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Communist unity: hopes, apprehensions and competition

KATHMANDU: In my email inbox, there was a terse item from a correspondent mulling whether – upon the amalgamation of the UML and Maoist Centre into the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) – Nepal has become a South Asian ‘North Korea.’
Though I found that notion simplistic, it did get me recalling a bunch of other comments in that regard, not least extravagant ones by the head honchos of the erstwhile UML and the Maoist Centre: K.P. Sharma Oli and Prachanda.
Prime Minister Oli claimed that unification had laid a firm foundation for national development and prosperity, while Prachanda waxed eloquent, claiming that it would assist in the fulfillment of the responsibility bestowed on the Nepali Communists by history!
On the face of it, such stratospheric rhetoric seems justified. Given the CPN’s brute majority in parliament and firm grip on power in six of the country’s seven provinces – not to mention the emasculation of the Nepali Congress (NC) and other bit parties – it is not a stretch to assume that political stability will henceforth be the order of the day.
Yet, one cannot just dismiss the rumbling of discontent and disquiet emanating from non-Left forces, a sampling of which is Kathmandu Post’s apprehension that unification might “come at the cost of other parties and civil society.”
Here, Communication Minister G.P. Banskota’s call for a “disciplined” press is downright unsettling: if CPN swears by democracy, it should realize that the right of dissent and an untrammeled press are its hallmarks.
In any event, one can hardly dismiss the blighted history of Nepal’s plethora of Communist parties; that splits, fissures and factionalism were seemingly inherent in the their DNA; and, significantly, that Communism has died in the land of its birth, the Soviet Union, while it languishes in a few isolated pockets where it survives.
Besides, it is difficult to believe that the merger of two markedly different strains of Communism – one comfortable in a multi-party setting and the other born in the crucible of violence, belief in the gospel of single-party rule and aided by generous external support – can stand the rigorous test of time.
While we will have to wait and see whether, or how long, the now much-trumpeted unity will last or prosper it will be salutary to remember that North Korea (and China) are single-party states, the former dictatorial in the extreme and the other an authoritarian one which, although governed by the Communist party, is only nominally ideologically-driven, basically pragmatic, and increasingly ‘Chinese’ or nationalistic in outlook, where a spectacular market economy flourishes.
As far as I can make out, the unity achieved between UML and MC is non-ideological and based on the simple, but compelling, logic of power and position, though this is hotly disputed by its apparatchiks.
One can but speculate if the timing of the unity move – after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent controversial visit – is meaningful. After all, one recalls Indian media and scholars close to Modi’s BJP party, in their outpourings before Modi’s Nepal voyage, making a distinction between ‘pro-China’ Oli and ‘India-friendly’ Prachanda.

Another picture of the political topography emerges on scrutinizing Chinese and Indian responses. Though there has been no official Indian reaction, India’s establishment news agency, PTI, disseminated the report that “the advent of Nepalese Communist parties coming to power has broadened China’s political influence in Nepal while Beijing consolidates its presence with big investments and infrastructure projects affecting India’s close ties with Nepal.”
Likewise, it has been brought to one’s notice that other Indian news outlets have commented on the unity of the Communist parties in Nepal “ahead of Oli’s visit to China.” Meanwhile, as per reports in the Times of India, analysts have been quoted as saying that the “unification would have regional implications as giants China and India jostle for influence with aid and investment in infrastructure like roads and hydroelectric power plants.”
Interestingly, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, commenting on the unity move, said: “As a good neighbour and friend of Nepal, China supports Nepal’s independent choice for the social system and development path that suits its own national conditions and we welcome the merging of the two parties.”
Lu went on to add: “We also wish that they can achieve national developmental goals at an early date. We are willing to continue our mutual beneficial cooperation for benefit of both the countries and peoples.”
To be noted: No mention has been made to Nepal’s “Communist” parties; that the merger has been welcomed – in the context of national development and mutually beneficial cooperation between Nepal and China.
At this point is behooves me to ask: will India, which helped in the birth, nurturing, guidance and arming of the Maoist movement in Nepal and whose prime exemplar is Prachanda, take such a humiliating political “loss” in Nepal lying down?
How, in particular, does Modi and his cohorts feel about the fact that this putative “gain” for China – in Indian’s eyes – was timed after the Indian Prime Minister’s supposed brilliantly successful two-day visit to Nepal? Was he deliberately kept in the dark?
While that tantalizing query, too, will only be answered by the passage of time, I wish to bring to this column’s attention that, as per Hong Kong’s South China Post, a $60 billion gold mine project in Tibet near Arunachal Pradesh – which China claims as southern Tibet – could become a new flashpoint with India.
To round it off, here’s what a Beijing Review article has to say about Modi’s palavers at Wuhan with President Xi Jinping: “This is Modi’s fourth visit to China since becoming prime minister in 2014. He is due to return to China in June…It is unusual for Modi to visit China twice in such a short time span…According to diplomatic conventions, the Chinese president should have paid a return visit to India first…”

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