenda at Party fora.

The intra-party dispute persisted even as the National Convention concluded on May 6, 2014. Immediately thereafter, at the first CC meeting, Narayankaji Shrestha was nominated as vice-chairman and Posta Bahadur Bogati as general secretary of the Party. Both Bogati and Shrestha have been supportive of Dahal. Unsurprisingly, the rift in the Party reached tipping point after Bhattarai rejected the newly announced CC, accusing Dahal of preparing the list of members unilaterally and excluding members from his faction.

On May 7, 2014, a day after the conclusion of the Party’s National Convention, while speaking at the release of the Party’s quarterly mouthpiece, Prasthan, Dahal attacked Bhattarai, declaring, “I promoted Bhattarai to the Party’s highest committee on the assumption that the Party would benefit from his intellectual caliber. But I have been deceived. Even before the Constituent Assembly elections, Bhattarai regarded me as ‘a leader of leaders’. It was tough to downsize the Central Committee to 99 members from 266. The Party decided to form a 151-member Central Committee only to address Bhattarai’s grievances. But he opted to stay out of the CC.”

Expectedly, the Bhattarai faction’s dramatic moves have fuelled speculation that the former rebel party may head toward another vertical split. An earlier division had occurred after a three-day National Convention in 2012 (June 16 to June 18), when the then Vice-President of UCPN-M, Mohan Baidya aka Kiran, after nearly a year of functioning as a hardline ‘party within the party’, abandoned the organisation on June 19, 2012, to create a new political entity, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist-Baidya (CPN-Maoist-Baidya). The hard-line National Convention, attended by around 2,000 cadres, declared Baidya the Chairman of the new formation, with Ram Bahadur Thapa as its General Secretary, Chandra Prakash Gajurel its Secretary and Netra Bikram Chand and Dev Gurung, Politburo members.

Ominously, the CPN-Maoist (the parent party of the present UCPN-M) which had emerged as the largest party in the last CA elections held in 2008, securing 229 seats, got only 80 seats in the 601-member CA in the second CA elections held on November 19, 2013.

Severely embarrassed by the humiliating debacle in the 2013 elections, Prachanda even accused the state machinery and the Election Commission (EC) of 'systematically rigging' the polls with the intent to marginalize the UCPN-M in the race for power. Bhattarai, however, took a different view on the poll results and attributed the Party's poor performance to internal weaknesses and 'deviousness' that had undermined the leadership and organizational rank and file. He also demanded that Party Chairman Dahal take moral responsibility for the poll debacle and quit his post. Prachanda rebuffed the call, contending that it was not he alone who should take the moral responsibility for the defeat, but that blame should be apportioned to all who were at the helm of Party affairs.

Meanwhile, leaders from the Bhattarai faction have assured people that they were striving for the transformation of the party and did not intend to create any new organization. Top Bahadur Raymajhi, a party leader close to Bhattarai, on May 8, 2014, thus stated, “The rumors regarding a Party split have been spread by our enemies to distort our agenda of reforming the Party. We will continue to fight to keep the Party unity intact.” 

The rift between the Dahal and Bhattarai factions has deepened after the latter boycotted the entire process of nominating CC members during the closed session of the Convention. The Biratnagar Convention, which was intended to strengthen the Party, has only escalated tensions and widened the gap between the factions. Further, the infighting within the UCPN-M undermines the process of drafting the Constitution. Madhav Kumar Nepal, the leader of the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) thus observed, on May 8, 2014 said “The dispute in UCPN-M was over the party’s leadership. It is not good to bring up irrelevant matters during the Constitution writing process.”

As things stand, the UCPN-M's problems can only be compounded further if it fails to reform and democratize from within, jeopardizing what remains a fragile and incipient democratic process in the country.

[Source: SATP]

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