Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The lone wolf

APR 02 - The peace process enters a crucial phase, with the extended Constituent Assembly’s term nearing an end. The role of the UCPN (Maoist)—especially the hard line faction—will be instrumental in deciding which way the process will go.

The hard line faction is led by none other than 64-year-old Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran’, mentor to many revolutionaries including party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal himself. It is Kiran who holds the key to whether Maoists will demonstrate further flexibility in the days to come. Vaidya—who is also the party’s Senior Vice Chairman and chief ideologue—takes pride in the “consistency” of his beliefs. Though—in typical Marxist-speak—he admits that too much of anything is dangerous, he has no doubt about his correct diagnosis of Nepal’s problems.

“I have never been in the minority,” says Vaidya, referring to the two-line struggle that is integral to any communist party.

“Many have come and gone over the last 50 years of my political career, but my line has always prevailed.”

Vaidya’s relationship with Dahal is key to understanding the Maoists’ fortunes. The two have had a complex love-hate relationship. Vaidya, cognizant of his limitations, sees Dahal as a vehicle for implementation of his ideologies. Dahal, meanwhile, finds him a useful ally in the battle for leadership against Baburam Bhattarai. At times the two have worked together, and at other instances, they have worked against each other. Though Vaidya has considerable influence within the party rank and file, the chairman and his men control the party and its frontal organisations. Vaidya admits that he doesn’t quite trust the Chairman, yet he says he doesn’t entirely distrust him. “Marxism calls for a healthy dose of scepticism in everything,” he says as if to justify the mistrust between the two as natural.

Vaidya maintains that his faith in the chairman never deterred even during the insurgency. “I have never had a problem working with or under a younger leader. In fact, I spotted Dahal’s talent very early on and paved the way for his eventual elevation as the party leader,” he says, referring to his 1986 resignation that made room for Dahal as CPN (Mashal)’s general secretary.

In the past, Vaidya had been full of praise for Dahal. In one interview, he said that no communist leader has been able to reach Dahal’s height because the chairman has unique abilities to “analyse the prevailing situation and accommodate disparate views.” But in recent years, he hasn’t concealed his disillusionment with Dahal’s tactics. If the party leadership goes against the aspirations of the people, Vaidya says, “that will be the end of it.”

A student of Nepali literature and philosophy, he may not exude much gravitas in public appearances, but in private meetings, he is known to be argumentative and persuasive. Besides other communist heavyweights, Mao’s successes in China and even failures have had a deep impact on him. He sees himself as the party’s conscience, and says that he is the one who is standing between the party’s revisionist ideals and fizzling out of its revolutionary dreams. He has a ready historical reference to back up his argument. “A Constituent Assembly isn’t something new. It was first raised by the Nepali Congress in the 1950s. The Congress leadership went soft, the king took advantage, and that subsequently led to miscarriage of the revolution,” he says, arguing that various previous uprisings such as those in the 1950s, 80s, and the 1990 movements all eventually amounted to nothing as leaders couldn’t stand firm at the height of the movement. “I don’t want people to go through repeated revolutions that shed considerable amount of blood for nothing,” he says. He appears determined to take the current ‘revolution’ to its climax—on the path of socialism.

Life’s travails have shaped and hardened Vaidya’s ideology over the decades. Born in a poor Brahmin family in Pyuthan, he saw both the pretence of the upper caste and poverty’s hardships firsthand. He had an inherent dislike of the discrimination the caste system meted out those on the ‘lower order.’ While studying in Janata Secondary school in Pyuthan, he became an active member of the Nepal Communist Party in 1964. As the then-royal regime began cracking down on communists, he fled to Dang, where he began teaching Nepali. He began leading the district committee of the party, and his association with communist leaders Mohan Bikram Singh, Nirmal Lama, and Manmohan Adhikari led to the formation of the party’s Central Committee (CC) in 1971. While on a trip to Pokhara as in-charge of the Western region, Vaidya was arrested and sent to Salyan in 1972. After spending nearly 18 months in prison, he was finally released in 1974. While he was still in prison, the party’s Fourth Convention took place and he was elected a CC member.

But Vaidya broke away in 1984 after differences with Singh became irreconcilable over what he calls Singh’s authoritarian style—one must note the irony as this is the charge Vaidya levels at Dahal today. He formed a new party, Communist Party of Nepal (Mashal). Vaidya became the general secretary of the new party at the Fifth Congress held in Gorakhpur, India. Among the CC members who were elected at the congress were current Maoist leaders like Dahal, Dev Gurung, and C.P. Gajurel.

In 1986, Mashal reformulated its ideology to include Maoism, and opposed the then-Panchayat elections. To subvert the electoral process, the party launched limited attacks on police posts in Kathmandu and vandalised a statue of king Tribhuvan, which became known as the Sector Incident. Vaidya says he didn’t have any prior information to the acts, and resigned from party leadership taking responsibility for the misadventures. Dahal was named general secretary the same year. As the uprising against the Panchayat regime peaked in 1990, CPN (Mashal) and Masal unified, and in 1991, they merged with the CPN (Fourth Convention) to form the Unity Centre, which would eventually launch the ‘People’s War’. Vaidya was arrested and put in jail in Siliguri during the insurgency while undergoing an eye surgery in 2003. “Our autocratic Panchayati jails were much better than jails in so-called democratic India,” he recounts, perhaps hinting at the reasons behind his hard-line stance against India.

At the Palungtar plenum last year, both Dahal and Vaidya declared India and its domestic ‘reactionary allies’ as principal contradictions of the “Nepali revolution”. They argued that India was hell-bent on preventing the Maoists from coming to power. In fact, Vaidya went a step further and proposed that the party should immediately start preparing for a revolt against India.

Of late, Vaidya and Bhattarai seem to have realised the source of Dahal’s power: control over frontal organisations, especially, trade unions which contribute most to the party coffers. This has resulted in a three-way split in some fronts, including the All Nepal Trade Union Federation. The internal schism manifested into clashes between the leaders of all three factions of ANTUF. The party was forced to disband the union, and though the rumours about the party’s imminent split have become vociferous, Vaidya scoffs at the suggestion that he would be the one to endanger it. A leader close to Dahal said a few months ago that Vaidya would split the party if he can secure the support of 5,000-7,000 Maoist combatants, and that Bhattarai would do the same if he can garner the support of 100 Maoist lawmakers. Vaidya dismisses such claims. “I have always been for the unity of the party,” he says, but not before adding that he can’t speak for others.

An ageing Vaidya sees himself and the party he has nurtured as the vanguard Nepal’s communist movement. As Maoists leaders get versed in the trappings of open politics, he maintains a lonely vigil against the “UML-isation” of the Maoists. Whether Vaidya can find a way to work with his chairman to conclude the peace process amid his fears and prejudices remains to be seen.

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