Party of the Confused


In the first week of September, media houses got an invitation from the Valley Coordination Committee of the CPN-UML (Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist). When the media rushed to the party office, it learnt that the press meet was organized to raise objections to the use of Buddha’s image on shoes manufactured by an American company, Icon.

The party demanded to ban such products in the market, and said that Buddha’s image was used on the shoes with malicious intention to disrespect the contribution and philosophy of Lord Buddha.

Nothing wrong with that…

In fact, Tibetan and Buddhist community across the world have been outraged at the California-based company for promoting a range of shoes with the Buddha’s images. Hordes of people wrote to the company, to express their disgust. They flooded the company’s Facebook page with protest notes, to express their anger and demand that the range be taken off the catalogue of the company. Based in Palm Desert, California, ICON was launched in 1999 by a Hollywood filmmaker and art collector. Most people protesting were outraged that the brand was for art lovers and how could art make mockery of a faith that is followed by millions across the world.

Nothing wrong with that, either…

But it is surprising that the party, which is considered one of the top three in Nepal, chose Nepali media to express its anger. Now that incident shows party’s confusion, and misplaced sense of priority. This is a party, like other major ones in the country, is in turmoil. This is a party facing a huge split, for not being able to include the voices for the historically marginalized people.
It is no secret that some disgruntled Janajati and Madhesi leaders of CPN-UML have started laying groundwork to form a new party. These leaders say that establishing the new party would be an effort to ensure federal socialism in the country. It is not unknown that the party’s establishment faction (it is fair to term it so, because of apparent chink which is only too visible) has remained apathetic to the demands made by these leaders. The response given by the establishment faction – which came after a lot of delay and neglect – has failed to convince the disgruntled voices.

Some of the leaders have now started saying that they are discussing the party statute. UML Central Committee member Ajambar Rai Kangmang was quoted in Nepali media, saying, “We have been discussing the content of the manifesto of the new party, its statute, and political ideology. The party will be announced by the end of this month”. Now that tells you that it’s not merely a chink, but almost a vertical split visible.

One has to remember that these leaders shunned the meet with party secretariat, at the end of last month, saying it was not the right body to decide on their concerns. The entire group felt humiliated at the party leadership’s reluctance to meet and discuss with them. These leaders said, they’d rather talk to party standing committee.
Now the observation is that this party, one of the oldest in Nepal, has been either neglecting or intentionally keeping these leaders at bay. And for this, the leadership does not have a clear answer. The top brass perhaps fears that the dissatisfaction would be too difficult for them to handle. This is clear also because the way these leaders have been treated, with party leadership not ready to talk eye-to-eye. To a common man, the question would be: what’s wrong in talking? The 9-point demand, which also includes provinces based on single identity, can be debated while pointing out both its pros and cons. That’s the beauty of democracy, where opposing views can sit together to discuss and find a way out. But shunning an entire section completely cannot be called democratic. This party – which does not give opportunity to others to express their views – gets hurt when any faith is insulted (refer to opposition to Buddha’s image on shoes).

Now that is exactly why yours truly would like to question the motive of press conference to protest Buddha’s image on Icon shoes. Any sane person, who has some understanding about the Light of Asia (nickname given to the Apostle of Peace), would find it objectionable to have his images on shoes. Yes, it hurts. It should be ridiculed.

But calling Nepali media to express anger towards a company that is in US? How does it make sense? If it was to be condemned, the party – with its huge resources, in terms of people and material – could have contacted the company. Or like hundred other Buddhists wrote on its public interface – the facebook page – the party could have express its ire there. If that was not known, it could have contacted US embassy and get its protest letter forwarded to the company. But calling Nepali reporters to condemn ICON, would be best explained as trying to make hay while the sun shines. It is merely an effort to get some coverage in newsprint, or some airtime on television channels, and be seen. An effort to divert people from the party’s failings in recent past…

In the meantime, the party also made public its ‘white paper’ about the causes of demise of the Constituent Assembly. The ‘white paper’ which was hyped for quite some time and prepared by 17-member taskforce, led by party Secretary Shankar Pokhrel, had hardly revealed any surprises. It hardly tells anything that is not already known.

Except for the soft criticism of the party itself, it has heavily blamed the present ruling coalition for the failure of CA, and its eventual demise without promulgating constitution. The paper criticizes the UML for not being able to come up with clear idea on federalism and forms of governance. However it goes soft while talking about the party’s focus on staying in, or getting to, power, throughout the existence of CA.

All these show a tendency that you don’t want to see in leadership, especially during transition. It is a time when decisions are taken, so that the coming generations do not have to suffer the pains of further transition. Sometimes the decisions in such times are not popular, but the leadership has to ensure that even unpopular decisions are taken, if they are just. A leadership has to be able to foresee, what kind of impact such decisions will have in times to come. If we take one common factor in UML’s protest of Buddha’s image on the shoes, or dealing with the disgruntled leaders, or in self-criticism, one thing is evident – the party is either not following proper process or is not ready to take any real action. For a party that has such a history and people base, it does not augur well in the future.

(PS: The write-up appeared in a fortnightly published from Australia – The Kantipur Times – on 12th September 2012)

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