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Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist: Rebels to Rulers

Nihar R Nayak is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • May 14, 2008

    The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), a former rebel group, emerged as the largest political party with 220 seats in the April 10 Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. Mainstream political parties like the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML secured the second and third positions with 110 and 103 seats, respectively. For the first time, a newly formed regional political party, Madhesi Janatantrik (Democratic) Forum has secured fourth position in the elections.

    Although the Election Commission of Nepal declared the CA elections as free and fair, some security analysts believe that intimidation by the Young Communist League (YCL) might have helped CPN-M to emerge as the largest party. This is not to deny that the YCL may have tried to reinforce Maoist success, which, in any case, was expected. In fact, almost all political party activists had tried to influence voters by adopting different means to win in the election. As far as the allegation from the losing parties is concerned, it was mostly an afterthought. None of the political parties complained specifically about Maoist intimidation during the polls. Nobody would have expected 60 per cent voter participation if intimidation was rampant.

    What are the factors responsible for Maoist success? The first and foremost was failure of the two principal parties — NC and UML — to fulfil the people’s aspirations in the last two decades. Consequently, the CPN-M emerged as an alternative. There was also a popular realisation that the Maoist decision to enter the democratic mainstream was a welcome trend and the alternative was quite forbidding. From personal interactions with common people in and around Kathmandu, one gathered that voters found the Maoist slogan of a ‘New Nepal’ credible.

    In fact, CPN-M’s efficient populist campaign over various issues like republicanism, federalism, land reforms and job guarantee had its appeal for the people. Moreover, the Maoists adopted an aggressive nationalist position, which was liked by the majority of the Nepali people even if it might have alienated the Madhesis. The Maoists made a deliberate attempt to whip up anti-India sentiment by alleging that India was trying to divide Nepal by supporting the Madhesis. This is said to have played a major role in the pahadis, traditional supporters of the NC, voting for the Maoists.

    Yet another factor that contributed to the success of the Maoists was their strong organisational base. In contrast, the NC and UML were riven by internal feuds. There was a major communication gap between their leaders and workers at the grassroots. Moreover, both these parties were urban-based and ignored rural areas. The NC and UML were perceived by people as elitist in orientation, having a strong base among the upper castes, while CPN-M identified itself with the masses. As far as seat distribution is concerned, the CPN-M reserved 40 seats for women and 30 seats for dalits and other ethnic groups. In comparison, UML had given away 160 out of 220 seats to Brahmins. While the CPN-M gave 33 per cent of the seats to Janjatis and 8 per cent to Dalits, the NC allotted 28 per cent to Janjatis and 5 per cent to Dalits. The UML came third with 25 per cent to Janjatis and 5 per cent to Dalits.

    The personality factor also played an important role in these elections. Prachanda carries much greater appeal than the ageing GP Koirala and an unimpressive Madhav Nepal. Since April 2006, Prachanda has been getting more media attention than others. As a result, the youth in Nepal feel proud to associate themselves with the CPN-M in general and Prachanda in particular. At the same time, the people of Nepal assumed, as was revealed to this author, that strong leadership, discipline, and unity of command would help the CPN-M to perform more effectively.

    While the CA elections were considered a solution to years of political instability and turmoil, the fractured mandate has complicated the matter further. No single party has secured enough seats to form the government on its own. At the moment, a grand coalition adhering to the Interim Constitution might not be possible due to the resignation of UML ministers from the GP Koirala government. Significantly, the UML and NC have decided not to join the new government headed by the CPN-Maoist until it dissolves paramilitary structures. The coalition government may be deadlocked over many issues since it would be difficult to gain consensus on issues every time.

    As long as the political parties are unable to resolve their differences over government formation, the first meeting of the CA cannot take major decisions without all the 601 members present in the house. The first and foremost duty of the new government, therefore, is to nominate the remaining 26 members to parliament. There is also confusion over whether the present government or the new government will nominate those 26 members.

    Meanwhile, the United States has been suggesting that the NC should lead the new government. If that happens, then the decision would go against the popular mandate and people might protest against the NC government. Prachanda has gone on record to say that the people have already given the Maoists the mandate by returning them with the largest number of representatives and largest share of popular votes.

    Impact on India

    For India, the major concern has been links between the Indian and Nepalese Maoists. In the past, these groups have shared their perspectives on the nature of state in India and repeatedly came out with anti-India statements in different fora. However, in recent days, there has been no meeting of minds over the CPN-M’s decision to try the democratic path to power. One can only prognosticate that in view of the responsibilities that the Nepal Maoists will shoulder in the days to come, they may focus more on consolidating their base within Nepal rather than look out and facilitate a Maoist revolution abroad. Indian Maoists have even branded Prachanda a revisionist, which is a slur in communist parlance. Maoists of India do have an independent political dynamic and will remain largely unaffected by developments in Nepal. In case, the Maoists fail in their experiment in Nepal they may in future come together with an even more radical agenda in the sub-continent.

    Maoists in Nepal may develop a close strategic relationship with China. Any dispensation for that matter in Kathmandu will play the China card against India as long as it is of strategic value. China would like to take advantage of that. Its interests in Nepal are more focused around Tibet, growing US and Indian presence in Nepal and economic engagement. It has always preferred a nationalistic government in Nepal, which would not allow Tibetan refugees to use Nepalese territory against China. Maoists coming to power would facilitate China to increase its presence in Nepal and offset Indian influence. It could emerge as a strong contender for India in hydro power projects and infrastructure building, especially in northern Nepal.

    The Maoists have declared that after coming to power, they would revisit all existing treaties with India. If renegotiation of the India-Bhutan treaty is any indicator, Indian policy makers would not be too averse to the idea of revisiting the treaties. As the Maoists would mature as a democratic political force, one hopes, they will soon shed their rhetoric and settle down for pragmatic policies. However, a lot will depend on the policy preferences of the new government in Nepal, the nature of the relationship between India and China and changes in the regional security dynamics.