By any name

Now, the CPN-UML leadership appears inclined to make a change to the party’s name, following reports that the CPN-Maoist may dispense with its ‘Maoist’ tag. Of the several reasons for this talk of change of name, one may well have been the need to make it easier for smaller communist factions to merge with the CPN-Maoist, as it would take away the brand-like quality attached to the tag ‘Maoist’. On its part, the CPN-UML will formally discuss the idea of removing the tail ‘Unified Marxist-Leninist’ (UML) at its forthcoming eighth national convention, according to general secretary Jhala Nath Khanal. Addressing a press conference organised in the capital on Saturday to make public the decisions of the party’s two-day national cadres’ meeting, Khanal said that the party had taken no decision on the question of cutting out the tail of its name, though ideas had been put forward within the party to do so ever since the fourth national convention.

Khanal was right. Besides, in the party there had been discussion of even removing the name ‘communist’ from the party’s name, not just the tail, and give it some other left-of-centre name, say ‘Social Democratic’. A chief motive for this came from a desire to make the party fully acceptable to a number of powerful countries, including the US and several European countries. On the other hand, the CPN-UML leadership feared that a name change might seriously erode the party’s domestic support base. However, several top leaders, in an obvious attempt to please ‘anti-communist’ powers, openly said at home and abroad that ‘communist’ was a mere brand name, that it did not reflect the party’s essence. For the CPN-UML, things have become more difficult now, because another party has replaced it as the biggest communist party.

Name-changing should not receive high priority unless the need is genuine. For the Maoists, an unadorned name is more likely to open out an umbrella for smaller parties to fit in, as the pressure from the Unity Centre (Masal), reportedly to merge soon with the CPN-M, on the Maoists to drop their tag reflects. In competition with the CPN-M, the CPN-UML may feel compelled to shed its tail, too. But the question whether to retain or drop ‘Maoist’ is not yet resolved within the CPN-M itself. In Nepalgunj on Friday, Prime Minister and Maoist chairman Prachanda told journalists that he was not in favour of keeping the tail to the party’s name, adding that about two years ago, he himself had proposed the change as part of his efforts to build a single communist party in the country. While Dr Baburam Bhattarai has sided with Prachanda, Mohan Baidya ‘Kiran’ has said any talk of changing the name is against party policy. Until the splitting-up process of the communists began in Nepal five decades ago, there had been no problem of tails. Later, the various communist factions came to be known by the names of their leaders, or by some other device; even the tails ‘Masal’ and ‘Mashal’ came to represent two different parties. But, no two parties can share exactly the same name, for legal and practical considerations. Speaking from the Nepali experience, one can justifiably ask, Will there ever be a single communist party, for all practical purposes?