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A difficult road ahead

Will Bhattarai’s good intentions be scuttled?

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire |
September 20, 2011 3:09:17 am

The prime minister of Nepal,Baburam Bhattarai,sent out an instruction to the headquarters of his party,the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M),to return to rightful owners all the property that had been grabbed by the Maoists during the decade-long insurgency. This was a major provision of the comprehensive peace agreement and should have been implemented soon after the November 2006 deal signed between the government and the insurgents. Maoist leaders and cadres have,until now,stiffly resisted the return of houses,land and other assets to their owners. Nothing would discredit Bhattarai more if they do not behave differently this time.

From his own party chief Prachanda to the bulk of the international community,everyone has been saying that Bhattarai’s leadership is the last chance to complete the peace process and draft a new constitution in Nepal. The implications of his failure are not defined,but to succeed he has to first deal with interference from Prachanda himself. The latter had first said,“We would accept the verdict of the people in case we failed.” He then issued a subtle warning to other political parties,“We would complete the peace process unilaterally if you don’t cooperate with us.” This implies that the promised politics of consensus could be buried deep,with no chances of resurrection.

Even as Prachanda infuriates other parties with his utterances,Bhattarai,who has a weak base in the party,has little choice but to depend on him. Prachanda,in turn,is not comfortable with the visible popularity that Bhattarai enjoys in the international community.

The prime minister knows how crucial external support is for him. And that is something he would like to leverage in New York,where he will lead the Nepalese delegation at the UN General Assembly. He will meet Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the session.

After the departure of the former Indian ambassador to Nepal,Rakesh Sood,who was seen to have preferred an anti-Maoist policy,the Maoists are upbeat and expect that the Government of India will extend its cooperation to the Bhattarai government to finish the peace process within the time frame.

At home,though,it is a different scenario. There are concerns about Bhattarai’s ability to deliver,to go beyond the populist declarations that he has been making since he became prime minister three weeks ago. He has to deal with strident opposition from the dissidents in his party led by Mohan Baidya Kiran and noncooperation from two national parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML).

Bhattarai’s trip to New York itself was questioned for its timing,as he flew out a few hours after an earthquake had left a trail of devastation in the country.

Bhattarai is also shackled by his party’s policies. The UCPN-M is in favour of creating 14 provinces in a future federal Nepal,most of them on the basis of ethnicity. This move is being interpreted as being against the interests of the Dalits,Brahmins and the Chhetris,who together constitute more than one-third of the total population. Their hostility towards Bhattarai is not easy to fathom,with Nepal’s politics fast getting polarised along caste and ethnic lines.

Under such circumstances,drafting a constitution has become a complex matter as it has to address the concerns of several stakeholders. That is something Bhattarai has realised much faster than most of his predecessors had.

To consolidate support,he is cleverly trying to revive the old threat perception that the “regressive forces” led by the former king,Gyanendra,will strike back if the peace process is not completed. He sent out a clear message on the Indrajatra day on September 11,which commemorates the conquest of Kathmandu Valley by Gyanendra’s forefather Prithvi Narayan Shah 242 years ago. He had made Kathmandu the capital of modern Nepal. On that day,Bhattarai ordered heavy deployment of security forces outside Gyanendra’s residence and gave oral instructions to stop him if he set out for Basantpur,the abode of Kumari,revered as a living goddess by the Hindus in Nepal.

What Bhattarai could tell the international community is easy to predict— he may lay out his grand plans and ask for support — but whether he will learn something different from the dogma he has lived with and take along various stakeholders with him is yet to be seen.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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