Nepali Times
Guest Column
Hardly surprising



The late Ganesh Man Singh is (in)famously attributed with the vain boast that even if the NC put up a walking stick as its candidate in Kathmandu, the Congress would still win. As the election results have shown, perhaps it is the Maoists who could have done that this time around.

Pundits are weighing in, and will do so for a long time, to explain the Maoist victory. CHANGE is what everyone agrees upon. The electorate saw the NC-UML strategy of presenting hoary old faces (the indisputable vote-getters) as agents to create a 'New Nepal' as a farce, and threw them out wholesale. Barring a few exceptions, the winners from the 'old parties' are new and untainted. There were some among the controversial politicos who got through, but only by reinventing themselves, mainly as part of new forces on the rise.

Other supporting explanations have been floated as well: general fear that the Maoists would pick up the gun again, intimidation and booth capturing, voting along ethnic lines, especially in the Tarai, thus, robbing the NC of its voter base. According to the Maoists' former ideological guru and current bugbear, Mohan Bikram Singh, even 'Indian expansionism' was a factor.

All of these factors surely played a part in results that have taken everyone by surprise. But nothing would have been possible without the vast organisational strength the Maoists brought to bear on the campaigning. The organisation itself is the outcome of years of patient mobilisation at the grassroots that touched all sections of society, whether it be the dancer in a Kathmandu restaurant or a peasant from a hamlet in deep Rolpa.

Anyone who has ventured into rural Nepal in recent years knows very well that for many of these communities the first political party to reach out to them was the Maoists. Not just in remote Khotang or Humla, but even for those lying just on the periphery of urban Kathmandu. A friend who had gone to southern Lalitpur on election day was amazed to learn that the only parliamentary candidate ever to have sought their votes in person was Barsha Man Pun, and thus it was no surprise to her that a Magar from the far-west could win from a constituency dominated by Bahuns, Chhetris and Newars.

The Maoist ascent to power will change politics in ways that cannot be foreseen at present, but there is no doubt that they have brought ordinary people into the reckoning. Gone, hopefully, are the old ways of doing politics that the NC and the UML had finessed, a system they had inherited from the Panchayat system and even further beyond from the Rana regime itself, of cherry-picking among the notables to serve their interests in the villages and deliver the votes. For years, the Maoists have gone door-to-door and mobilised everyone in the name of class, ethnicity, language with the central message that it is a party that cares and respects the people.

The only force that could have stood up to the Maoists organisationally was the UML. But the bourgeoisification of the erstwhile revolutionaries with their single-minded focus on power at the centre ensured that the Maoists were able to pull the rug from under their feet, and they did not even notice. One instance stands out clearly: in the early months of 2001, just as the Maoists were beginning to move eastward into UML strongholds, all the energy of the UML party machinery was devoted to the ultimately futile rallies against Girija Prasad Koirala and the Lauda Air scandal. The Maoist organisings were further unimpeded after the king opened a second front against the parties in 2002 and their sole focus of attention became the palace.

Thus, to declaim against the Maoists for what happened is pretty meaningless. The Maoists themselves had not been able to fully gauge the extent of goodwill they had created over time. And come election day, the party with the most extensive organisation won. Charges of rigging and intimidation sound rather hollow when it comes from past masters at the game, namely, the NC and the UML.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)