There has been yet another setback — arguably the severest one — to the political career of Maoist chief Prachanda. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) has suffered a major split, with senior vice chairman Mohan Baidya Kiran breaking away with 45 of 149 Central Committee members and a substantial following to form a new party, Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists. Prachanda tried to stall the split, but neither he nor Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai were willing to quit their posts, the bottomline the rebels had set for staying in the UCPN-M. For the rebels, Prachanda and Bhattarai are now “Red Traitors”, “Neo-Revisionists”. They have been accused of compromising on the objectives of the “people’s war” that killed more than 16,000 people during the decade-long insurgency that ended in 2006.
Altogether, 12 out of 19 chiefs of the party’s frontal organisations have joined the Baidya camp, while rival claims and clashes between the factions over the property of Nepal’s richest party have become routine, although the two sides at the top levels have agreed to restrain their supporters from physically targeting the other. The split has reduced the political clout of the Maoist party — the biggest party after the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections — in general and Prachanda in particular. But it will also have a much bigger impact on Nepal’s politics, including the peace process.
Prachanda does not conceal his megalomania. But adherence to principle and ideology are not his strong points. He agreed to support Bhattarai, his deputy, as the prime ministerial candidate in August not out of magnanimity, but to quell a revolt in the party as both Baidya and Bhattarai — angry at Prachanda’s monopoly over party resources — decided to join ranks despite their differences against the party chief. But Baidya felt offended and “betrayed” after Prachanda and Bhattarai agreed to dispatch the Nepal army to the cantonments where clashes between combatants owing their allegiance to either Baidya or Prachanda had become routine.
However, it is not only the UCPN-M that has split. All the other three major political parties — the Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) — either suffer from major internal differences or lack clarity on contentious issues. They have not been able to come together to propose the leadership and composition of the “National Unity Government” as asked by President Ram Baran Yadav. The president is clear that Bhattarai should not continue as caretaker PM for long.
A meeting of the four major political groups, held at the initiative of Prachanda on Wednesday, decided to begin the constitution-making exercise from where they broke off following the CA’s demise on May 28. But that was a tactical move on Prachanda’s part to show that he is still the most important personality and influence. With Baidya gone, Prachanda will no more be able to play on the tactical differences and personality clash between Bhattarai and Baidya and establish his supremacy. At the same time, with no CA or parliament in existence, Bhattarai will have less to worry about accountability. With the Baidya faction already raising charges of corruption and embezzlement of party funds, Bhattarai can even use that as a tool to keep Prachanda at his side. Bhattarai has showed time and again that he is capable of taking decisions independently, ignoring the party’s dictate.
On June 18, Bhattarai left for Rio de Janeiro to participate at the UN conference on sustainable development against the instructions of the party’s standing committee. Bhattarai was determined to go there — largely to interact with the international community, including Indian PM Manmohan Singh — and reassure them that Nepal’s peace process is safe “under my leadership”.
But neither the peace process nor the promised consolidation of democracy are on track. The Baidya group has said the 12-point understanding “mediated” by India has resulted in increased Indian interference and that of other counties in Nepal’s internal affairs. It also has kept its option of armed revolt open. Alternatively, the faction wants an all-sides round table conference — which means a larger role for political parties and that the days of monopoly of the big four are over. Baidya’s message is clear that Prachanda and Bhattarai were responsible for not writing the “people’s constitution”, and that they should cease to be the leaders. The erosion of their credibility and roles will have a much bigger impact on the peace process since the two have dictated the agenda decisively. The others, including the NC and CPN-UML, have simply followed them in the past six years.