As the decade of the 1980's was coming to a close, countries that were ruled by the communist parties started falling apart. Many thinkers reiterated that the communist ideology had become obsolete and Marxism as a doctrine had failed. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of communist governments across the Eastern Europe and communism-inspired governments in Africa and Latin America further strengthened the conviction of right-wing politicians and thinkers that Marxism was never a viable alternative to liberal capitalism.
Even in such difficult circumstances, Madan Bhandari, despite being an outright Marxist, was winning popular support in Nepal. He not only carried the torch of Marxism in Nepal, but also applied Marxism to Nepal's context; propounding his own indigenous theory of People's Multiparty Democracy (PMD). His theory not only helped his party the then CPN (UML) to become one of the leading political forces of the country, but his ideals and beliefs have also shaped the modern mainstream politics of Nepal.
Madan Bhandari started his political life in 1972 after becoming a central committee member of the Janabadi Sanskritik Morcha, a student movement established by founding general secretary of Nepal Communist Party, Pushpa Lal Shrestha. During those days, the country was under the autocratic Panchayat regime. The absolute monarchy had curtailed the fundamental rights of the people and the freedom of expression and assembly were forbidden by the constitution that was imposed after dissolving an elected government a decade ago. Seeing the injustices caused to the common Nepali people under the despotic regime, Bhandari initiated his political journey with the objective of establishing a socialist state that would ensure freedom and social justice to all citizens.
When multiparty democracy was reinstated in the country in 1990, Bhandari continued his struggle for a free and fair society. Seeing that only an update and pragmatic version of Marxism that suited the Nepali context would liberate the mass from backwardness and exploitation, Bhandari propounded the People's Multiparty Democracy. Bhandari had witnessed the fall of the communist regimes across the world and had been critical of disregard for freedom and human rights under some of those regimes. Hence, he added the provisions of freedom and democracy to the Marxian notion of egalitarianism to develop People's Multiparty Democracy.
Bhandari's popularity and the comprehensibility of his ideas made erstwhile UML the second largest party in first parliamentary elections in 1991. Bhandari was also pivotal in transforming a cadre-based communist party into a mass-based one. He died in a tragic yet mysterious car accident in 1993 but the party emerged the largest force in the general election of 1994. Despite his physical absence, the public endorsed his policies making the then UML as the ruling party of the country. Guided by his vision enshrined in PMD theory, the 9-month-old UML-led government became one of the country's most popular dispensations governments. The UML continued to maintain its position as the strongest communist party in Nepal for several years even after his death.
Madan Bhandari has been revered as the "People's Leader", mainly for his incorruptible image and his strong oratory skills that attracted hundreds of thousands of people. Bhandari's People's Multiparty Democracy was also the guiding force behind the formation of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. His contribution for the transforming a communist party into a popular mass-based democratic one is significant because it reinvigorated the communist movement when it was on the defensive. The PMD stresses pluralism, separation of powers, secularism, periodic elections, human rights, socialism-oriented economy and national sovereignty, which are now the salient features of the Constitution of Nepal promulgated by elected Constituent Assembly in 2015.
Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which was formed after the merging of the two largest communist parties - erstwhile UML and CPN - Maoist Centre, has also embraced People's Multiparty Democracy as one of its guiding principle. For many political analysts, Bhandari was ahead of his time. The concepts of secularism and social welfare state, which he had raised vigorously, were incorporated in the new constitution decades after his demise. Many of Bhandari’s original ideas laid the foundation of the Janandolan-II in 2006. He had registered points of disagreements over the constitution of 1990. They reflect the aspiration of Nepalis for a pluralistic society based on equality, justice, democracy, and rule of law. The ruling NCP commands overwhelming majority in the present Federal Parliament. It had also formed governments in 6 out of 7 states. It is, therefore, high time the party and government followed the path shown by late Bhandari to build a prosperous and egalitarian society.
(Ghimire is a news editor at Radio Nepal)