Communism has been a bogeyman of sorts in my life since my childhood. "If the Communists win in the elections, they will pack us old women off as we cannot perform to their expectation", Nimbu Didi would wail giving me pangs of anxiety. I could never fathom where the communists would send her but I was sure it would be to an unpleasant outpost in the kingdom to grow vegetables or worse, and I would miss her. This was during the first general election held in Nepal in 1959 and which the Congress Party of Nepal won handily. I was not going to lose my Didi who nurtured me from my birth after all.
Then came our school days. I was the first person in the family who was able to get a good education inside the country instead of being packed off to an Indian hill station. The Jesuits had got a special permission from the last Rana Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher to open a school and Father Moran, S. J. had come here from Bettiah in Bihar and set up a school at Godavari in the summer palace of the Rana prime ministers. Godless communism was anathema to our fathers and I remember Father Souboulle, fists clenched, reddening with righteous anger as he lectured us on the evils of this particular creed. Communists were hypocrites; George Orwell's Animal Farm, which was made into an animated film, was a favorite. The climax of the film was the revolt of the lean and hungry farmers toppling the Stalinist nomenclatura from the leadership of the farm.
Those were times when good and bad were black and white: we did not perceive any shade of gray. During the Panchayat days, when multi-party polity was a far cry, Communism was indeed furthest from our minds. Like omnipresent Gods monarchy straddled heaven and earth. Politicians of that era sang paeans to the far-sighted Shah kings and blamed all the present ills on the 104 years of the Rana regime, the dark period of Nepalese history. The irony of the fact that all of His Majesty's Government's ministries had to occupy Rana era buildings throughout the Panchayat period, even the Parliament until recently was a private theater of the Rana prime minister, was lost on our political leaders. Panchayat was rich on promise but fell short on delivery.
College education in the erstwhile Soviet Union followed. Arriving in Moscow in the unseasonably cold and early winter of 1973 A.D. I saw huge banners extolling the wondrous achievements of the workers' paradise in unreadable Cyrillic. I could recognize the bearded Germans Marx and Engels and the bald Lenin in every billboard across Moscow. Suddenly I had come to a country where being Communist was virtuous. People addressed one another as tovarish, comrade, in a show of genuine egalitarianism; there seemed to be purpose in their stride. Workers were selflessly productive giving each to his utmost capability and receiving each to his basic need. Intellectuals were making sense of it all in robust defense of dialectical materialism. My anatomy teacher Vera Lubova was a Belgian Communist with an adopted Russian name who had migrated to Russia to contribute to Communist Internationalism. I had a great opportunity of juxtaposing my fervent anti-Communist Belgian priest Father Souboulle with my selflessly Communist Belgian anatomy teacher and I was bemused to find that it takes all sorts to make this world! Suddenly things were not as black or white anymore.
|Latha my classmate with Paulo my room-mate|
I could empathize with the young Communists who had come to study in Russia from all over the world. Surely they were not all brain-washed. They had genuine grievances back home that propelled them to take up an alien credo to fight for their just cause. I started to look at the world with crimson shades and found much of Asia, Africa and Latin America exploited by the Capitalists, neo-colonists and expansionists. Religion surely was the opiate of the people, it retarded social advancement by endorsing arcane rituals and beliefs.
But my exposure to the virtues of Communism was as short as the Prague Spring. When I started reading Cyrillic I was amazed that the party was still mouthing the Lenin era slogan, "Communism is Soviet power and electrification of the whole country", an unintended testimony to failed state policies that had still kept much of the country in darkness, literally and metaphorically. I also realized that the problem with Communism was that there were too many intellectuals splitting hair on what Marx actually meant, whether Lenin applied it correctly to Russia, or whether the Maoists of China were the true inheritors. Communists like fighting the exploitative bourgeois enemy classes but even more so they like fighting among themselves. When my two room-mates in Moscow, one from Brazil and another from Guyana, argued all night and nearly brought closure with the former trying to throw the latter out of the 6th floor dormitory window, I intrinsically felt that this creed would get us all in more trouble than we had vouched for.
Fast forward to Moscow September 2008. The huge billboards exhorting the proletariat of the world to unite had been replaced by equally huge billboards advertising $10,000 Rolex watches. I could not find Marx Avenue or Kirov Street on the metro map as they were renamed the Russian equivalents of Hunters Row and Butchers Street harking back to the Tsarist era. The swank Kalininski Prospect is renamed Novy (New) Arbat. And today you would not want to embarrass a young Russian by addressing him or her as comrade.
This brings me to the present state of affairs in Nepal. After a decade and a half of failed parliamentary politics the same old faces have emerged from the ashes of the Maoist debacle. The former Communists are the good guys now as the latter day Communists are even worse. The former Communists might even revive the idea of a baby king. The latter day Communists would surely want to crown their own omnipotent leader. The former Communists can rely on the backing of the erstwhile royal army, the latter day Communists own their own army. Communism might have lost its battles everywhere else but the deciding one is being fought right here before our eyes.