Does Prachanda have a chance of winning? The answer is yes and no.
By Bishnu Budhathoki
the Kathmandu Post
Maoist Chairman Prachanda was born in a remote village of Kaski district and brought up in Chitwan district, but he has chosen Kathmandu Constituency-10 and Rolpa Constituency- 2 to contest the upcoming Constituent Assembly (CA) election. Why did he decide to contest election from Kathmandu Constituency-10 ? More importantly, what are his chances of winning ?
This constituency, with a total of 63,788 voters, includes Kirtipur Municipality and 12 surrounding VDCs. Over 57 percent of the electorate reside in villages and ethnic communities (Newars, mainly Jyapu, and Tamangs) and Dalits have a strong domination.
There are at least four reasons why Prachanda chose this constituency.
First, the Newars of Kirtipur have a deep-seated resentment against the Shah dynasty for alleged atrocity by Prithivi Narayan Shah’s troops during his unification campaign. Prithivi Narayan conquered Kirtipur only after a third attempt and it was there that he lost his key lieutenant, Kalu Pandey, and his brother lost an eye. So, when his forces finally conquered Kirtipur they unleashed unspeakable atrocities- something that has stayed with the local people as a “chosen trauma”.
The Maoist chairman is well aware of this resentment and wants to exploit it to the fullest. Addressing a mass meeting in Kirtipur on Monday, Prachanda said his victory would be a revenge against the feudal monarchy. The Maoists have also calculated that they would attract a lot of Dalit and Tamang votes in this constituency.
Secondly, Kirtipur, but mainly Panga, Chithubihar and Machhegaun and the southern belt of this constituency — Talkudundechaur, Dhakshinkali and Chhaimale VDCs, which border Makwanpur district — were used by Maoists as their “shelter area” in the Valley during the decade-long insurgency. The Maoists have at least 30 “whole time” members from this area and 12 district committee members.
Third, the radical left has always had a strong local support base here. During the parliamentary election in 1994 and local elections in 1997 the ultra-left United People’s Front (UPF) bagged around 3,000 votes. Today, most UPF leaders and cadres, including former chairperson of Panga VDC Dilip Maharjan, have joined Maoists.
“We have a strong party base and organization in the area,” said Maharjan, who is now a Maoist lawmaker. People’s Front Nepal (PFN), which has close ties with the Maoist party, has not fielded any official candidate from this constituency, possibly to facilitate Prachanda’s candidacy.
The fourth reason is purely psychological. The candidacy of their party’s chairman from the district in which the capital is located means a lot of psychological boost to Maoist party cadres and also lifts the party’s standing in the eyes of the international community.
“While urban elites and the international community have said that Maoists have a hold only in the hinterlands and among the lower class population, Prachanda’s candidacy from near the capital is meant to be a reposte to just that,” opined Professor Krishna Khanal.
Does Prachanda have a chance of winning?
The answer is yes and no. The CPN-UML has the strongest organization and support base in the constituency. In the 1991 election, charismatic UML general secretary the late Madan Kumar Bhandari won from here. UML leader Krishna Gopal Shrestha was also elected from here, in 1994.
Bhandari won the election by a margin of 8,547 votes and Shrestha won double the vote of his rival. However, in 1999, Tirtha Ram Dangol of the Nepali Congress won from the same constituency, taking advantage of a vertical split in the UML.
But the total vote bagged by the UML and the breakaway faction ML between them was 22,261 while Dongol won the election with 18,587 votes.
During the 1997 local elections, the UML had won at least 10 wards out of 19 as well as the mayoral and deputy mayoral race, whereas the NC secured victory in just five wards. Similarly, out of 12 VDCs, the UML won nine.
UML candidate Sanu Shrestha has the advantage of the UML’s strong organization and sympathy from the Newar community, the dominant ethnic group in the constituency.
NC candidate from the constituency, Rajendra Kumar KC, has a strong support base in six southern VDCs — Saukhel, Sheshnarayan, Talkudundechwor, Chhaimale, Dakshinkali and Chalnakhel. These VDCs alone have over 16,000 votes.
Prachanda’s chances of winning depend mostly on two things. First is whether or not he is able to reach some kind of tacit understanding with the UML leadership to get himself elected. Talks about electoral alliances with the UML in some selected constituencies are still going on.
Second, it depends on to what extent the Newar community defect from the UML to support Prachanda. One should not forget that this constituency has always welcomed outsiders with charismatic personalities. Madan Bhandari was a case in point.
If the UML throws all its weight behind Sanu Shrestha the competition in this constituency will be triangular and the outcome uncertain.