Once staunch anti-imperialists, the Maoists are now singing a different tune in Nepal

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - Since their merger with the UML, the former Maoists have all but abandoned their once vociferous vilification of India and the US.

For the Maoists, India was once an expansionist force and the United States an imperialist power. But times have changed.

Ever since the signing of the 2006 peace deal, which brought them into the mainstream, the Maoists have slowly but surely abandoned vilification of their once-sworn enemies, even visiting them time and again. But it was the Maoist party’s recent merger with the CPN-UML, which it had once denounced as a bourgeoise force, that seemingly put a firm nail in the coffin of those ideological rivalries.

But analysts and party members themselves do not see this change as an evolution of ideology but rather a result of political expediency and a sign that they’ve either fully adopted the democratic mainstream—or have been coopted by the UML.

“The Maoists have turned pragmatists,” said Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst who has followed Nepal’s leftist politics for decades. “Today’s Maoist leaders are no longer who they were during the war.”

The latest political document of the new Nepal Communist Party (NCP), formed after the Maoist-UML merger, does not even mention the name of the two countries, which would once appear on its every document.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, once the mysterious Prachanda, no longer employs the fiery rhetoric of yesteryear where he would denounce India and the United States for all of Nepal’s ills.

The Maoists had swept into power in 2008, during the first Constituent Assembly elections, riding on a wave of discontent against the other parties that were largely perceived to be subservient to foreign influence. Dahal’s government, however, collapsed in 2009 after ruling for barely eight months. The Maoist party then ratcheted up its rhetoric against India, but it didn’t work as envisioned. The Maoists lost the second Constituent Assembly elections in 2013. For chairman Dahal, it took seven years to return to power—again only for seven months.

By this time, the party had undergone several splits and it had lost much of its revolutionary and ideological fervour. In the years since, the party has been abandoned by ideologues Baburam Bhattarai and veteran communists Mohan Baidya and CP Gajurel. Baidya and Gajurel have gone on to form the Communist Party of Nepal Revolutionary Maoists while Bhattarai launched Naya Shakti Party, which a few months ago merged with the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum.

Back then, in 2012, Indra Mohan Sigdel, one of the leaders who had split with Dahal alongside Baidya, had accused Dahal of liquidating the party’s revolutionary character in an article published in the communist newspaper, The Worker.

“It was a surrender,” he had written.

Its identity as a revolutionary force was further subsumed under the parliamentary democratic process of the UML after the merger.

“Those who we call Maoists today know that they cannot take the risk of fighting against big powers,” said Mumaram Khanal, a Maoist leader turned political analyst. “The UML understood this fact long ago; the Maoists learned this later.”

The last time the Maoists, who are even referred to as ‘former Maoists’ after their merger with the UML, maintained a semblance of their old ways was in January. Dahal, now co-chairman of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, had issued a statement, denouncing the United States’ interference in Venezuela. After Dahal’s statement strained relations between Kathmandu and Washington, the government was forced to go on damage control.

“Dahal’s statement about Venezuela was impulsive. He only realised that after the reactions came and he began to rebuild relations with the US,” said Mani Thapa, a standing committee member.

Some Maoist leaders admit in private that it was that statement that set the tone for Dahal’s visit to the United States in March, ostensibly for his wife’s treatment. Dahal toured the very country that had once designated him a terrorist.

“There is no trace of Maoism left in these so-called Maoist leaders,” Gajurel told the Post. “They neither follow the philosophy of Maoists nor do they represent the political class. They have no relations with the proletariat for whom they’d vowed to fight.”

Gajurel said there are three primary reasons the former Maoists had changed.

“One, they’ve been co-opted by powerful countries,” he said. “Second, they want to become billionaires. And third, they are scared of being dragged to the Hague for war crimes.”

Even party leaders believe that Dahal and the senior leadership has realised that antagonising the major foreign powers will not bode well for them.

“Dahal has realised that mainstream politics is not possible without the support of India and other major power centres,” said Thapa.

Dahal has visited India dozens of times since 2006. In 2016, he even went to New Delhi on the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It’s this survival instinct that has driven the Maoists to change their radical stances, according to Shrestha, the political analyst.

“They have changed also because they want to attain power,” he said.

Maoist leaders, however, describe the change as “transformation.”

Yubaraj Chaulagain, a central committee member of the ruling party and secretary of the International Department of the former Maoist party, said that communist parties around the world have been gradually changing.

“We can also call it the influence of changes in society,” he said.

The UML, which used to face criticism for not being a communist party in essence, was considered a comparatively liberal force. According to Chaulagain, the decision to merge with the UML influenced the former Maoists. But he was quick to add that the Maoists still do not buy the line prescribed by powerful nations.

“We do not accept the neoliberalism that powerful countries prescribe,” said Chaulagain. “Nor do we believe in what traditional communists follow.”