Mukunda Raj Kattel
On May 16, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) celebrated the 27th Madan-Ashrit Memorial Day. Co-chairs of the party issued a press statement paying tribute to late Madankumar Bhandari and Jeebaraj Ashrit, who were killed in a mysterious jeep accident 27 years ago. The press statement hailed Bhandari as the ‘propounder of the People’s Multiparty Democracy (PMD) as an original theory of Nepali revolution’, and Jeebaraj Ashrit ‘as an adept organiser.’ Two years after the merger of the erstwhile CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the CPN (Maoist Centre) into the CPN, the co-chairs, who represent the two streams in the CPN as it stands, remember the top leaders, as they internally struggle to settle what theoretical course to pursue and how to give the party a new lease of life. The PMD referenced above, was the “programme of Nepali revolution” adopted by the Fifth Congress of the CPN (UML) held in January/February 1993.
As the CPN was commemorating Madan Bhandari, his assertion that “In Nepal, Karl Marx Lives” was making rounds in the social media. The five-word statement was Bhandari’s response to the external world anxious about the political course Nepal was about to take in early 1990s. Two weeks after his election from two parliamentary seats in Kathmandu in May 1991, Bhandari was interviewed by Newsweek’s Michelle Litvin about the CPN (UML)’s programmes and priorities ahead.
Bhandari’s victory in the capital city was astonishing. Not only did he win from two constituencies, he also unseated an incumbent prime minister known for his commitments to Western liberal values. It was a time when the Western world was celebrating “the end of history,” the obsoleteness of Marxism symbolised by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bhandari led his party to prove that the celebration was premature. In Nepal, it was the beginning of the ‘history,’ not an end. Francis Fukuyama, who declared the end of history, should have been shocked to be proved wrong by Bhandari.
Bhandari was the rarest politician Nepal has ever seen. To him, politics was about the lives of the people. He would eschew political theories with no potency of resolving everyday problems. He would not allow classical dogmas to ensnare his conscience and shackle his pragmatic determination. “Theory should follow life and not the other way round” is his oft-quoted maxim. He would also decry empty talks with no tangible deeds.
Bhandari liberated Nepal’s Left movement from dogmatist elitism and brought it among the people for them to see, feel, challenge, refute or own it as they see fit. Had Bhandari failed, in the early 1990s, to dare his ideological opponents, both within his party and outside, and take the risk to put the Left movement under his leadership to the test, Nepal’s Left movement as a whole would be anything but what it is now. This is where the PMD comes in.
To me, the PMD is the theory of what Hal Draper calls as “socialism from below.” It enables the people at large – not just party leaders and activists – to participate in a competitive process of establishment and transformation of institutions – social, economic, political and cultural – through which to achieve the freedoms and liberties necessary to take charge of their own destiny. It is the ‘working class,’ to borrow from Marx, actively engaged in the ‘emancipation of their own’. In the context of the day, the ‘emancipation’ is the achievement of liberty, equality, brotherhood and democracy, which the French and American revolutions promised, but failed to deliver. This is what Marx dedicated his life to realise. The PMD takes these ideals as its goal and offers a number of principle-means to go about realising them, primarily the following four.
a. Competitive excellence is at PMD’s core. Political parties that win people’s trust and confidence based on their agenda of transformation form a government. At a periodic interval defined in the constitution, which sits atop all institutions as the supreme law of the land, the parties go to the people again and get them rechecked. A party’s political position is thus defined and redefined by the people through their free will. The principle of competitive excellence also applies in other areas of governance and operations.
b. Constructive conflict handing is another. Differences of all kinds in all issues on all fronts are respected and handled constructively. Everyone will have the freedom to differ from the government, political parties, party leaders, public and social institutions and authorities. This principle also comes into play in terms of socio-economic transformation, such as land reform and industrialisation, that may require taking the land away from landlords and having it redistributed. All this will be done peacefully and dialogically. Compensation will be paid where necessary. No force will be used unless authorised by a legally instituted and empowered entity.
c. Respect for pluralism and human rights is the third central component, which guarantees an open society, protects the country’s socio-cultural diversity, and preserves and develops marginalised communities, languages, literatures and cultures. Likewise, it guarantees all human rights, impliedly those recognised and protected by international human rights law.
d. Independent, non-aligned and mutually respectful foreign relations is central to PMD’s foreign policy. All unequal treaties and agreements entered into over history will be nullified, and new treaties established based on ‘Panchasheel.’
Twenty-seven years down the line, Nepal stands at the crossroads, with the CPN at the helm of the politics and governance. The nation is confronted with some crucial issues and challenges, some arising from the past and some recent ones. Two central elements of postconflict peacebuilding – transitional justice and socio-economic transformation – remain outstanding. An unthought-of crisis brought about by COVID-19 pandemic has tested the country’s nerve. A bullying neighbour has added to the crisis by encroaching upon Nepal’s territory thereby diverting the nation’s attention and limited resources, which would otherwise be fully concentrated on fighting the pandemic.
The undergirding principles of the PMD can come in handy for the CPN to rise to the occasion. The nation needs an unprecedented unity, which the CPN leadership must muster displaying Bhandari’s political sagacity and matter-of-fact leadership. This would be the best tribute to Bhandari the party could offer.
(A PhD on human rights and peace, Kattel is a human rights professional who writes on political and social issues.)