The run-up to the UMLs Janakpur convention may yet throw up a reformer.
FROM ISSUE #128 (17 JAN 2003 - 23 JAN 2003) | TABLE OF CONTENTS
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You have to hand it to Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli and his reformist ardour ahead of the UML's seventh convention in Janakpur next month. Oli's dissent at the party's four-day central committee meeting this month may have resonated with his passion for power, but the tone was hardly off key.
The central committee's obsession with the party's leadership structure obscured the ideological fissures most of us thought the comrades would thoroughly expose this time. The decision to designate "regressive forces led by the palace" as the UML's main centre of attack appears aimed more at appeasing restive grass-roots cadres. The proposal to add the party election symbol, the sun, on the hammer and sickle would probably satisfy the Maoists, who have benefited from Balkhu's crisis of conviction in the past. As for those who want everything of the party except the word "communist", the sun might one day shine bright enough on the flag to eclipse the emblems of workers and peasants for good.
If you're flustered by the way Oli focused his campaign almost exclusively on the leadership question, consider where he's coming from. Having pranced into the palace for talks two months ago when general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal had designated a loyalist stand-in before flying abroad, Oli came out brimming with brightness. The cabinet expansion announced the following day was a definite letdown.
That Oli didn't get the deputy premier's post complete with the home portfolio wasn't the real problem. The palace communiqu? gave Nepal a good reason to censure Oli for approaching the palace and foreign diplomats in his personal capacity and making a public show of it.
We need to go back a little further, though, to get a better sense of the power struggle. When Oli and other UML members on the House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee went along with the rest of the panel in forwarding corruption allegations against former UML tourism minister Bhim Rawal two years ago, Nepal was furious. The general secretary re-jigged the UML line-up on the PAC, giving Oli and others slots on less prominent panels. Nepal wasn't worried too much by the stain on the party's standing. He was infuriated by the way Oli turned Girija Prasad Koirala's Lauda Air misadventures less putrid.
It's easy to sniff personal vendetta in Oli's tirades against Nepal. But his campaign also has a distinctly democratic dimension. A party that long transformed itself from a flock of decapitators to a fraternity of democratic head-counters couldn't afford to continue with an old-style communist organisational chart.
Having come of age during Chairman Mao's and General Secretary Brezhnev's stewardship of the two strongest communist machines the world has ever seen, Oli could be forgiven for getting lost in a structural maze.
Collective leadership is the best safeguard against personal dictatorship over the proletariat. Determining whether the chairman, general secretary or both are required is part of the larger identity crisis the UML
has been confronting since its inception.
Caught between two deputy prime ministers, Nepal and Bam Dev Gautam, Oli used the ploy that worked during the last convention and eventually split the party. Except this time, he used Gautam against Nepal. Or at least tried hard to. Towards the end of the central committee meeting, Gautam restricted his combativeness to his rhetoric. Not that Gautam didn't have his grudges on the Mahakali Treaty and the marginalisation of his supporters after he returned to the UML last year. He didn't want to codify them because he didn't want to be criticised for a second party split, especially when the eternal red dissenter, C.P. Mainali, was out of the picture. When a political player as proficient as Gautam gives up the post of general secretary of his own party to return to the fold, he probably has a lot of ideas Oli would love to unearth.
Oli has a pointed question for the political class. How could the palace muster the confidence to step into active politics 12 years after the country thought it had receded into the background for good?
If Oli keeps asking these kinds of questions right up to the Janakpur convention, he stands a good chance of refining a reformist image. Since Nepal says he's not sure whether he will seek another term as general secretary, Oli might consider rallying behind some other comrade for the top job, even if the name happens to be Bam Dev Gautam.