Is the left alliance really to be dreaded? Or is it just that the Nepali Congress and its leaders are scared of it?
--BY SHANT SHARMA
If the left alliance secures a two-thirds (or even simple) majority and forms the government, it will be the doomsday scenario for Nepal. They will turn Nepal into North Korea. Our economy will collapse. Freedom of expression will be curtailed. We won’t even be able to ‘cry.’ The private business sector will suffer the most. The left alliance is the biggest threat to democracy and the country and the Nepali Congress (NC) is the only protector of the same. Therefore, the left alliance comprising the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Center) must be defeated.
So the NC and its leaders want us to believe. And their supporters - from monarchists to democrats to everyone in between, including intellectuals - are singing this ‘alarm’ note in chorus. In its election manifesto, the NC has officially termed CPN-UML “a hindrance to national unity and prosperity.”
The left alliance, on the other hand, calls NC a party which sees all others as “extremists” and “anti-democratic.” It has also claimed that the NC has been a "non-performer". Election manifestos are usually the books of promises never to be kept. But this time around the manifestoes of these parties show how angry they are with each other.
Is the left alliance really to be dreaded? Or is it just that the NC and its leaders are scared of it?
Perhaps, it’s more the latter. But wiser Nepali voters must have understood the exchange of accusations for what it is: a cheap election strategy.
First, the left alliance is unlikely to win the two-thirds majority so as to be able to change the fundamental characteristics of the constitution and establish a directly elected presidential system with ‘totalitarian characteristics.’ Due to the post-1990 period of political upheavals, now democracy runs in the blood of the Nepali people. They will not accept a ruler who does not allow periodic elections and puts the country’s future at risk. The Maoist party itself is an example. Since they boycotted the election in 2013, factions led by Mohan Baidya and Netra Bikram Chand have become irrelevant. Some from these factions have returned to the mother party now to contest the elections.
Nepali Congress projects communists as an ‘anti-democratic’ force to build up on its image of being the only bulwark of democracy. Historically, however, communists and Congress have formed coalition governments and worked together on various issues, including the writing of the current constitution.
Communist leaders Pushpa Lal Shrestha and Manamohan Adhikari were together with BP Koirala during the anti-Rana movement. Congress and communists fought together against the Panchayat in 1990 and overthrew the regime and stood together again in 2006 to overthrow the monarchy. Nepali communists (except for the aberration of the Maoist party) have been part of parliamentary democracy. Yes, they take up arms and vow to establish ‘communist rule’ but at the end they have always accepted democracy. Then who is the danger to Nepali democracy? Congress would have us believe it is communists. History says otherwise.
Nepali Congress won the 1991 parliament election with comfortable majorities (winning 110 seats out of 205). Girija Prasad Koirala dissolved parliament in 1994. Nepal’s journey towards unstable politics began from this point. UML emerged as a larger force in 1994 partly because of the ‘mishandling’ of democracy by Congress. In other words, communists became popular in Nepal out of the unpopularity of Congress.
The same Congress (under the premiership of Sher Bahadur Deuba) dissolved parliament in 2002 and submitted democracy to the then royal palace. Deuba, instead of extending the terms of elected local bodies, which had been serving as the local democratic institutions, dissolved them all in 2002, causing a vacuum in local governance for nearly 20 years until this year.
So it reeks of hypocrisy when Deuba and his followers say the source of the threat to democracy lies in the communist camp.
Nepali communists invoke fiery communist rhetoric, make lofty claims and show outlandish ambitions to prove themselves more ‘revolutionary’ than the democrats. But they have ultimately joined the democratic bandwagon and accepted to play by the rulebook of democracy. Nepali Congress, on the other hand, projects itself as the only defender of democracy but fails to safeguard it during the hard times.
Nepali communists, CPN-UML in particular, acted in no different way than Congress ever since these two forces have come in the mainstream. Perhaps the only time when UML departed from Congress on crucial national issues was during the 2015/16 blockade. While Congress top leadership minced words or even declined from calling the blockade by its proper name, K P Sharma Oli and the entire UML opposed it in the strongest terms.
Otherwise, when in power Nepali communists have accepted the economic model Congress introduced in the 1990s. Congress prides itself on this model. When the UML and Maoist Center came to power, they did not even try to change this model, even though it encouraged job-starved Nepali youths to fly to the Middle East and the Gulf. Communists only tired to distribute largesse in the name of social security, ignoring the state's capacity to sustain such largesse.
Public health and education institutions are in disarray and nobody cares to fix them today. Syndicates rule. Perversion has become the new norm in politics. Goons, mafias and smugglers are dominant in every party. Today, we have gangsters preaching to us about democracy and socialism!
The only way Congress can distinguish itself is by projecting communists as criminals, anti-democratic, anti-development rascals. Congress leaders have been playing with this rhetoric now. And the only way in which communists can distinguish themselves is by saying Congress are regressive and anti-socialist. This travesty of acrimony will go on for many months to come. When all values are sacrificed political parties resort to lies and acrimonies, for they know it sometimes works.
Those who claim themselves to be democrats should make it clear how their policies on health, education and social security and income distribution will be different from that of communists. They should declare which class of people they intend to primarily serve. It is as much necessary for the so-called socialists to tell us where they stand on these issues and how their policies will benefit people more. Then people will start voting based on those policies.
On their part, the communists should remove the ‘communist’ tag from their names because they will never be able to establish a communist rule in Nepal. Social democracy or democratic socialism is what they will have to adopt ultimately. This will save them from the burden of having to prove both socialist and communist credentials