Easter Sunday (today, April 24) reminds us of hope in midst of despair. When the prophet Jesus Christ died on the cross on Good Friday, his disciples thought they had lost everything including their guru. That changed when Jesus arose alive from his tomb on Easter Sunday. Then, his disciples went out to change the world for the better. Similar "Easter" events have recently taken place in our country, and have given us optimism. Prophets of hope have arisen among us.
Comrade Dr Baburam Bhattarai has gradually converted himself to a prophet of hope. The late Girija Prasad Koirala once said that he feared Bhattarai more than Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Dahal can compromise, and speak soothingly, at times. Not Bhattarai. However, when stubborn people change, they hold fast to their new positions just as strongly. The Palungtar plenum converted Bhattarai.
At Palungtar, when Mohan Baidya and Pushpa Kamal Dahal urged for "people’s revolt", Bhattarai pleaded for the completion of the peace process and the writing of the constitution. Bhattarai and his colleagues then became the minority. Bhattarai registered his note of dissent, and began to experience "persecution" for his stand. Critics from his own party called him an Indian stooge. Thus, on March 13 in Gorkha, Bhattarai proclaimed his readiness to die like Bhimsen Thapa, doing good for the country. (Both Dahal and Bhattarai have often regarded themselves as martyrs!) The statement drew sympathy from some quarters; from others, just sarcastic smiles. Historians vary on Bhimsen Thapa. During his tenure, Nepal had the most extended territory but also the least when the British imposed the Sagauli Treaty. Besides, Thapa shed a lot of blood, as both Bhattarai and Dahal have done.
Without abandoning his "dictatorship of the proletariat," Bhattarai appeared democratic. His attempt to straddle on both democracy and dictatorship confused his observers. By trying to please both the Maoist hardliners and the democrats, he portrayed himself a cloud-headed idealist, sharing mirage-like illusions. When the so-called "People’s Liberation Army" (PLA) supposedly came under the all party Special Committee, Bhattarai complained that Dahal sold it for ministerial positions his party members could gain in the future government. (Our country then still had Madhav Kumar Nepal’s "caretaker" cabinet which had resigned seven months earlier.) In other words, Bhattarai did not want to part with the PLA, and thus, secretly supported the "peoples’ revolt."
Bhattarai’s muddled position continued in his Anuradha Gandhi Memorial lecture to a Mumbai audience on January 14. He named it "Unfinished Business, the Road to New Democracy in Nepal." The lecture has one positive point that we can all agree on, the principle of "land to the tiller." However, in practice Bhattarai remained totally silent when Maoist cadres confiscated private land; and we can wonder if he regards only his looting comrades as the true tillers. For the rest, the lecture consists of half-digested Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, which Bhattarai regards as the panacea of all Nepali ills.
We have other Nepali worthies who have consistently shared optimism in the midst of despair. However, I have concentrated on these two because previously both uttered threats and majored on negatives. As we celebrate Easter with rest of the world, we can only wish that our two prophets of hope will remain consistent in their conversion towards a truly democratic Nepal.
In Mumbai, Bhattarai said, "The democracy of capitalist society is curtailed, wretched and false; it is a democracy for the rich minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat and the period of transition to communism will, for the first time, create democracy for the majority and the necessary suppression of the exploitative minority. As Lenin wrote in State and Revolution, ´Communism alone is capable of providing really complete democracy...´" Bhattarai does not explain why Russia, Lenin’s own country, abandoned communism. Neither does he answer why "capitalistic" democracies like the USA, UK, France, and Germany provide better living standards to their people than dictatorships of the proletariat like Cuba, North Korea, and China.
Above all, in the lecture Bhattarai has not ruled out further Maoist violence in achieving his dictatorship of the proletariat. "But the question is how to turn this democratic republic into a People’s Democracy of New Democracy. Can it be achieved through the Constituent Assembly? Or, is an armed insurrection necessary?" Dahal, his boss, said "Amen" to the last question when he vowed to recruit 500,000 more deluded youths to the Young Communist League (YCL), which now most probably has become the People’s Volunteers Bureau.
When on March 25, Bhattarai delivered the "Post Conflict Restructuring" lecture in Singapore, he had changed. Bhattarai ruled out an immediate "people’s revolt" by his Maoist party. On April 20, four days before Easter, Pushpa Kamal Dahal did the same. We give credit to Bhattarai for becoming a catalyst to convert Dahal. Bhattarai became the first prophet of hope. We only wish him to continue this positive role.
Now, let us look at Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the second prophet of hope. While Bhattarai converted himself gradually, Dahal did so more abruptly. The Jewish prophet Isaiah once said, "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks." Isaiah was looking forward to the day when under the Messiah the Jewish nation would exchange warfare for agricultural pursuits. Farmers use both the ploughshares and pruning hooks for planting and harvesting. Many artists, poets, and novelists have repeated the ploughshares-into-pruning-hooks theme in their works because it gives hope.
Until recently, we could have named the UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal a prophet of despair. On February 27, he said the opposite to what Isaiah had envisaged: Students should turn schools into barracks, and workers should convert industries into garrisons. According to Dahal’s strange logic, only soldiers matter; so they prosper in barracks and garrisons. Farmers, educationists, artists, writers, poets, musicians have no role or if they do just a minor one in his future Nepal. As if to prove Dahal right, Maoist cadres padlocked the Kathmandu University and industries in Hetauda, playing with students’ future and causing severe economic loss. Dahal was forever reminding his cadres to prepare for the "revolt." We wondered, "Revolt against what?" With the monarchy gone, was Dahal inciting the Maoists to rebel against a democratic, elected government?
During the Maoist politburo meeting on April 20, Dahal suddenly changed his tune. Now, he wishes his party to concentrate on completing the peace process and drafting the most essential bits of the constitution by May 28. Perhaps, he has realized that violence and revolt-rhetoric have tired people. Under his leadership, finally the Maoists may “beat their swords into ploughshares." Because of this U-turn in his attitude, Dahal has also now become a prophet of hope.
We have other Nepali worthies who have consistently shared optimism in the midst of despair. However, I have concentrated on these two because previously both uttered threats and majored on negatives. As we celebrate Easter with rest of the world, we Nepalis can only wish that our two prophets of hope will remain consistent in their conversion towards a truly democratic Nepal. Happy Easter!