The only thing that can stop the UML from forming its first majority government is a rigged election. At least, that's what the courtiers at Balkhu Darbar are telling us. The cadence and candour of the prose may vary, but the clear feeling you get from reading UML-friendly publications is that the party has waited too long for its turn. Moreover, its troubles are not entirely of its own making. Each time political trends seemed to take a favourable turn, rivals conspired to ebb the flow. True, the Nepali Congress-led interim government that held the 1991 general elections included members of what is today the UML. But the Kangresis acted as if it had just restored the two-thirds majority they held in the 1959 parliament. The comrades had to craft a survival strategy. In seeking to shift the failures of the interim government on the Nepali Congress while sharing in its successes, the UML emerged as a formidable opposition.
The party fell short of a majority in the 1994 polls because the nastiness of the Kangresi infighting made the Panchayat-era Surya Bahadur Thapa-Lokendra Bahadur Chand squabbles look like conscientious combat. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party quintupled its share of seats in the hung parliament and both men got to be prime minister again. The Supreme Court's reinstatement of the lower house stood in the way of a UML majority in 1995. Although they were part of the election government in 1999, the split that spoiled the comrades' chances had several Kangresi fingerprints.
The cracks in the Nepali Congress have charmed the comrades this time. They have also exacerbated the UML's split personality. As part of Campaign 2002, the folks at party headquarters are busy rearranging portraits in the conference room to match the visual preferences of the foreign dignitary in attendance. Senior leaders are trying to shore up their revolutionary credentials among cadres at the same time they are struggling to wipe off all traces of communism from the party name and flag. The moment of truth has arrived.
A grossly under-appreciated facet of Nepali politics is the part Puspa Lal Shrestha's vision of Congress-communist partnership played in overthrowing the Panchayat system. The untold story of the People's Movement of 1990 is how eternally quarrelling communist factions could agree to form the United Left Front. Amid such ignorance, it becomes easy to overlook the transformation UML luminaries have undergone since their avatar as primary tools of the campaign to eliminate class enemies.
Ignorance has also perpetuated pluralistically inimical myths. The assertion that there can be no life without the Nepali Congress implies that the roots of our democracy are still too shallow to be strong. More invidious is its insinuation about our comrades. Why can't communists who were good enough to be entrusted with restoring democracy be trusted to preserve it?
The UML wanted to dispel such fallacies through fresh elections ever since Bam Dev Gautam and his buddies returned to the fold. (I have a strong feeling we'll find out before 13 November why the ML general secretary accepted that demotion.) The party didn't demand dissolution of the Lower House because it wasn't ready to take responsibility for draining a couple of billions from state coffers. With the elections and the Nepali Congress rupture having come in quick succession, it's more than obvious the UML's patience has paid off.
Will the elections be held on schedule? From the outset, the UML has said the onus lies on the government that imposed them on us. Now that it has detected some eerie similarities in the syntax and substance of the phraseology of the executive and judiciary, the UML has officially deployed its full resources to electing the new legislature. The Supreme Court ruling that the six-month-gap-between-sessions stricture applies only to a house in existence has evidently rewritten some of the equations. What if
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba feels he can put off the elections as long as he feels safe to govern through the hung Upper House? Wouldn't the possibility of the Maoists taking part increase with each month of delay? Then there's that possibility of the Congress uniting.
A lot of UML idealists would probably want to avoid appearing power hungry by insisting on keeping 13 November sacrosanct. But elections are not only about winning. In order to fit well-organised nation-wide protests against fraud into this year's work plan, we have to have elections on time, don't we?