October 29, 2008
Nepal redefines Time
Beginning today, Nepal adopts a new calendar. From now on, New Year’s Day coincides with the fourth day of Tihar, Gobardhan Puja (oxen worshipping).
According to the previously used Vikram Sambat calendar, this year is 2065. The new Nepal Sambat calendar adjusts the year to 1129 – moving the country back in time by nearly nine centuries and leaving the international community scratching its head.
The influential Newar community, which settled the Kathmandu Valley centuries ago, objects to the Vikram Sambat calendar on the grounds that it was imported from India during the Gupta dynasty. No doubt the prevailing anti-monarchal sentiment in Nepal plays into the time change as well: Prithvi Narayan Shah, unified Nepal’s first king, adopted the Indian dating system; the penchants of past kings is now frowned upon by the population at large. Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda announced the new calendar last Friday.
But who, apart from the Newaris, does this new time measure benefit -- a calendar primarily associated with Newari festivals? How does this jive with Nepal’s avowed 21st century preference for multi-cultural inclusion? From a Western point of view, the new calendar seems curiously outdated.
A far more important issue is the current identity crisis occurring within the Maoist Party. Are the old hard-liner Maoists, like the calendar, outdated?
Numerous questions have arisen recently that indicate uneasiness within the Maoist Party’s definition of itself.
1. Is the Maoists endorsement of a multi-party democracy really a temporary one, contingent upon a time in the future when a People’s Republic can be established?
2. How do the Maoists now define a “People’s republic?”
3. Have Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai gone soft after rubbing shoulders with the international elite?
4. Is it time for the Maoist Party to drop the tag “Maoist”?
5. To what extent is Beijing informing a Maoist transformation – a Chinese desire to see all the communist parties in Nepal merge into one super party?
6. What happens to the stability of the new government if rank-and-file Maoists reject Prachanda’s efforts and support behind-the-scene hardliners?
At the beginning of October, Prachanda presented a paper to his party’s Central Committee, in which he stated that a federal democratic republic was a transitional objective while a people’s republic should be the Maoist long-term goal.
The operative phrase is long-term.
How long does Prachanda have to maneuver within a multi-party democracy before ultra-left committee members lose patience? One hard-liner, Barsaman Pun “Ananta” (his nom de guerre “inexhaustible”), commented on Prachanda’s paper thusly: “Our objective is to establish communism through socialism. But we will initiate discussions among all other political parties in parliament during the drafting of the new constitution.” The present government has 22 months left to draft the constitution: Presumably, Barsaman Pun Ananta is giving Prachanda a two-year grace period.
But there are other Maoist leaders who aren’t exhibiting such patience.
Last week, senior Maoist ideologue Mohan Vaidya “Kiran” (nom de guerre meaning beam of light) Pokharel submitted his resignation from his post as a Constituent Assembly Member. He has consistently opposed any flexibility in the radical commitment of the Maoist party and, reportedly, has at least ten like-minded Maoist leaders who support his views – all of whom advocate a speedy transition into a people’s republic, i.e. a one-party communist republic.
Central Party member Matrika Yadav supports Kiran’s view, averring that nobody in the CPN-Maoist is in favor of a parliamentary system.
Finance Minister Bhattarai’s moves toward international relations.
All of this is in direct confrontation with Finance Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s recent efforts – including a recent trip to the United States – to accept the future of Nepal in terms of a fairly long period of capitalist development that could eventually lay the basis for socialist transformation. While in America, Bhattarai told World Bank and IMF officials that the Maoist-led Nepali government had “an agenda to develop our industrial economy” while also focusing on a revival of tourism, promotion of small enterprise and rural development, hydroelectricity, infrastructure, education and health. He did acknowledge misgivings about Nepal becoming dominated by large multinational companies: “On this issue, we do have reservations, but we need investment, we need capital. So there has to be a balance.”
Bhattarai also expressed reservations about the strengthening ties between America and India, particularly in regard to the newly approved U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear agreement. “When the U.S. moves closer to India,” Bhattarai said, “it tends to be a bad thing for Nepal. India’s policy [for the region] will be the U.S. policy, and the result will not be a balanced package.”
More controversial, however, is Dr. Bhattarai’s recent proposal to drop the “Maoist” tag from the party name. “In the past, communist parties adopted various tags, like the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and Communist party of Nepal-Marxist/Leninist to distinguish one party from another,” he told reporters recently at the Kathmandu airport. “But now that we have proved to be the number one communist party in Nepal, we don’t need the tag any more.”
Apparently, Prachanda himself suggested such a move two months ago by submitting to the Maoist Central Committee that it might be time for the Maoist tag to be jettisoned. “During Mao’s time,” Prachanda told reporters, “there was no concept of federalism or multiparty democracy. But we [Nepal] have both.” More recently, Prachanda said he had signed a pact with a fringe communist party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unity Center Masal, for a merger, indicating a desire to, eventually, merge all the communist parties into one national communist organization.
This merging policy may have been at least partially instigated by the Central Committee in China. Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Minister of Information and Communications paid a visit to Beijing recently. Afterward he reported that the Chinese government had advocated the unification of the communist parties in Nepal to from a single monolithic party like the Communist Party of China.
Monolithic Communist Party or a Shotgun Wedding?
Dropping the Maoist tag is already facing stiff opposition. There are many Maoist leaders who are not prepared to abandon the Chinese leader whose ideology inspired them to wage a 10-year guerrilla war against the state, which succeeded in eliminating the despised monarchy.
Two of those leaders have recently been interviewed on, among other things, the very identity of Nepali Maoism and why it must be preserved.
Interview with Mohan Vaidya “Kiran” Pokharel
Originally published by Naya Patrika Daily, October 21, 2008, posted online by “Democracy and Class Struggle”.
Q: You are considered as a hardliner in the Maoists’ Party. Tell us briefly where and on what account you differ sharply with the party?
Kiran: I feel that conspiracies are on to foil the Maoists’ established credentials. After I was released from the Indian prison, talks of artificial division in and among the hardliners and the liberals have cropped up. I think specifically the revolutionary ideology of the Maoists is being targeted deliberately. The trend has been that if one talks on ideological grounds he or she is labeled as a hardliner.
As far as differences are concerned, I do not have any objection to the party. And of myself who would always tell my mind without hesitation. However, the moot questions remain intact. There is the great danger that in the name of liberalism whether the party will loose its basic ideology? Are we forgetting our commitments? Whether our commitment to National Sovereignty is on the continuous wane? Is the party falling into the trap set by the Rightists? These are not my personal concerns, instead should be the concerns of the party as a whole?
Q: Tell us something about the hullabaloo over changing the party’s tag? There is a kind of competition among the Maoists and the UML in removing Mao’s name from the party tag? What say you?
Kiran: As far as the UML is concerned, I personally feel that it is not even a Communist party. There are some leaders in the UML camp who believe in communist ideology but the party is not a communist party. Thus there should not be any debate even if it declares that it is no more a communist party. However, in our case changing the party tag is irrelevant and illogical.
Q: Your Party Chairman has already said that the debate over abandoning the party tag is on in the party for over two years now? Is Mao’s name a tail now?
Kiran: As is normal of a political party we too discuss and debate over several critical and crucial issues. Nevertheless, without making a formal decision over the contentious issue, nothing can be taken for granted. For us, Maoism is the party’s identity—it is not at all a “tail” as some both within and without are interpreting it. It is the prime identity of the peoples’ revolt. In the UML’s case it is indeed a tail but not for the Maoists as such.
Unless the party takes a formal decision whosoever is advocating the case of dropping the tag are his/her personal considerations.
Regarding the Communist unity is concerned I do not rule out the possibility in the distant future but for the time being it is not possible.
Q: What about the inner rife in your party as regards the Militia integration is concerned?
Kiran: It is also a critical issue but there is no difference as you have pointed out. We have charted out clear party lines over the issues of peace process, constitution drafting and the Militia integration. We need rather to devise modalities for the integration process—we need thorough discussion over this issue as well.
Q: What about the emerging differences between you and party president?
Kiran: The political situation is such that it demands debates and discussions. That’s all.
Q: Where is the Maoists’ party heading?
Kiran: Revolutionary spirit is still kicking and alive in the party paraphernalia. Nevertheless, we need to continuously rectify our mistakes, as there is the concern among our supporters whether the party is deviating away from its prime ideological premises. The central leadership, unfortunately, has kept itself away from the people—which should not have been the case.
The party is undergoing a transition as the State too is. We are yet to totally dismantle past set-up and rebuild a new one.
Q: Tell us about the debate on People’s Republic and Democratic Republic?
Kiran: We are still mulling over the issue. It needs ample discussion as it is directly linked to drafting the new constitution. It is my belief that Democracy as such needs to be redefined in the Nepali context else drafting the constitution becomes redundant.
And it is only but normal that in such critical issues various opinions emerge and collide.
Q: Why is it that there are so much of differences in the Maoists’ Camp?
Kiran: More than concentrating on making determined efforts we have exhibited flexibility. No compromise should be made on our ideology—this is what I believe.
The Maoists have come this far ahead after holding intense debates and discussions. The party will continue to serve the people in this way. However such discussions and debates should not become public—that will invite anarchy.
Q: How do you evaluate the government performance?
Kiran: It will only become a premature evaluation. We want to move ahead, yet we do not have the needed absolute majority. Old mindset prevails in the bureaucracy. Nevertheless we are determined in our set objectives.
Political revolution vs. economic revolution—it is also being debated in the party?
Kiran: Political revolution is yet to conclude. It is still on. We are still within the framework of the democratic republic. Some of our friends have begun talking of the economic revolution. I don’t’ think that unless political revolution comes to a positive end, economic revolution is possible.
Interview with C. P. Gajurel
C.P. Gajurel, 59, is a politburo member and chief of the foreign affairs bureau of the CPN (Maoist) party. In August 2003, while he was attempting to from to London from Chennai airport with forged travel documents, he was arrested and spent three years in jail in Chennai. Following the second People's Movement of 2006, and the entry of the Maoists into mainstream politics, he was released from jail in December 2007. Since his release, he has traveled internationally, raising awareness about and seeking support for his party.
Gajurel spoke with Aditya Adhikari and Kosh Raj Koirala of The Kathmandu Post on Oct. 23 about the new government, the ideological tussle in his party, and its relations with other parties and neighboring countries. The following are excerpts from that interview.
Q: How do you assess the performance of the Maoist-led government so far?
C.P. Gajurel: We feel that the performance of the government has not lived up to the party's hopes. Because it is a coalition government, it hasn't been able to work according to the policies of our party. We entered government with the understanding that we have to undertake visible change two weeks after entering government. Even if we couldn't immediately undertake major changes, we felt we could do smaller things, like controlling traffic and providing adequate supply of oil. But unfortunately we haven't even been able to do that.
Q: Your party has said that it doesn't believe in parliamentary democracy, but it believes in multi-party competition and doesn't want to impose a traditional communist system. Could you explain what the state structure would look like under your model?
Gajurel: There is a mistaken belief that multi-party means parliament, the parliamentary system means democracy, and that no other form of democracy exists in the world. But there are many political systems in the world that are not parliamentary but have multiparty competition.
Q: So what is the alternative that you propose?
Gajurel: In our multi-party system, there will be competition between parties that are nationalist, that have fought for the country and republicanism, who want to make a new Nepal. It could be that many parties could come together to form government. It's not necessary that, like in parliament, there have to be an opposition party and a ruling party. In the interim period we didn't have an opposition but the system was democratic. In fact, there is no provision for an opposition in the interim constitution. Only after the Nepali Congress decided to stay in opposition did we decide to allow for it.
Q: Who will select which parties are nationalist and will be allowed to compete? What are the parameters for selection?
Gajurel: The parameter is the party's history among the people. The contribution it has made. The commitment it has towards the constitution we will draft. The commitment it has towards the country and its people.
Q: We hear that the Maoists say the state should be responsible for selecting parties that will be allowed to compete. That what the Maoists mean by multi-party democracy is one where they control the state and select which parties can compete and which cannot.
Gajurel: No. The system will have courts that will have final authority. There will be an Election Commission. These bodies will make decisions. The state can't just stop some parties from competing just because it wants to.
Q: The policies of your party in government are very different from what your party used to state a few years ago. Don't you feel that the party has deviated from its core ideology?
Gajurel: We haven't deviated from our core ideology. We didn't come to where we are through falling into some kind of misconception or illusion. We have our own strategy and our own tactics, and we've come here implementing them. The Constituent Assembly (CA) was a demand we put forth five or six years ago. We participated in the CA according to our own policies. Our central committee took a decision to enter government. But it is true that this is a new exercise. Such an exercise hadn't occurred in the world communist movement.
Q: Recently there has been much talk in the media about the differences between the “hard-line” faction of your party, and the “moderates”. That one faction wants to go back to war to continue the revolution, while the other wants to continue the current peace process.
Gajurel: Various opinions and differences arise within the party, and it is important that they do. As communists, we define our party as one of unity in opposites. It is not monolithic. The different party opinions struggle against one another. The party gains direction through this struggle.
But no one in the party thinks that we should go back to armed struggle. Even the so-called hardliners don't think this. Through armed struggle we have reached a phase where we can pursue our agenda through other means. Why should we then go back to it?
Q: We have heard a lot about the term 'Federal Democratic Republic' over the past two years. But what is this 'People's Republic' that we've been hearing about more recently?
Gajurel: The national convention of our party, which is going to begin on November 9 or 10, will deal with this issue of the kind of republic we need. The 'Federal Democratic Republic' line was definitely useful in bringing an end to the monarchy and establishing a republic. But do we now move forward or consolidate this form of republic? To move forward we now need a 'People's Republic'. The maximum form the Federal Democratic Republic can take exists in India. But has the Indian republic been able to solve its problems? We don't have to go further than Bihar to see how it functions. We have to do better than that.
Now it is said that a 'People's Republic' is a communist republic. But it is not communist. Neither is it socialist. It is basically a bourgeois republic, but it has many elements of socialism. For example, there will be progressive land reform. There will be decentralization of many rights. There will be local self-governance for many castes and ethnicities. We want to move forward so that we don't return to a feudal-type, capitalist-type of republic.
Q: What will be the economic system in the 'People's Republic?' Will there be a nationalization of banks, of property…?
Gajurel: People make a big deal of this issue of nationalization of banks. I just returned from Venezuela and had an opportunity to meet Hugo Chavez at a discussion program. He joked, 'When I nationalized banks George Bush was really against it. But now he has become my comrade, he too has nationalized banks in his country.' And it is not only communists who nationalize banks. Indira Gandhi herself did so. Does that make her a communist?
Q: What about other economic institutions. Do you plan to nationalize industries…?
Gajurel: No. In that system not everything will be nationalized. Some elements will of course be nationalized, but private property and industry will exist. The national bourgeoisie will be protected. The objective is to develop national capitalism.
Q: There is a perception that the Maoists are getting closer to China and trying to distance itself from India.
Gajurel: We believe that it is in the national interest to have good and equal relations with both countries. Historically our relations have been one-sided in all aspects. For example, 80% of our trade is with India, and only 8% with China.
There is enormous potential to increase relations with China. I'll give you an example. Many tourists come through India to Nepal. This is a good thing. But more needs to be done to increase flow of tourists from the Chinese side. After the train link to Lhasa (from Beijing) was constructed, three million tourists started coming to Lhasa per year. Most of these tourists are Buddhist. The most important place for Buddhists is our Lumbini. If we could construct a rail line or a highway connecting Lumbini to Lhasa, even if a third of the tourists to Lhasa come to Nepal, that makes a million tourists per year.
Q: Some leaders of the Nepali Congress have been asking if the Maoists are so serious about integration of their army, then why have they raised the allowances for People's Liberation Army (PLA) combatants by Rs. 2000? This indicates that they are bent on making the PLA stronger and fit for returning to war…
Gajurel: That's not our intention. How can we integrate the PLA if we don't even give them enough to eat? We need to give them basic facilities, develop their professionalism and then integrate them. It doesn't make sense that those who agree that the PLA needs to be professionalized are against giving them even enough food.
What the Nepali Congress is saying is ridiculous.
And, even though we had reached agreement in the past with the United Nations and other parties that integration would take place according to the Security Sector Reform (SSR) model, the Nepali Congress is bent on promoting the Disarmament, Demobilization and Rehabilitation (DDR) model. The Home Minister said yesterday that there is no agreement that states that the Maoist combatants will be integrated into the Nepal Army. So what had we been negotiating this whole time? It is very strange that responsible leaders of the Nepali Congress are speaking like this.
Q: So you believe that all verified Maoist combatants, over 19,000 in number, should be integrated into the Nepal Army (NA).
Gajurel: Yes, that's what we hold. The whole agreement is about the integration of armies. Not of police or the YCL.
Q: And after integration, you want people from your army to receive the same rank in the NA as they did in the PLA?
Gajurel: Well, we have to discuss that. How qualified are our commanders? After all, they did win battles against the NA. If they weren't professional at all, would they have been able to win? We think that in many ways the skills of our PLA fighters are superior to those of the NA. We fought many battles with a few weapons. We don't feel that it is any exaggeration to say that our combatants deserve to retain their same rank after they are integrated.
An all-important meeting is to be held, slated for November 10, in which all the Maoist party leaders will convene to sort out these various issues. It will be interesting to see if the party endorses Prachanda's current policies.