United we stand

The unification of the Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninists and the Communist Party of Nepal Maoist-Centre to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) took a roller-coaster eight months, but finally happened last week. The announcement has been accompanied by metaphors and hyperbole — as if we were witnessing the merger acquisition of two multinational banks, not two parties that believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Some commentators have called the new entity the most powerful Communist Party in the world, without specifying the scale of measurement. They talk about it as if the NCP is as monolithic as the Communist Party of China. The co-chairs of the merged party, K P Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, have compared each other to ‘captain and co-pilot’ of a jet, or as atoms of ‘hydrogen’ and ‘oxygen’. We are left guessing who is flying the plane, and who is the first officer. Or which one is the explosive hydrogen gas, and who the oxygen in this new water molecule.

Nepal may now well be politically stable, but accountability is a mirage and prosperity seems to pertain only to rent-seekers in office. Ahead of the budget, the government’s presentation to Parliament of its policies and programs is mostly old wine in an old bottle: we are told Nepalis will soon be twice as rich as the country graduates to middle-income status by 2030, generates 15,000MW of power within a decade, doubles harvests in five years and ends overseas migration.

It is all right to dream, but targets have to be realistic. Reaching all the goals listed in President Bhandari’s speech to Parliament on Monday are predicated on transparency, better governance and delivery. These need a structural overhaul of the state system, and no one seems to be talking about that.

The unified party may have shared a Communist past, but in thought, principles and behaviour they could not have been further apart. What may make the merger work is that the NCP now has one common ideology: crony capitalism.

Much as we would like to give the benefit of doubt to the neo-Communists, and wish the merger well for the sake of long-suffering Nepalis, there is reason to be skeptical. The government and the party that now leads it is off to a rather slow start.

Bal Krishna Dhungel, an ex-Maoist MP convicted of murdering Ujjain Kumar Shrestha in Okhaldhunga during the insurgency, after his release from the Central Prison. Dhungel has been granted presidential pardon on Republic Day. Pic: Khila Bahadur Bhandari

All we have heard so far are promises and more promises: making Nepal “like heaven” in ten years, bullet trains whizzing through tunnels to Kathmandu from south and north, international airports galore.

Meanwhile, the Ring Road in Balkhu is a muddy quagmire where the only Great Leap Forward is what pedestrians have to take to avoid large puddles. After much hullaballoo over cracking down on bus syndicates, an Oli-loyalist minister has sacked the Director General from the Department of Transportation who was trying to get bus route permits out of the clutches of the mafia.

One year after elected mayors and village chiefs took over, and nearly six months after the provinces got their own elected leaders, the devolution process is going nowhere very fast. Kathmandu municipality seems to be comatose, Lalitpur’s mayor is everywhere but nowhere, and in many rural municipalities elected contractors are awarding lucrative infrastructure projects to themselves, and plundering natural resources.

The UML and the CPN-MC came together out of necessity.

The UML was tired of being a junior partner in unstable coalitions because of its fragmented vote bank. The Maoists had disintegrated into little pieces, and Chairman Dahal needed to secure his own political future. He also wanted to wash his hands of the blood he helped spill during the war by leaving no trace of his Maoist party.

The loser in this game will be the survivors and families of victims of war crimes and human rights violations as we report in this issue (page 1,11). Reports that Bal Krishna Dhungel, accused in a war-era murder in Okhaldhunga, is getting a presidential pardon on Republic Day next week presages even more serious attempts to evade truth, justice and reparations. The groundwork has already been laid by weakening the mandates of the Commission on Enforced Disappearances and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The unified party, as well as the opposition NC and the security forces, are united in this attempt to let bygones be bygones. The people’s apathy and their lack of confidence that politicians and warriors will ever face up to their crimes, helps the perpetrators.

Meanwhile, the families of more than 1,400 disappeared Nepalis still do not have closure. Relatives of the dead and wounded are still struggling.

The ghosts of the dead will continue to haunt the NCP as long as it does not confront its violent past, and make amends.