A few weeks ago, former Prime Minister and Maoist leader, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, resigned from the post of vice-chairman of the UCPN-Maoist Party, apparently over the controversial selection of officers to the party’s central hierarchy. His resignation led to widespread media debate and comment. Dr Bhattarai argued that he was happy to serve the party as a mere affiliate if this allowed other promising members to take on leadership responsibilities. He also claimed that he was stepping down for the betterment and further progress of the party. He further argued that positions of power should not become bones of contention among the leadership. However, does one resignation make much difference to Nepalese politics? Members come and go within parties, the leadership changes, values change, and society changes. Is that not a natural process? Why should the media—even society as a whole—make so much fuss as a result of it?
Idealism is the word that comes up time and time again in any discussion about Dr. Bhattarai. We have witnessed this tendency throughout his eighteen-month premiership in Nepal. He says one thing, but he does another. He is a lofty idealist, who makes promises but does not bother to fulfil them. Consequently, he achieved little or no positive result during his time as Prime Minister. There are, therefore, many questions to be asked. Why should they view his resignation and that of fellow leaders of the UCPN-Maoist Party as anything more than the result of a simple internal party feud? Is it not the type of internal party conflict from which most of Nepalese political parties suffer? Does it make any real difference or have any real impact on Nepalese politics if a few politicians leave their posts so long as they fail to introduce comprehensive laws—mandatory rules of moral and political professional conduct—as guidance and then ensure that every politician and political party follows them?
Nepal is now ruled by a bunch of bureaucrats. This is the unnatural and undemocratic legacy of Dr. Bhattarai himself, who played a major role in scapegoating the Constituent Assembly and then left behind a political mess that was accompanied by greater uncertainty than Nepal had ever experienced before in their political history. The past tendencies and broken promises of the UPCN-Maoist party as a whole, but especially Dr. Bhattarai’s actions and omissions while he was in power, must be examined in order to understand why the resignation of Maoist leaders should be taken as anything other than an indication of a party-feud, political chaalbaz and propaganda, or even as part of the grand design of the party based on manipulative fictions instead of facts. There have been many worrying incidents in the past, but I wish to cite only a few recent examples here to justify my assertion that the actions and omissions of Dr Bhattarai and his companions are no more than an illustration of the power game at work.
Firstly, Dr. Bhattarai was highly praised for choosing a Nepalese-made Mustang vehicle to use while he was serving as Prime Minister. He spurned the opportunity to travel in a more luxurious car and chose instead an unglamorous vehicle assembled in our own country. This act soon proved to be propaganda-inspired in order to earn cheap overnight popularity. However, he was unable to prevent his fellow cabinet members and other Maoist leaders from using expensive luxury cars. People of Nepal must ask themselves today: was his choice anything other than pure propaganda? Political propaganda, like marketing, repeats itself over and over again.
Secondly, while Dr Bhattarai occupied the highest public office in the country, he seemed never to stop talking about providing good governance and yet corruption was more rife during his term in power than ever before. He showed his authoritarian tendencies in granting himself extra powers and in making decisions of public concern that could have a long-term impact even though he was leading only a caretaker government. Moreover, he awarded jobs and contracts to his cronies and followers while ignoring the voices of the opposition and of the people as a whole. The country witnessed spiralling corruption, lawlessness, and total impunity during his eighteen-month period in office. A most important question, therefore, must be asked: what does he wish to prove now by resigning from the post of vice-chairman of his party?
Thirdly, the idea of strengthening nationalism and promoting the autonomy of the nation was a popular slogan of the Maoists during the ten-year civil war. However, once they were in power their adoption of a Kazi Lhendup Dorjee attitude of surrender proved that their slogan of strengthened nationalism had been no more than cheap propaganda. The country’s autonomy was almost lost. Dr Bhattarai himself was blamed for being Delhi’s keenest ever stooge, and his elevation to Prime Minister was alleged to have been with open support from India in line with that country’s ‘Guinea Pig Republican Experiment’ in Nepal. During his eighteen months as head of the caretaker government, several anti-nationalist moves occurred such as the highly controversial BIPA agreement to share water resources with India. Do these activities alone not prove that the idea of strengthening nationalism had been nothing more than propaganda to fool ordinary people?
Finally, political propaganda often concerns itself with nationalism, enemies, and freedom. In Nepal, it takes on many forms. The Maoists fired the first shot in the People’s War when they demanded that the government implement a forty-point action plan that included the following: the removal of all unequal stipulations and agreements from the 1950 Treaty between India and Nepal; an admission that the anti-nationalist Tanakpur Agreement had been wrong and that the consequent Mahakali Treaty should be nullified; and the ending of a monopoly of foreign capital in Nepal’s industry, trade and economic sector. It is ironic that none of these demands has even been addressed despite the fact that the Maoists have twice been in power since the country entered into the peace process. Dr. Bhattarai, who drew up the forty-point demand failed to address even a single point during his eighteen-month premiership. Is that not a shame? Does that not amount to a great deception of the people? Does that not prove that the forty-point demand was merely part of a blatant propaganda war? People of Nepal must ask a serious question today: would Dr. Bhattarai not be more suited to a role in a Shakespearean play than to one in the current political theatre of Nepal?
Democracy is the logical implementation of systems and methods that promote justice, equality, and fraternity. In Nepal, the basic norms and values of democracy stand at a major crossroads today. A healthy functional democracy does not permit the use of propaganda to manipulate the people, but Nepal is clearly suffering from a long period of propagandist politics. Propaganda may offer a pathway to power, but it should always be subsidiary to an idea. If the idea is missing, the whole artificial structure collapses. Propaganda and power hunger are inseparably connected, but power built only on propaganda is prone to self-destruction like a sand castle on a beach. Thus, the recent resignation of Maoist leaders from their posts should be seen as no more than an act of political propaganda resulting from an internal party feud over power. No one in Nepal can be said to be truly Marxist or Maoist. They are Marxist or Maoist only by propaganda.
Today, the greatest care must be taken to put an end to meaningless propaganda. A crystal clear vision for the future, backed by public opinion and a thorough understanding of governmental procedures, must ensure that the national will is reflected in the great task ahead. People of Nepal must not be subjected to political propaganda any more. It is time for the politicians of all parties to say what they mean and to mean what they say.