Bidhya Devi Bhandari, 54, has been elected as the new President of Nepal, defeating one of the most respected politicians of the country, K B Gurung, in a straight contest.
In fact, Bhandari, the vice-chairperson of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and a former defence minister, has come to be known as a “giant killer” in Nepal politics, a sobriquet she first earned when she defeated K P Bhattarai, a veteran Gandhian and a former Prime Minister, in a parliamentary by-election in 1993. She repeated the feat, although well predicted, in the race for the office of the Head of the State on Wednesday, and will be the first woman President of the country.
A daughter of a school teacher in eastern Nepal’s Bhojpur district, Bhandari became a member of the Himalayan nation’s “banned” Communist party in her teens, with rapid rise in the student politics. However, all of that was shunted when she married the party’s rising star, Madan Bhandari when she was 21.
Madan Bhandari became the party general secretary in 1988 and then became the leader of the UML’s parliamentary party when Nepal adopted a multi-party democracy in 1991. However, he died a mysterious death along with his trusted “comrade” Jeevraj Ashrit in 1993 when their jeep fell into a river. While his driver, Amar Lama, was the sole survivor in the incident, he too was killed mysteriously few years later in a shootout.
Bidhya Bhandari, by then, a mother of two daughters — Usha and Nisha — was called to the capital to be in politics full time, and was fielded from the constituency that her husband had represented briefly. Since then, there has been no looking back for her.
Bhandari, who holds a degree in Arts is known as a no-nonsense person, always candid in her expression on issues at hand, but at the same time, she has maintained her loyalty to the friends and factions in the party close to her husband, Prime Minister K P Oli is considered to be one of her nearest “comrades”. Three years ago, Bhandari became the party vice-chairperson with Oli at its head. But in a reversal of protocol, Oli is the one who will be briefing her now.
Bhandari, now the Supreme Commander of the Nepal Army, was the country’s defence minister five years ago. She and Oli together had defended the National Army, much vilified by the Maoists and international human right groups.
But as politics made strange bed-fellows, Maoist chief Pushpa Kamalal was the one who proposed her name as a presidential candidate.
Bhandari’s victory, securing 327 votes against 214 polled by Gurung with members of Parliament forming the electoral college, comes as reassertion of the Communist gang-ups, and sharp polarisation of Nepali politics.
Nepal signs deal with China to import fuel
Kathmandu: Nepal and China on Wednesday signed a deal that will ensure Nepal importing petroleum products from its northern neighbour as India continued to curtail normal exports to Nepal for the past five weeks. The deal between the Nepal Oil Company and the National United Oil Corporation (Petro-China) signed Wednesday brings to an end the monopoly arrangement that Indian Oil Corporation enjoyed in Nepal for the past three decades. China has already agreed to send Nepal 1.3 million litres of petrol in grants to meet its immediate needs. Sources said the deal opens the door for Nepal importing fuel from China. ENS