Amidst the dwindling electoral strength, five Nepali communist parties are bracing to form the Socialist Front as a part of their survival strategy in national politics. Three parties from ruling coalition and two outside it have prepared a common document to create the Front. The move comes as the old parties are suffering credibility crisis, with the young masses switching to the new political forces. The formation of Front is motivated by the need to secure the future of top leaders as well as the parties. The would-be Front seeks to play a decisive role in the federal parliament and the government. It can have its political leverage as no party holds majority to form the government on its own.
CPN-Maoist Centre, Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), CPN-Unified Socialist, CPN-(Biplav) of Netra Bikram Chand and CPN Unity Campaign of Bamdev Gautam are set to be the parts of the Front. Nepal Socialist Party (NSP), led by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, is also a potential constituent of the Front but its induction is yet to be determined. However, the CPN-UML, the largest communist party and the second largest in the parliament, is not in the Front. Likewise, there are several other smaller communist groups that will remain outside it. Nepali communists are known for their fissiparous nature and are driven more by the elements of differences than that of unity. So the idea of building new communist bloc is greeted with enthusiasm and thrill in their rank and file.
As the news reports go by, Krishna Bahadur Mahara of Maoist Centre, Rajendra Shrestha of JSP and Pramesh Hamal of Unified Socialist have already drafted the manifesto that lays theoretical ground for the formation of the Front. The parties committed to federalism, republican set-up, secularism, inclusion and Loktantra are affiliated to it. They insist they follow and implement socialism with Nepali characteristics based on the federal system. The parties have agreed to lead the Front under the collective leadership and it will be headed by the chiefs of respective parties on a rotation basis. Gautam has even proposed forming a single party and contest elections on a common poll symbol in the upcoming elections. They also have a long-term plan of unifying the parties if things move as planned.
If the parties announce the Front, it will emerge as the third decisive force in the parliament with 54 seats. The Maoist Centre has 31 lawmakers, JSP 12 and Unified Socialist 10. With 89 lawmakers, Nepali Congress is the largest party in the House of Representatives (HoR) followed by the UML (79). Owing to the hung parliament, the Maoist Centre is leading the coalition government with the backing of NC, JSP and Unified Socialist. It will be difficult for the NC and UML to bypass the Front in case the country is forced to reel from the government instability.
The idea of forming the Socialist Front surfaced prior to the November 20 elections after a verdict of Supreme Court dissolved the NCP, splitting it into at least four factions. Despite several rounds of talks between the top leaders, the Front did not come into existence. NSP leader Dr. Bhattarai had first floated the concept of the front when he was crossing swords with JSP chief Upendra Yadav. But ironically, his participation in the Front is now uncertain as Yadav is against inducting him into it. The relationship between Yadav and Dr. Bhattarai had reached lowest ebb when the latter led a faction to split JSP. Maoist Centre chair and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda now does not want to exclude Yadav who still calls the shots in Terai politics. Neither did he want to kick Dr. Bhattarai out of the Front.
All these parties that are pitching for the creation of the Front are undergoing existential crisis. They have challenge to prove their relevance in the wake of the rise of new party like Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) and revival of anti-federalist and pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP). Once the largest political force, the Maoist Centre continues to lose its popular base in successive elections. This time, it managed to lead the government by dint of smart political manoeuvrings. JSP is also facing a threat from new Madhes-based parties like Janamat Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party. Unified Socialist that failed to be a national party in the last polls is struggling to justify the split from UML and expand the organisational networks. The same applies to the splinters led by Dr. Bhattarai, Gautam and Biplav.
Prachanda is even talking about reviving the dissolved CPN which looks like infeasible at the moment. No doubt, the creation of the Front will boost his bargaining power to deal with the NC and UML in case new political equation emerges. It may also serve as elixir to other smaller constituents if it functions in line with the proposed manifesto. Given the current composition of parliament, the rise of a strong political bloc is propitious for stability and development. But, owing to their failure to live up to the electoral mandate, the communist parties are losing supporters in the elections. Factional feuds, personality clashes, incessant mudslinging and eventual splits have not only weakened them but also triggered their legitimacy crisis.
The writing is on the wall for the UML, too. Following the lacklustre performance in the three-tier polls, the UML cadres have become frustrated with the leadership. The impact of split has been felt across the country. A news report mentions that the number of party cadres to renew and receive new membership has declined by 60 per cent. During its 10th convention two years ago, it had 789,620 members. But now only around 350,000 have renewed their membership under its ‘Mission Grassroots’ campaign that concluded recently. This shows the growing number of cadres have distaste for the authoritarian tendency of the leadership.
(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)