Even by international standards, the history of communist parties in Nepal shows a fissipariousness that is unsurpassed. It is hard to keep track of where and when the different factions split and went their separate ways. The formation of the UML (United Marxist-Leninist) was the result of a unity drive by Madan Bhandari of the Unity Party with Manmohan Adhikari as chairman.
Both are no more. But the unity they strove for has withstood the test of time, even though there have been rump factions breaking off and reuniting in the intervening years. Credit for this must also go to Madhav Kumar Nepal, who succeeded Madan Bhandari and led the nine-month UML minority government in 1994. Even the UML's critics will admit that this was one period in the past 12 years that Nepal had a relatively clean and effective government.
That government was brought down, and the succeeding years were ones in which we saw the further erosion of morality and ethics in politics. Coalition governments came and went, horse-trading was rife and political patronage was for sale to the highest bidder. The result was bandhs, public apathy towards those they had elected and, in the hinterland, the rise of the Maoist insurgency that capitalised on this frustration.
In all this commotion a coalition between the RPP (Chand Faction) and the UML, with Chand as the prime minister and Bamdev Gautam as the Deputy PM managed to undo all the achievements of the nine-month UML government-a coup of sorts. Allegations of corruption in high places in the coalition government tainted the UML partners. A subsequent rift in the UML between factions led by Bamdev Gautam and Madhav Kumar Nepal came to a head on the issue of the ratification of the Mahakali Treaty with India. Gautam used this issue as the platform to launch his opposition at the 6th National Convention in 1998 at Nepalganj with the formal split of the the ML faction led by Gautam, who later went into a coalition with the Nepali Congress. But this alliance of convenience was short-lived, and a later UML-Nepali Congress coalition went for general elections in 1997 which the Nepali Congress swept.
The ML was trounced without even a single representation in the lower house. After an extended period of bitterness the ML finally came back to rejoin the UML last year, but the bad blood is just beneath the surface. Had the UML and ML not split, we can be sure that the poliical course of this nation would have taken a turn for the better.
The last three years have seen the UML as the main opposition in parliament, and its role has been limited to exposing scandals in the ruling party as well as exploiting internal rifts within the Congress.
King Gyanendra's dismissal of the Deuba government, charging it with incompetence, opened up a whole new chapter in Nepali politics. It resulted in a direct and worsening polarisation between the constitutional monarchy and the political parties. After hesitating briefly, the UML has now embarked on a "national awareness campaign". The mass turnout at these rallies have been good considering the situation, and it has proven wrong those who said that the masses had abandoned the political parties. The last of these rallies was held at Kathmandu on 15 December where the call went out for the king to bring democracy back on track, but UML leaders fell short of calling for an escalated protest.
Instead, the party issued strong words of warning against "regressive forces" within the palace and against the Maoists. This was to try to buy time to resolve the crisis between the parties and the palace and also to put the UML's own house in order at its 7th Convention in Janakpur.
In the run-up to Janakpur, Madhav Kumar Nepal presented a political paper which was unanimously passed by the central committee. But the party's future plans have been eclipsed by a power struggle within the party, with some central level leaders like KP Sharma Oli and Bamdev Gautam trying to settle their old grudges.
They accuse Nepal of playing favourites and want the vacant post of chairman to be filled by the convention. They want to create the post of deputy general secretary and would also like the term of the general secretary to be fixed.
The Nepal faction thinks these reforms would undermine party discipline and authority. The delegates to the national convention numbering 1,200 represent 150,000 card-carrying members of the UML who will decide the future of the party in Janakpur.
Elections for convention delegates have been completed at the district levels, with both factions claiming that they are in the majority. For its part, the UML cadre is jittery and foresees a power struggle in Janakpur which may yet again set the party back.
Unnecessary bitterness and charges are being exchanged, which may lead to a showdown just like at Nepalganj in 1997 with the losers quitting and splitting the party. Nepal and his supporters have the responsibility of keeping the party intact, while the challengers must learn to accept defeat gracefully and move ahead to deliver their promises to the people.
Nepali politics has been revolving around individual egos and one-upmanship. Our leaders need to grow up and see beyond their immediate personal gain-nothing less than the country's welfare and even survival is at stake. If only the party's leaders could keep their personal agenda and ambitions in check, it could still work. But if the UML splits again, the Maoists are waiting with open arms to take the cadre away.
The Nepali people have been mis-governed for too long, too many promises have been made and broken, they have suffered this poverty and violence for too long. It is now up to the UML to put the country back on the road to democracy and development.
(Dhawal SJB Rana is the former UML mayor of Nepalganj.)