An analysis by Akhilesh Upadhyay in The Kathmandu Post
Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal invited a select group of editors to his Nayabazaar residence last Wednesday. Expectations ran high, even though Dahal’s office had pitched the meeting as “a regular exchange on current affairs.”
The Maoist party, as it turned out, came up with a detailed proposal on integration and rehabilitation of ex-combatants the next day—the first such document since the peace process started in 2006.
Despite the perceptible decline in his stature in recent years, Dahal still remains the most important political figure in the current transition. His stated ideas and implied messages become subjects of heated debates and raging controversies across the country.
On Sunday, the Maoist chairman put to rest one common suspicion: that he was merely posturing when he said he wanted to see his deputy Baburam Bhattarai as prime minister; that he would in fact do all he could, behind the scenes if required, to sabotage Bhattarai’s bid for premiership. In his pre-poll address in parliament, Dahal stressed two of Bhattarai’s qualities. First, he said, his deputy is an intellectual heavyweight who enjoys broad acceptability among thinking Nepalis. Second, he is a leader “of all classes and levels,” perhaps a belated admission that Bhattarai was now acceptable also to the broad population. For a long time, Bhattarai was projected within his party as merely a “party ideologue,” who lacked political cunning or as a leader popular only among the comfortable classes.
Is Bhattarai finally coming out of Dahal’s shadow? Have the two made peace? It’s too early to make the claim that they have put all of their differences behind them but it is a fact that Dahal now needs to share the limelight with his deputy. “It is an imperative of open politics,” says Bhattarai, who has gained new constituencies both inside and outside the party in recent years. Although close colleagues for over two decades, the troubles in their relationship go as far back as the early years of the conflict in the late 1990s. It was in 2004-2005, however, that it hit rock bottom. That was when Bhattarai dissented against the official party line and was thus stripped of all his party positions and confined to protracted custody in Rolpa under the control of the Maoist army. After Chunwang, the party came along to accepting Bhattarai’s line, and the Dahal-Bhattarai relationship revived. In subsequent years, the relationship became one of the most important in Nepal’s democratic history. In Chunwang, the party adopted competitive politics and the need to work together with parliamentary parties to overthrow the monarchy. Bhattarai was subsequently dispatched to New Delhi as a high-powered party emissary. Results were swift and decisive.
In just a few months, in November 2005, the parliamentary parties (the Seven Party Alliance, or the SPA) and Maoists signed a 12-point agreement, setting out on a common agenda for the democratic transformation of the Nepali state. That soon gave way to the people’s movement in April 2006, which in turn led to the Constituent Assembly and eventually the abolition of the monarchy.
In his recent book on ideological battles inside the Maoist party (Maobadibhitra Baicharik-Rajnitik Sangharsa), Bhattarai observes that “the party and revolution have in the main been a success” and that “failure and weakness” is more a side narrative. However, argues Bhattarai, the party has lately been caught up in a vicious circle, it has failed to lead the transformative agenda and the party organisation is in disarray.
The book, a compilation of his “notes of dissent” against the party establishment in recent years, blames the party’s leadership (read Chairman Prachanda) for ideological deviations and inconsistencies. For example, the party failed to explain to the rank and file why the six-day nationwide strike was launched last May and then abruptly called off.
It also documents the party chairman’s repeated failures in the prime ministerial election last year and allegations of horse-trading during the elections. It questions party leaders reaching out to “feudal royalists and regressive elements,” in contrast to the party’s avowed progressive agenda-a political move that has given way to “negative feelings among the Nepali public about the revolution.”
With all the show of recent solidarity, the book and interviews with party insiders reveal that Dahal and Bhattarai still have two major differences. The Dahal loyalists accuse Bhattarai of being ‘soft’ on India and failing to articulate his patriotism robustly.
Bhattarai, on the other hand, argues that China and Indian have grown at a high rate in the last decades and seem set to be world powers. Nepal, flanked by these two large neighbours, needs to be pragmatic and prioritise its national agenda. Quoting Lenin, Bhattarai writes: “Any revolution that cannot take care of itself has no meaning.”
The attempt to reach out to “the feudal monarchy,” says Bhattarai, will result in irreparable loss to the party and its progressive agenda pushing republicanism, federalism and secularism to the back seat.
By Dahal’s own admission, the two tend to read important political events differently. “This is because we come from different political backgrounds. Our personalities are very different,” says Dahal.
Yet, Dahal is still the party’s dominant leader and has, time and again, demonstrated outstanding skills of political management. With all the talk of vertical split in the party the last couple of years, the hard-line leader Mohan Baidya is not only behind Dahal on the integration and rehabilitation proposal floated this week. Baidya and Bhattarai are also on the same page on substantive issues.
“I had run so fast the last few years,” Dahal told editors last week, explaining the intra-party rift in his party, “when I turned around I saw that many of my fellow party workers and leaders were not quite with me.”
He added,”So I stopped for a while to allow friends to catch up before resuming the race.” Often times, many other party colleagues, he said, come from “different sides” and “one needs to accommodate them.”
More than anything else, his political flexibility is perhaps Dahal’s principal strength; his outstanding oratorical skill is second. This has allowed him to be the dominant leader in the party, straddling disparate constituencies.
Dahal’s major investment in the party and for which he continues to get widespread credit both inside the party and outside is how he gambled his political capital to jump headlong into competitive politics in 2005. Chunwang, in early 2005, in fact turned out to be an important milestone for the party, and for Nepal in extension.
Bhattarai provided ideological justification for the party’s transformation towards a democratic force and Prachanda put his political weight behind the epochal move.
“During the underground years I realised that the party rank and file was solidly behind me and I decided to invest all my political capital in transforming the party,” he said last week, explaining the pre-2005 debate in the party. That’s how the dialogue between the Maoists and non-Maoist parties began.
Six years on, the process, once robust, continues to gasp. It needs more than Baburam Bhattarai’s vision and Prachanda’s political skills to bring it to fruition.
But for now, the Dahal-Bhattarai team seems to be in working order. “Even when he (Bhattarai) was disenchanted, he didn’t try to sideline me. He has been consistent. Our relations have always been difficult. That’s because we come from different backgrounds. But our relation have now attained a new height,” Dahal said last week.
New PM sparks new hope in New Delhi
By Mahesh Acharya
The election of Baburam Bhattarai as the 35th Prime Minister of Nepal has generated much euphoria and hope, as is evident in Nepal, and also here in the Indian capital. The response in New Delhi has been seen “unprecedented” to Nepal’s prime ministerial election.
From scholars at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where Bhattarai completed his doctorate, to the Indian government, think tanks and politicians, all have ‘very high hopes’ for the successful completion of the peace process and statute writing. Unlike his predecessor Jhala Nath Khanal, Bhattarai received an immediate message of welcome from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where he invited the newly elected PM to New Delhi. Khanal, elected PM in February, never received such an invitation.
“It (Bhattarai’s election) is a very positive development. It has raised hopes of political stability in Nepal, given that the largest force is now on board and also because of Bhattarai’s personal image,” said Ashok Behuria, an expert on South Asian issues at Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA), an Indian government-funded think tank.
Government sources have indicated that New Delhi will extend “all sorts of assistance’ to complete the task of consolidating democratic gains in Nepal, as expressed by Prime Minister Singh in his congratulatory message to Bhattarai on Sunday. “While analyzing the political upheavals over the last few years, India has realized that without bringing Maoists on board, the stalled political process cannot move ahead,” said a source who didn’t want to be identified.
A well known Indian professor SD Muni has tweeted, “India has done a wise thing to let Bhattarai sail through in the PM election with the support of Madhes groups. Nepal’s stability depends on Maoists. Bhattarai’s victory in Nepal is a turning point. His first priority should be to implement the Maoist promise on integration of the PLA cadre.”
“Bhattarai’s election has clearly indicated India’s neutral role during the recent political development. It has helped India improve its so-called interventionist image,” said a senior leader of the ruling coalition.
Indian media have given unprecedented coverage to Bhattarai’s victory, with newspapers treating his election on their front pages.
“JNU scholar becomes Nepal’s new Maoist PM,” said the Times of India, “….Though a moderate who has advocated maintaining friendly relations with India and focusing on peace instead of beginning yet another armed revolution, Bhattarai will also have to work hard to assure India that his government will not be hostile to the southern neighbour.”
Meanwhile, JNU faculties and student bodies are ecstatic. “It has been a moment of extreme joy to learn that a friend of mine has now become prime minister,” said Professor Kamal Mitra Chinoy, Chairperson of Department of International Relations at JNU. He recalled Bhattarai as an exceptionally good student with rare determination.
“Not just Nepali but also other foreign students at JNU have shared their happiness that the alumnus of this campus is elected to the highest post of a nation,” said Pramod Jaiswal, a Nepali student. The students have filled their Facebook and Twitter accounts with comments related to Bhattarai’s victory.
Baburam Bhattarai and his Hulas Mustang
Setting aside advice from security and his aides, newly elected Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai bucked the general trend of prime ministers and ministers going for expensive, luxurious vehicles and refused to ride any bullet-proof, foreign-made, luxurious vehicle available in the market, chosing instead a comparatively far cheaper, indigenously assembled four-wheeler.
According to Biswadeep Pandey, security had suggested to Dr Bhattarai not to ride the Nepal-assembled Hulas Mustang for security reasons. Even aides including Pandey had suggested he use the Scorpio that he has been riding if he did not want anything expensive or luxurious.
Dr Bhattarai had expressed a wish to ride the Mustang, a product of Biratnagar-based Hulas Motors Company, to officials of the Home Ministry that arranges vehicles for government ministers, when it became certain he was to be elected prime minister Sunday afternoon. The Home Ministry made arrangements accordingly.
“We brought the vehicle to Kathmandu overnight from Biratnagar,” said Diwakar Golchha, a Constituent Assembly member and managing director of Golchha Organization, which owns the company.
But the vehicle made available by the company is just for temporary use while the car actuallly meant for the prime minister is being put together. The car has been purchased at a price of Rs 1,650,000.
The Mustang used by the prime minister at the moment has a 2,570 cc diesel engine with a mileage of about 11 km per liter. It has minimum luxury and safety features. The vehicle being customized for him has much more luxurious features and will be given away to him about two months from now.
“The vehicle being customized for the PM has additional features like power steering, power windows, comfortable seats, anti-noise flooring system, advanced stereo system and much more,” said Surendra Golchha, managing director of Hulas Motors.
But the vehicle will not have any advanced safety features. Hulas Mustang has had a tough time marketing itself in the Nepali auto market and is not known to many Nepalis.
The PM´s Mustang parked at Sheetal Niwas attracted politicians who reached there to attend the swearing in ceremony and journalists covering the occasion .
Lawmaker Golchha was busy answering questions about the vehicle from the politicians and journalists.
“I am proud that the prime minister chose this vehicle; it will be a great support to national production,” a cheerful-looking Golcha told journalists, leaning against the prime minister´s vehicle.
Golchha not only thanked the prime minister for choosing the more indigenous vehicle; he also opened its door and ushered the prime minister into it. He then closed the vehicle door before riding away in his own Korean-made Ssyangong Rexton.
PM Bhattarai visits Sushil Koirala,
proposes formation of high level political mechanism
Newly elected Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai held consultations with Nepali Congress (NC) President Sushil Koirala, at the latter´s residence in Maharajgunj, on Tuesday morning, reports Republica. It has been learnt that the duo discussed the peace and the constitution drafting processes.
PM Bhattarai has also floated a proposal to form a high level political mechanism that includes leaders from top political parties to guide the government along with guiding the peace and the constitution drafting processes. Koirala in turn has taken this proposal in a positive manner. Bhattarai has urged Koirala to join the government to bring the peace process and the constitution drafting process to its logical end.
NC President in response has dismissed the possibility of NC joining the government in the current state but said that his party will provide constructive cooperation to the cause of peace and constitution. He advised Bhattarai to work towards improving relations between parties by implementing the past agreements and create an environment of trust for consensus among parties.
Koirala has also assured Bhattarai that his government will be supported, if only there is genuine progress in the peace and statute drafting processes and has urged Bhattarai to ensure the same. “The meeting between the two leaders ended on a positive note and Koirala has also assured Bhattarai that he will support Bhattarai´s government,” said the PM’s aid Biswadeep Pandey. Bhattarai, on his part has been saying that he would work towards achieving consensus on contemporary political issues through the majority-led government, during his stint as the prime minister.
Bhattarai wants relief packages for people
Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai has directed government’s top officials to float relief programmes and strengthen the security system in the country. In separate meetings with government secretaries and chiefs of Security Council on Tuesday, Prime Minister Bhattarai directed the authorities to control price hike, black market and create an environment for easy flow of consumable goods in reasonable price.
On the same occasion, Bhattarai warned that the concerned authorities will be punished if they failed to perform their respective duties. Earlier today, PM Bhattarai met with Security Chiefs and directed them to tighten the security in the country. Chief of Army Staff Chatra Man Singh Gurung, Nepal Police chief IGP Rabindra Pratap Shah, Armed Police Force chief Shailendra Kumar Shrestha and National Investigation Department chief Moti Bahadur Gurung were present in the meeting.