Only a few years ago Nepal was regarded as a textbook example of a successful transition to a communist rule. With the peace agreement following the Maoist insurgency, a new constitution for a federal republic, and unification between the two largest communist blocks, Nepal appeared poised for a long era of communist rule. Though the communists of Nepal adopted a wide range of banners—Marxists, Leninists, Maoists—a new kind of communism was taking shape.
A few years later, and Nepal’s experiment with communism is now in a disarray. The marriage between the two largest communist blocks—the United Marxist Leninists and the Maoists Center—has disintegrated. Each group accuses the other of being capitalist bourgeois, which in communist lexicon is the worst possible curse you could hurl at fellow comrades.
So, what went wrong? How did communism in Nepal go from hot to ice cold in just a few short years?
First, perhaps there were too many heroes. From the outside at least, the disintegration of communists in Nepal looks like nothing more than personal squabbling. There is a reason, perhaps, that Marx, Lenin, and Mao didn’t all happily coexist in the same country at the same time. Similarly, maybe so many strands of communism—and so many egos—cannot coexist in Nepal.
Second, we are discovering that the peace agreement that ended the Maoist insurgency and ushered in a new constitution, wasn’t a peace agreement after all. It was a stalemate in which neither side won, and both sides claimed victory. A central principle of the peace agreement was to establish truth, reconciliation, and justice for conflict victims. Without that resolution, the peace agreement is meaningless and undermines the legitimacy of the constitution and the State.
Without truth, reconciliation, and justice for conflict victims, the stalemate is a constant source of strife among Nepali communists. It offers a basis for those who believe in continued struggle (armed or otherwise). For those who have entered the mainstream, it is an easy threat—at slight discord, there is an insinuation of a return to conflict. Others dangle the threat of reprisal against those in the conflict. In the process, the peace stalemate offers the communists of Nepal a bargaining chip that they can tug and pull for their purpose.
Third, and perhaps the most understated reason for the failure of communism in Nepal, is their taking to centralized planning and development without the capability to deliver on it. Once at the helm, Nepal’s communists changed from being “enablers” to “providers.” Maybe they felt, the only way they could address the unleashed aspirations of Nepalis was to develop, design and implement large projects that were centrally planned and led.
This is where the communists failed most spectacularly. Across time and different political regimes, Nepal has always lacked the systems, human resources, and financial capabilities to design, develop and deliver centrally-led development projects. Nepal’s greatest development successes have always come from decentralized community and local projects. Community forests, community schools, health, local infrastructure, or energy—Nepal’s potential lies in empowering local communities to take charge of their own destiny and enabling them to deliver on their own aspirations.
Once in power, however, the communists forgot the essence of their own strength—the fact that their uprising had been successful in part because they promised to empower local communities. They transformed from enablers to providers. Instead of forcing genuine decentralization that would enable locally-led development, the communists fell to the trap of promising larger, bigger, and even more ambitious projects from the center. Large projects got all the headlines, generated international financing, and fanned political egos but without the systems, capacity, and human and financial resources, these centrally-led projects simply failed in the same way that centrally-led project had failed under previous regimes.
The Nepal Communist Party’s electoral slogan of “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali” exhibits their transformation from enabler to provider. The slogan creates the perception, and the expectation, that the State alone can deliver a prosperous Nepal, and Nepalis will be beneficiaries of that prosperity. It is a good slogan for a lazy country.
A prosperous Nepal needs empowered Nepalis who can then take charge of their own destiny. For that, Nepal’s communists must return to their roots or drop the tag altogether.