Dr Baburam Bhattarai (BRB) has two contrasting images in Nepali politics and public perception: a) a highly educated and intelligent political leader with a progressive vision for a prosperous Nepal; and b) a dour and dogmatic Maoist ideologue who master-minded a needless civil war that derailed Nepal’s nascent democracy and development. There are elements of truth in both these characterizations.
Currently, Bhattarai is leading a campaign to create a Naya Shakti in Nepali politics that seeks to put rapid and equitable economic growth at its core. He argues that having promulgated a broadly progressive national constitution in 2015 that institutionalizes a federal, republican democracy in the country, Nepal has now basically completed the required political revolution and it is time to move on to economic revolution.
Right message, wrong messenger
Most Nepalis are so tired of endless political turmoil and transition that they would heartily agree with BRB’s message that the time has indeed come for us to focus on economic development. However, many Nepalis harbor deep suspicion about whether BRB can be trusted as a genuine messiah of progressive development given his past record of being the principal architect of a fratricidal civil war, promoter of revolutionary violence, and destroyer of Nepal’s nascent democratic institutions and development infrastructure in the name of so-called “people’s war”.
Nepalis are by nature a compassionate and forgiving people. They tend to give considerable benefit of doubt to their compatriots—even for their rivals and sworn enemies—with much blood and blemish in their hands. Given BRB’s enigmatic split personality, and the many contradictory messages he has given over the years, he needs to come clean and perform certain public penance before most Nepalis embrace his new incarnation as a respected leader of a progressive “New Force”.
The following is a short list of some of the confessions and commitments BRB needs to make to be accepted as a leader of a Naya Shakti for Nepal’s economic prosperity and social progress within a democratic polity. First, he must publicly apologize to the Nepali people—without any ifs and buts—for misleading them into a fratricidal civil war that glorified revolutionary violence; led to the death of 17,000 people; enticed tens of thousands of children to drop out of “bourgeois schools”; fomented ethnic and communal discord; and derailed a newly emerging multi-party democracy and economic development by several decades.
Second, BRB must unequivocally renounce the use of violence to achieve political objectives. Third, he must commit to focus on reform and reconstruction rather than destruction of existing institutions under the guise of “kramabhangata” (defiance and disruption of democratically enacted rules, regulations and institutions). Finally, he must commit to support and cooperate with a genuine Truth and Reconciliation Commission following broadly agreed international norms and standards, and if necessary, submit himself and his cohorts to its verdict.
BRB and his sympathisers are likely to protest that the above call for his penance ignores some of the positive changes brought about by the Maoist movement in Nepal. Indeed, I would acknowledge that the Maoists helped heighten awareness about issues of deeply entrenched inequity, injustice, discrimination and exploitation in Nepali society. However, the solutions they championed were mostly arbitrary, coercive, divisive, violent and undemocratic. These involved the use of kangaroo courts, physical threats, and even elimination of opponents or those who disagreed with the Maoist diktat. The changes they advocated were largely negative—glorification of violence, inciting people to destroy democratic institutions, fomenting communal discord, disrupting children’s education—all in pursuit of a globally failed and discredited ideology.
Perhaps many new-comers to Nepal in the international community and even some of Nepal’s youth with faded memory of the Maoist mayhem might find the call for BRB’s penance rather harsh and unreasonable considering how lucidly BRB articulates his views and agenda for building a prosperous Nepal in a seemingly thoughtful, mature and balanced manner. But he must apologize for the wrongs of the past.
Inspiring and admirable as they are, BRB’s seemingly enlightened vision and agenda today cannot be viewed without referring to his dubious past track record which smacks of a seriously flawed split personality that evokes both admiration and contempt. Above all, it raises the question of who BRB really is and what convictions guide his actions.
In judging BRB’s recent pragmatic proposals for a “New Force” focused on economic prosperity, one might be tempted to forget and forgive him for his past follies and flawed policies, and give him the benefit of doubt that he is now a changed and reformed leader chastened by his mistakes and misadventures. After all, human beings can change, and wise people are prepared to make course corrections. Regrettably, BRB’s recent track record does not allow us to give him such benefit of doubt as he shows no humility, nor any remorse for the death, destruction and damage that his fratricidal “people’s war” brought upon Nepal. BRB continues to be adamantly self-righteous, asking us to judge his positions in “historical context”.
Such is his fascination with his deep understanding of “historical contexts” that he is one of the very few intelligent people in the world today who still denies that the Khmer Rouge committed barbaric genocide against their own people, and condones it as a product of historical circumstances.
BRB has publicly abandoned the Maoist party, but he hedges when asked if he has also abandoned the Maoist ideology. It is instructive to note that as recently as in 2009, BRB gave an interview to a radical British Maoist outfit, World People’s Resistance Movement in which he made it clear that the Maoist advocacy of the Constituent Assembly, abolition of monarchy and establishment of a bourgeois democratic republic were all carefully calculated tactics as integral part of their strategy of “Protracted People’s War” with the ultimate objective of capturing all state power (http://bit.ly/1GpNz9g).
BRB asked his international comrades not to be confused or to misunderstand the Maoists’ tactics which were deliberately intended to mislead other bourgeois parties. He clarified that his party participated in a coalition government, so it could infiltrate the bureaucracy, the army, the police and the judiciary in order to build its support base within those state structures to help mount a final insurrection to capture state power.
It should be noted that BRB said this in October 2009, not in the middle of a guerilla warfare, but long after his party had signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord; participated in elections to the first Constituent Assembly, led the government in 2008-09; and was playing a leading role in drafting a new Constitution.
If a man who could give such deceitful interview to one group of his followers while at the same time as an elected member of parliament and Minister of Finance he was telling the World Bank, IMF and the international donor community that his true convictions were identical to those of a Scandinavian social democrat—which BRB are we to believe in?
By Kul Chandra Gautam