After Nepal’s three major political parties held long overdue party conventions, it was the turn this week of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). But the question of who will lead a party that waged a ten-year war is a foregone conclusion.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who had the nom de guerre ‘Prachanda’ when the Maoists waged their armed struggle from 1996-2006, is the undisputed leader, even through there are grumblings within the party that he is adhering to a cult of personality.
In fact, after hefty criticism on social media, the party on Monday took down a larger than life cutout of Dahal at the convention venue at the Nepal Academy in Kamaladi.
On Sunday, the party’s 8th general convention was inaugurated in the presence of political leaders from across the political spectrum. Dahal’s former comrade-at-arms K P Oli of the UML, whom he unseated as prime minister earlier this year, did not attend – just as Dahal had skipped the UML’s convention in Chitwan last month.
The assembly of Nepal’s third-largest political party, rebranded ‘general convention’ from ‘national conference’ only a day before the event was set to begin, has put Nepalis into an election frame of mind. Indeed, the speeches at the inauguration were all election pitches by Prime Minsiter Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress, Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Unified Socialists and Shankhar Pokharel, the UML General Secretary.
A total of 1,631 delegates from across the country are present at the three-day convention, and will elect the Maoist party chairman, 15 office bearers, and a 299-member Central Committee.
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The standing committee meeting that decided to rebrand the Maoist conclave as a general convention also changed the number of office bearers ahead of the convention, which means that the leadership will include the chairman, one senior vice-chairman, six vice-chairmen, one general secretary, two deputy general secretaries, three secretaries and a treasurer. Earlier, the Maoists had a senior vice president and deputy secretary general.
Even as the party increases its leadership seats, the Maoist convention, like the UML and NC conclaves that preceded it, is set to reaffirm that Nepal’s politics will still be guided by veteran politicians unwilling to give up their seats of power — at least until the next five years. The only outlier was the Hindu-right RPP, which replaced veteran Kamal Thapa with new comer Rajendra Lingden.
Insiders have accused Dahal of repeatedly sidelining rivals within the Maoist party, but he is set to be elected party chair for another five years. Narayan Kaji Shrestha on Monday announced his bid for party leadership in a closed-session, but he does not stand a chance.
Dahal has been so adept that removing rivals for leadership that many like Baburam Bhattarai and other comrades have left to join other parties.
In his remarks before the convention, Dahal struck an introspective tone while also urging party members to reflect on the Maoists’ journey, and the mistakes made from the armed insurgency to the present.
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“Party cadres as well as the Nepali people have begun to feel shortcomings of the part of the political leadership,” Dahal said before the convention, “I am morally responsible for these shortcomings, and I will begin with self-reflection. All of us need to introspect.”
Meanwhile, political leadership from other political parties made notable remarks on issues ranging from the much-contested Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to social and transitional justice to Maoist reunification.
Prime Minister Deuba, recently re-elected party leader at his own NC general convention, maintained that the MCC would be ratified in Parliament soon, while seeming to pointedly address Dahal as he urged the detractors of the MCC to “actually read and be informed on the terms of the MCC before branding it as anti-national, traitorous, and against the interest of the country”.
Deuba softened the blow, however, by lauding Dahal’s “great contribution to Nepali politics … it was under your leadership that we held the election of the Constituent assembly and ultimately drafted our Constitution”.
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Newly-minted CPN (Unified Socialist) Chairman Madhav Kumar Nepal struck a similar tone as Dahal in his remarks saying that all the political parties need to introspect. “We have failed to address the people’s problems,” he said. “We need to reflect on where we went wrong.”
Meanwhile, CP Gajurel, Vice Chairman of the CPN (Revolutionary Maoist), a breakaway faction of the Maoists formed under leader Mohan Baidya, said that the time has come for Nepal’s Maoists to reunite.
Rastriya Janamorcha vice-chairperson Durga Poudel, speaking about the rise in voices against republicanism and secularism, spoke of the importance of a united front to defeat political regression.
JSP Chairman Upendra Yadav said that Nepal would not prosper until all forms of discrimination end, saying that issues of the emancipation of Madhesi, Adivasi, Janajati, Dalit and minority communities linked with the People’s Movement of 2006 were still neglected.
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Even though the UML’s Oli did not attend the convention, he is said to have called Dahal on the phone. The UML General Secretary Shankar Pokharel regretted the failure to maintain the unity of the erstwhile Nepal Communist Party (NCP) which comprised the UML and the Maoists.
On Monday, Dahal presented his political report titled The Path to Socialism in the 21st Century before the seven-member closed-session that includes Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Giriraj Mani Pokhrel, Ganesh Shah, Parshuram Tamang, Parshuram Ramtel, Purna Kumari Subedi and Rupa Shrestha Maharjan.
The Maoist Chairman also spoke at length about the need to resume ’Prachandapath’— his guideline to Maoist cadres on achieving a successful revolution that was discontinued after the introduction of the peace process, as well as the need to achieve ‘scientific socialism’ through a peaceful movement.
“The document includes reviews of where we went wrong in the past in terms of ideas, organization, structure building, and strategy,” Dahal had said on Sunday.
Indeed, analysts have previously attributed the failure of the Maoists to rise to national stature to Dahal’s disinterest in building any kind of functional institutional party structure.
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