Nepal: Bhattarai’s Political Challenges

Dussehra or Dashain as it is known in Nepal is the most popular festival in the country running over several days. The administration virtually comes to a halt during this period and this year was no exception. Yet with a peace process tottering on the brink of collapse the Dashain in 2011 has fateful portends in the months ahead. The new Prime Minister of Nepal, fourth after elections were held under the provisional constitution in the country and second from the majority Unified CPN Maoists, Dr Baburam Bhattarai started on a very confident wicket. Yet the daunting challenges faced by the country may subsume Dr Bhattarai known to be weakest of the three triumvirate of Maoist satraps, others being Prachanda or Pushpa Kumar Dahal, the Chairman and Mohan Vaidya.

Having been a finance minister in the Dahal led government in the past he was well versed with economic issues and focused on injecting enthusiasm in the jaded administration in a stasis due to lack of firm guidance under weak and caretaker governments over the past few years. His performance in the UN General Assembly was also well appreciated and he came away confident of the United States likely to remove the Maoists from list of terrorist organizations. Yet Dr Bhattarai continues to face immense political challenges from his own party the Unified CPN Maoists where hard line faction led by Mohan Vaidya is making things difficult for him as well as Party Chairman Prachanda.

On the other hand the second main political formulation Nepal Congress is also facing a crisis of sorts with rebellion by the Sher Bahadur Deuba faction. Thus with two main parties the UCPN (Maoist) and the Nepali Congress facing friction within the process of integration of the PLA cadres as well as other elements of the peace process including drafting of the Constitution have received a serious set back.

The hard-line faction of the UCPN (Maoist) was first upset with the announcement of the Prime Minister in concert with the Party Chairman of handing over keys of the weapons and order to the local administration to return land held by the rebels in the course of the struggle. Mr Vaidya and his supporters claimed that they were not taken into confidence while Dahal faction indicated that these issues were discussed and approved during a Central Committee meeting.

The second issue raised by the Vaidya faction is of four-point agreement signed between the Party and the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha which it is calling as, “anti-national,” leading to “Sikkimisation”. Sikkimisation refers to absorption of Sikkim state by India and has been one of the key reasons for anti India sentiment not just in Nepal but other smaller nations in South Asia. Mr Vaidya the Maoist hardliner who is anti India as well having spent some time in Indian jails for insurrection has raised fear once again to site the pact that the Party leadership made with the Madhes leaders who are known to be close to New Delhi and geographically come from the Southern belt adjoining India thereby raising the ante against Mr Dahal and Mr Bhattarai.

Attempts to manage the dissent within the UCPN (Maoist) have failed so far after General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa and Secretary CP Gajurel key members of the Vaidya faction did not attend a scheduled meeting called by Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal or Prachanda on 29 September alleging it is on short notice.

This impasse has led the Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai retract from his earlier statement that the peace process will be completed within 45 days of his assuming office. "It was never said that the major tasks of the peace process would be completed unilaterally within 45 days. I meant that the major tasks would be completed within 45 days from the day a political consensus is built vis-à-vis the peace process," Bhattarai said when asked by media personnel on his return from the UN General Assembly.

Another controversy arose when Defense Minister Sarat Singh Bhandari remarked in a public meeting that 22 Tarai districts may secede to form a separate state in case they continued to be neglected. This led to demand by virtually all parties for Defence Minister’s resignation or removal. Even Madhesi People´s Rights Forum (MPRF) Chairman Upendra Yadav took strong exception to Bhandari´s remarks and demanded his resignation. "Madhesis are patriots but Bhandari´s remark has made them look like separatists," Yadav told Republica, Nepal’s leading daily. Hard line Maoists Vice-chairman Mohan Baidya and General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa found another foil to target the Prime Minister and also demanded sacking of Bhandari.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai made a strong pitch at the UN to put Nepali peacekeepers at the helm of peacekeeping operations. This was a message to the Nepal Army more than the UN as there was some resentment in the Army for denial of leadership on UN missions. This would give the PM much leeway in domestic adjustments with the Army whose support for integration of PLA cadres is important.

As Nepal is providing 4000 plus soldiers to the UN there is a demand from the military brass for heading UN missions but due to charges of rights violations during the long anti Maoist struggle in the country in the late 1990’s the UN has been holding out on the same. Whether they would now listen to Mr Bhattarai remains to be seen but the PM has certainly made an attempt to win over the army brass who are now likely to be more inclined to support the Maoist led governments move for integration. Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai as chair of the Special Committee has proposed to the Committee that 7,000 ex-Maoist combatants should be integrated into the Nepal Army and Rs 700,000 given to junior combatants who opt not to be integrated and one million rupees to senior combatants making the same choice. Political consensus on the issue has yet to firm up.

Providing 10,000 vacancies to Madhes in the Army is part of the 4 point agreement between Unified CPN M and Madhes parties. Prior to the formation of new government, the UCPN (Maoist) and Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM) had agreed to form a separate unit of Madhesi community in order to develop NA as an inclusive institution. It appears now that the Madhes parties had not studied this issue.  Nepal Army (NA) has 6,544 personnel of Madhesi origin in a total number of 92,753. “Ours is an inclusive institution, though we have always striven to make it more inclusive still,” said NA Spokesperson Ramindra Chhetri to Republica. The Madhes leaders seemed to have taken only Naya Sabuj Gan, which was formed for Madhesi recruits into account which has 850 personnel.  NA has four battalions with personnel from specific ethnic groups: Naya Sabuj Battalion for Madhesis, Kali Bahadur Battalion for Gurungs, Purano Gorakh Battalion for Magars and Ripumardan Battalion for Rais. 36 Madhesis are serving at officer level, one is a brigadier general, two are colonels, two  lieutenant colonels, seven majors, two acting majors, eight captains, four acting captains, nine lieutenants and one second lieutenant.

Such are the daunting challenges before Dr Bhattarai that many may not give him a fair chance to survive, the jury however may remain out on his survival or performance for many months to come.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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