MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Ranking leaders of the UML are extremely articulate in outlining the deficiencies of bourgeois parties like the NC. They combine combativeness and witticism in criticising what they call the leftwing extremism of the Maoists. The UML seldom censures rightwing politicos.
But it's in attacking each other that the rhetoricians of Balkhu Palace excel.
It's enough to hear Jhalnath Khanal on Madhav Nepal or vice versa to keep abreast of the latest innovations in verbal abuse. But even by the high standards of the vitriolic exchanges among UML leaders, Comrade Khadga Prasad Oli is a class unto himself. His acid observations on party colleagues advocating a policy of accommodation towards Maoists, the new 'class enemies' of the UML, are unforgettable.
Oli has headed to Japan for Dasain. The public space will be a little less stormy in the weeks to come. But acrimonious exchanges between the Nepal and Khanal cliques are likely to continue. However, it's unlikely the UML will implode anytime soon. The ferocity of verbal duels between faction leaders notwithstanding, rumours of the death of the united UML are greatly exaggerated.
The UML emerged out of a coalition of leftwing groups formed at the insistence of NC leader Ganeshman Singh during the People's Movement of 1990. Madan Bhandari then transformed it into a formidable electoral force through a clever mix of dogmatism and demagoguery. But the party began to change soon after his death in a car accident in 1993.
In the post-Soviet euphoria of the early 1990s, the rise of the UML's hammer and sickle flag in the Himalaya was as disturbing to the outside world then as the Maoists' electoral performance in 2008 was. Donors made a beeline for the newly constructed Balkhu headquarters when the UML minority government took charge. Everybody wanted to assist in the bourgeoisification of the UML.
The first flush of foreign money went to party fronts functioning as NGOs in the fields of human, child and gender rights. More funds began to flow for development work to UML affiliates once donors realised they were the only ones allowed to operate in areas afflicted by the Maoist insurgency.
By early 2001, the UML had become so thoroughly de-politicised that it didn't allow a single sitting of the winter session of parliament to function. When the media accused the then opposition leader Madhav Kumar Nepal of obstructing the democratic process, he responded: "We had never said that we would not allow taking up of regular business. If the PM had resigned, the House could have functioned normally." In the face of the Maoist boycott of the legislature and the executive, Prime Minister Nepal would do well to remember his words.
These days, the UML runs more like a public limited company than a political party. Every director knows the limits of his freedom of acrimony. If they cross the line, they are likely to be thrown out by their shareholders, which in the case of the UML consists of NGO-entrepreneurs, small shopkeepers, government officials and political fixers in cities and small towns all over the country. There is too much at stake for the petty bourgeoisie, for they well know that the moment the UML disintegrates, they will be the first to be devoured by the Maoists.