18 December 2014 KATHMANDU – Long battling for the power share and being on top of other carders, Communist Party of Nepal Maoist are in hot debate about their supreme commander.
At this time as UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal presented a document at the party’s Central Committee meeting on Sunday. Many see it as the beginning of the leadership handover to his deputy Baburam Bhattarai.
Still, the party is yet to come up with a timeline and political blueprint about when and how the transfer of leadership would be handled. Dahal has held the party leadership for more than two decades.
Though Bhattarai has long harboured leadership ambitions, it is the first time that he has vocalised them, a point not lost on Dahal.
Dahal has proposed holding the party’s general convention in early 2016, and because the convention is the only time when such shifts can occur, that is when the change of guard could take place.
Dahal’s document presented on Sunday states that his leadership will continue until the general convention elects the new one. Dahal has agreed ‘in principle’ with Bhattarai’s position that there should not be a monopoly over the party leadership and that a system should be put in place to develop a new generation of leaders.
Still, it might be a long drawn process.
Leader Haribol Gajurel said the transition will materialise once a roadmap is first formulated, the details worked out–and the process has to begin. Then there is also a school of thought that if the party is to move on, why go back to Bhattarai and not to a younger leader.
Dahal has hinted time and again that the leadership transfer might be coming. During the general convention held in Biratnagar early this year, he said this would be his last term as the chairman and that he was anxious to hand over the party reins to a new-generation leader.
Both Dahal and Bhattarai agree that there should be periodic changes of leadership. They also advocate that the top leaders should be given ‘respectable roles’ in the party after they retire.
According to Gajurel, some second-rung leaders are not against Bhattarai leading the party but it will take time to prepare the ground. According to leaders from both Dahal and Bhattarai factions, one way to go about it would be to ‘harmonise the ideologies’ of the two top leaders.
“Bhattarai’s leadership would be acceptable among the party rank and file only after an ideology binds the two,” said a leader close to Bhattarai. The party plans to hold a nationwide debate on both the leadership and the ideology.
The party has seen transformations over the years. After the second national convention in 2001, it decided to adopt Prachandapath as the guiding principle. But since the party’s Chunwang meeting in 2005, it has thrown its weight behind the peace process and the promulgating of a new constitution. And since then, Bhattarai, who has called for a collective leadership and periodic changes at the top, started upping the ante against the party’s “Stalin-style leadership”.
Bhattarai supporters say Dahal has agreed to address their outstanding demand for leadership change.
“Because Dahal himself has now discussed the issue, we have taken it positively,” said Devendra Poudel, who was the political adviser to Bhattarai when he was the PM.
It will not be an easy road for Bhattarai though. Dahal has a strong grip on the party structure, and his loyalists are more than likely to object to the proposal to elevate Bhattarai. Bhattarai has often had to face non-cooperation and suspicion from his comrades, both when they were underground and later when they started participating in open politics.
Many label him as “pro-Indian”. Some blame him for the defection of a largenumber of central leaders under Mohan Baidya two years ago.
Now that the Baidya group could come back into the party fold, Bhattarai’s ascent could be that much more difficult. Some even say Dahal’s proposal for leadership change could merely be a tactic to consolidate the party to address criticism from the Bhattarai faction.
Last November, after the election debacle, Bhattarai had publicly questioned Dahal’s leadership, when the UCPN (Maoist) suffered an unexpected loss in the second Constituent Assembly polls. Dahal had argued that the election results were a collective failure of the party leadership, and not just his alone.