Dr. Baburam Bhattarai Elected as Prime Minister of Nepal

As I am sure you all aware by now there have been some major developments in the “political” situation in Nepal (I am have put politics in quotation marks because I am not sure whether the parliamentary developments in Nepal actually constitute politics proper) with the election of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai of the UCPN(Maoist) to the Prime Ministership. His candidature received support from the United Democratric Madhesi Front (UDMF), which besides the 236 seats controlled by the UCPN(Maoist), gave him 65 additional votes and helped him clinch the post. Dr. Bhattarai also got support from several smaller parties including the Madhesi People´s Rights Forum, Communist Party of Nepal (Samyukta), Rastriya Janamorcha, Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist Leninist) [Socialist], Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandidevi), Federal Sadbhavana Party, Rastriya Janamukti Party, CPN (Ekikrit), Federal Democratic National Front, Dalit Janjati Party, Nepaa Rastriya Party, Socialist People´s Party, Nepal Democratic Socialist Party, Nepal Family Party and independent lawmaker Sadrul Miya Haque’s one vote (see “Baburam Bhattarai new PM” below). It is notable that Dr. Bhattarai did not receive any support from the CPN(UML) which has increasingly become divided over its relationship to the Nepali Congress and the UCPN(Maoist), and some inside the UCPN(Maoist) have always hoped for a split within that Party with some of its forces joining with the UCPN(Maoist). However, at this juncture such a split does not seem immediately forthcoming.

Dr. Bhattarai, of whom I have written a fair amount about on this blog, is a very capable and intelligent politician and by all accounts enjoys mass support from the middle-classes of Nepalese society (although his own support within the UCPN(Maoist) is far more limited; see “Long March from Gorkha to Kathmandu” posted below). He has authored numerous significant works including the incredibly important pamphlet, “Politico-Economic Rationale for People’s War in Nepal”, which besides Maoist ideologue Com. Kiran’s “Philosophy of Struggle”, remains a central document for Nepalese revolutionaries. Indeed, I cannot think of anyone who is more capable of leading Nepal at this current political juncture than Dr. Bhattarai, especially as a revolution is not in the offing especially because of his political and intellectual stature, and reputation as an honest broker (something that could not have been said about Chairman Dahal, which served as a major obstacle to his own candidature for Prime Minister in the last round of elections for the post). Dr. Bhattarai when in power as the finance minister was lauded by many, including those in the rural peasant classes, for numerous developments projects that he initiated under his tenure. His wife, Hisila Yami, also will be the UCPN(Maoist)-led government as a minister. She of course is the noted author of an important Maoist Feminist work (that I would urge all comrades and progressive intellectuals to read), “People’s War and Women’s Liberation“, and has played an incredibly important role in the feminist struggle in Nepal in general, and inside her own Party. She too played an important role in the last Maoist-led government and was responsible for the development of numerous development projects.

Prime Minister Bhattarai has made it clear that he has 4 main priorities for his government: 1) a suitable conclusion to the peace process; 2) the promulgation of a “forward-looking constitution” which will deal with issues of poverty and unemployment; 3) greater administrative transparency and; 4) socio-economic transformation which will also address issues of poverty and unemployment (see the interview published below). However, it is unclear as to what will happen regarding the land redistribution issues that underpin the economic plight of the peasantry since the deal that the UCPN(Maoist) has made with the UDMF states that “no citizen will be deprived of their land ownership” and that “special” relief would given to those affect by the PPW, Madhes movement and Janjati movements. Furthermore, there would be a general amnesty given to all those involved in the aforementioned movements and those involved in the Tharuhat, Dalit and Pichadabarga movements.

Simultaneously, the UCPN(Maoist) has relaunched its political front under the leadership of Com. Gaurav. The political front had originally been lead by Dr. Bhattarai and had served as the parallel government in the rural base areas, however, it is unclear as to what exact role it shall play in the coming months. Many, especially in the former rural base areas feel that one of the largest mistakes that the UCPN(Maoist) made was to dismantle this infrastructure and to place them back under the control of negligent and badly run VDC’s. Furthermore, Com. Kiran continues to oppose the peace deal proposed by Chairman Dahal and supported by Dr. Bhattarai. Indeed, it has become clear that Com. Kiran’s faction will remain in the minority on the Standing Committee and that his power has been reduced to simply filing notes of dissent which have become almost meaningless. Indeed, one cannot but get the feeling that Com. Kiran has run out of serious options regarding the direction that the Party takes in the future, except on those issues that he and Dr. Bhattarai can find common ground on, and those remain limited to questions of inner-Party democracy and life, rather, than any of the substantive issues regarding the path forward. So while the election of Dr. Bhattarai is a time to celebrate for many, it is unclear what it bodes for the future of the Nepalese revolution, but for now Com. Kiran and his allies can do little but bide their time.

Maoists revive political front, C P Gajurel is head

KATHMANDU, Aug 23: The Maoists have activated their joint political front — United National People’s Council (UNPC) — with CP Gajurel as its head, to mobilize the masses.

The last central committee meeting of the party decided to activate the front that had been lying defunct for the past one year due to internal disputes.

The council was known as United Revolutionary People’s Council during the conflict period. The standing committee meeting on August 16 changed the name to UNPC to make it “acceptable to all”. The council is one of the organs of a communist party, with the army and the party being the other organs.

“The United National People’s Council will work as a bridge between the government and the people,” Nawaraj Subedi, general secretary of UNPC, told Republica. He also informed that the council will be engaged in development activities. According to Sudedi, the council will hold meetings with patriotic, republican and leftist forces.

Gajurel, who is close to Baidya, was picked as the head of the council as per a Dhobighat understanding on power sharing among Senior Vice-chairman Mohan Baidya, Vice-chairmen Bhattarai and Narayankaji Shrestha and General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa in July.

The party has designated Amik Sherchan as UNPC’s vice-chairman, while the chiefs of its 27 sister organizations, 29 ethnic organizations, two regional organizations and two minority groups are the members of the council.

“It was necessary to form the council to maintain robust relations between the party and the people. Similarly, the council was felt necessary to form a joint front by joining hands with patriots, leftists and republican forces,” Tilak Pariyar, member of the council, quoted Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal as saying while announcing the formation of the council at a closed-door meeting of the party on Monday.

Dahal also expressed hope that the council would play a major role to “complete the revolution”.

The council was inactive following the failure of a six-day general strike in 2010. Vice-chairman Bhattarai had been leading the council even before the Maoist insurgency started in 1996. The council became move active during the conflict and represented the Maoists’ central government.

“The council was formed for economic, political, social and cultural transformation,” Pariyar quoted Bhattarai as saying at the meeting on Monday.

Subedi claimed that the council, which carried out executive and judicial functions during the conflict, would work in a different manner now.

Baidya opposes peace plan

KATHMANDU, Aug 25: UCPN (Maoist) hardliners have opposed the peace proposal put forward by Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal that includes handing over to the Special Committee the keys of the weapons containers kept at the 28 cantonments for Maoist combatants.

Maoist Chairman Dahal had put forward the proposal at a meeting of the party´s top office bearers on Wednesday.

According to sources, Baidya took strong exception to the proposal, terming it an “act of capitulation to regressive forces”, and backed by General Secretary Ram bahadur Thapa and Secretary CP Gajurel, he demanded a Standing Committee meeting for further discussions.

“The Standing Committee meeting on Thursday would bring out concrete proposals on peace, constitution and government,” said Vice-chairman Narayankaji Shrestha after the meeting on Wednesday.

The party stated that they needed to hold the Standing Committee meeting to discuss the issue further as some leaders had reservations over the proposal.

“Stepping back from the earlier stance, the proposal is aimed at meeting the demands of the other parliamentary parties. So the leaders demanded a meeting of the Standing Committee,” said Maoist Standing Committee member Netra Bikram Chand, who is regarded as right-hand man to Baidya.

With backing from Bhattarai, the Maoist chairman commands a comfortable majority in the Standing Committee and the proposal is likely to be endorsed at its meeting on Thursday. “The Baidya group cannot disrupt the process now. All they can do is write a note of dissent,” said a senior party leader close to Dahal. Sources say the party would rather seek to garner a consensus on the peace proposal, heeding Baidya´s demand also.

What irked the Baidya group was the flexibility adopted in the peace proposal backed by Bhattarai.

Sources say Dahal has stated that the party should accept pegging the integration number at 7,000. Previously, the NC and the UML have proposed around 6,000 and the Maoists 8,000.

To facilitate the process, Dahal has also proposed giving political space to senior PLA commanders in the cantonments who are members of the party´s Central Committee (CC).

“We would be flexible on other issues as well and negotiate with the other political parties,” said a leader close to Dahal.

Leaders say the party would make the proposal public after the meeting on Thursday, preferably at a press meeting. The Maoists want to show the other political parties and the international community that they are sincere about the peace process, they said.

PM-elect sets four priorities

When will the cabinet take shape?

I´ll take oath of office by 12 noon tomorrow (Monday), and a small cabinet will be announced after that. The cabinet will take full shape very soon; we do not intend to prolong the process of giving the cabinet a full shape.

Has the power sharing arrangement with the United Democratic Madhesi Front been settled?

More or less it has been settled.

How many ministries will the Madhesi alliance get?

It is yet to be decided. But there should be no problem in settling that issue.

What will be the main priority of your government?

I have four priorities.

The first priority will be to complete the peace process as per the past agreements. Our party has already made a decision to complete the peace process within 45 days. My first effort will be garner support of all political parties to implement that decision.

Second priority will be to make a concerted effort to draft a forward-looking constitution through the Constituent Assembly.

People have suffered from poverty, unemployment and corruption. My third priority will be to address these issues.

Next, I will give priority to good governance as people have lost faith in government. I will also ensure transparency in the way the administrative activities are carried out.

Fourth, I will give priority to social and economic transformation. I will focus on building grounds for ending poverty and unemployment. People have high expectations but I urge people to understand that all this cannot be accomplished all at once.

With NC opposing the Maoist-led government, will it not be difficult to move ahead?

I am hopeful that I´ll get their support. We only followed a democratic process [to elect a new prime minister]. Contesting election does not mean there is disagreement. Though I have been elected through majority vote, I´ll try to convince all political parties to join my government.

What are your plans to complete the peace process?

I do not have any magic formula, but I do have the willpower to take the peace process forward. I will try to move ahead winning the confidence of other parties. For that, I will form a high-level political mechanism comprising top leaders from all political parties. This mechanism will settle the outstanding issues of the peace process and constitution writing.

What will you do to improve the ailing economy?

I will consult experts and move ahead as per their advice.

Long march from Gorkha to Kathmandu

KATHMANDU, Aug 29: They say history is an account of surprises. The prime strategist of the People´s War, Maoist leader Dr Baburam Bhattarai has always been organizationally weak.

He remained virtually powerless within a few years into the insurgency when Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal centralized power in his own hands.

He was rendered an ordinary party member in 2005 when he vehemently opposed Dahal´s strategy to join hands with former King Gyanendra and fight a “tunnel war” against the “expansionist” India. And he was almost forced to quit the party last November when Dahal joined forces with the party hardliners led by Mohan Baidya and endorsed the line of urban insurrection.

But history took a surprising turn last month. In one of the most unexpected incidents, Baidya and Bhattarai, backed by other senior leaders, vowed to clip the wings of the all-powerful chairman who always switched sides to maintain his supremacy in the party. Subsequently, Bhattarai, an introvert politician, succeeded in becoming the party´s prime ministerial candidate and subsequently marched his way to the helm of power at 6 pm Sunday.

Born to a lower middle-class family in the rural backwaters of Khoplang in Gorkha on May 26, 1954, Bhattarai´s journey in politics was not a smooth ride. He was the second among the four children of Bhoj Prasad Bhattarai and Dharma Kumari Bhattarai. He spent his early childhood grazing goats and working in his small farm. He was hardworking and intelligent since childhood and that made him stand out among his siblings. He studied at a missionary school in Luintel village of Gorkha. And he surprised one and all by becoming the top scorer in SLC exams of 1970. The success boosted his confidence and opened up new possibilities, despite his humble background.

After passing intermediate level from Amrit Science Campus in Kathmandu, he got a scholarship to study engineering in Chandigarh of Punjab in India. Bhattarai had not developed an interest in politics then.

After graduating he moved to Delhi where he completed his masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the School of Planning and Architecture. There he met his current wife Hisila Yami and both tied the knot. In 1986, Yami gave birth to Manushi Yami Bhattarai who is now actively involved in politics.

But Bhattarai began to develop intense interest in politics after arriving in Delhi, which was the center of regional politics. There he also came into contact with various personalities including Hrishikesh Shah, Pradip Giri, Vedanta Jha, SD Muni, and Mohan Bikram Singh, among others.

After he was admitted to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which is a leftist bastion, he became a diehard Marxist. The influence that Marxism had on him is also apparent in his PhD thesis entitled “The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure of Nepal — A Marxist Analysis”.

His life as a politician began after he founded an organization called All India Nepalese Students Union during his stay in India. Later, he merged this organization with the Fourth Convention led by Mohan Bikram Singh, and finally returned to Nepal in1986. To his dismay, the Fourth Convention split into many groups after he joined the party, but he did not abandon Singh who was well-versed in the Marxist philosophy.

But he was soon disillusioned with Singh whom he found reluctant to chart out plans to launch communist movement in Nepal.

Bhattarai led the United National People´s Movement, a political front of radical communist parties, during the 1990 mass movement, and got involved in the unification of the leftist groups. And in 1992, he completely severed ties with Singh and joined the Unity Center led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal as a politburo member.

In the first general election in 1992, he led the party´s political front called United People´s Front that won nine seats in the 205-member House of Representatives.

His analytical prowess, intellect and his roles in the anti-Panchayat movement and then United People´s Front has already earned him repute as a seasoned politician.
After the Maoist insurgency gained momentum, there was, however, a tussle between Dahal and Bhattarai. Bhattarai´s image eclipsed Dahal to the outside world. But the party could not downsize Bhattarai as there was no one in the party who could match his intellectual prowess.

Bhattarai received a major blow when Dahal and Baidya joined forces and came up with the proposal to centralize power in the hands of Dahal in 1998. Reduced to a minority, Bhattarai could do nothing but to wait and see. There were several occasions when he felt humiliated and fought against Dahal virtually alone.

But Bhattarai´s position strengthened again after the party adopted his line of tactical shift from the protracted people´s war to peaceful politics during the famous Chunwang meeting in 2005. The Maoists signed a 12-point agreement with the parties that subsequently overthrew the monarchy and brought the Maoists into the mainstream politics. The party then emerged as the largest in the Constituent Assembly polls.

After a long saga of conflict with the party chairman over the post of prime minister, Bhattarai has finally made it. But the road ahead is certainly not a smooth one. Bhattarai will have to tackle the tricky problems of the peace and constitution, which entails taking the oppositional parties, including the NC and UML, into confidence.

But Bhattarai has so far been like a swimmer scoring for himself alone, and not like a footballer whose success depends on the efforts of the entire team. It is yet to be seen whether Bhattarai wins the confidence of the NC and UML, and takes the peace process to its logical end. Hopefully Bhattarai has yet another surprise up his sleeve.

Maoists, Madhesis ink four-point deal

KATHMANDU, Aug 29: The UCPN (Maoist) in return for the support to its prime ministerial candidate Dr Baburam Bhattarai by the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), has agreed to make changes to its last Thursday´s proposal on the peace process and constitution-writing.

On Sunday morning prior to the prime ministerial vote, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal signed a four-point agreement with top leaders of the UDMF, a grouping of five Madhes-based parties.

The agreement is, however, not clear what changes will the Maoists make to their proposal. The proposal, among other things, has set a 45-day deadline for completing the peace process.

Despite the agreement, the leaders have identified various contentious issues relating to the peace process — group entry of ex-Maoist combatants, rank harmonization, role of the combatants after integration, rehabilitation package and handover of the Maoist arms and combatants.

“All the decisions pertaining to the integration of the Maoist combatants will be decided by the Special Committee provisioned in the Interim Constitution,” reads the first point of the agreement.

In the second point, the Maoist party and the UDMF have agreed that no citizen will be deprived of their land ownership, besides agreeing on giving “special” relief for those affected by the Maoist insurgency, Madhes movement and Janjati movement.

“All the court cases against those involved in the Maoist insurgency, Madhes movement, Janjati movement, Tharuhat movement and Dalit and Pichadabarga movements will be dropped and they will be given general amnesty,” the second point of the agreement reads.

In the third point, they have agreed to uphold universal fundamental rights, constitutional supremacy, rule of law, press freedom, accountable judiciary, inclusive democracy autonomous states with right to self-determination and competitive politics among others.

They have also agreed to enact within 15 days, an act on inclusiveness, which was dropped in 2008 when the Maoist-led government was in power.

The Maoist party has also agreed with the UDMF ensure inclusiveness in the ongoing recruitment in the army so that more Madhesi people will be able to join the army.

They have also agreed to fill the vacant positions in the constitutional bodies and diplomatic postings within 15 days since the formation of the government.

Baburam Bhattarai new PM

KATHMANDU, Aug 29: At long last, UCPN (Maoist) Vice-chairman Dr Baburam Bhattarai has been elected the new prime minister securing 340 votes in the 601-seat parliament on Sunday.

His only rival Ram Chandra Paudel of Nepali Congress (NC) bagged 235 of the total 575 votes cast.

The Maoists´ eleventh hour deal with the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) paved the way for Bhattarai´s victory. While the UCPN (Maoist), the largest political party in parliament, alone commands 236 seats in the House, UDMF, an alliance of five Madhes-based political parties, altogether has 65 seats in parliament.

Other political parties Madhesi People´s Rights Forum, CPN-Samyukta, Rastriya Janamorcha, CPN-ML (Socialist), Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandidevi), Federal Sadbhavana Party, Rastriya Janamukti Party, CPN (Ekikrit), Federal Democratic National Front, Dalit Janjati Party, Nepaa Rastriya Party, Socialist People´s Party, Nepal Democratic Socialist Party, Nepal Family Party and independent lawmaker Sadrul Miya Haque also voted for Bhattarai.

Paudel got votes from CPN-UML, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, CPN-ML, Rastriya Janashakti Party and an independent lawmaker Baban Singh.

In the 601-seat parliament, seven seats have remained vacant as memberships of three lawmakers have been scrapped, one has resigned and three others have passed away.

Of the total 594 members, only 575 lawmakers cast their votes. Of the 19 lawmakers who didn´t cast their votes include five from the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party and four from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal as both the parties boycotted the voting.

Three lawmakers — DB Karki, Gayatri Sah and BP Yadav — were not allowed to vote as they have been suspended for their alleged involvement in the misuse of red passports. Bishwanath Prasad Agrawal and Shalikram Jamakattel didn´t turn up for voting as Agrawal is abroad and Jammakattel was seriously injured on Saturday evening. Similarly, three lawmakers — Naradmuni Rana of UML, Shivapujan Ray and Salma Khatun of MPRF — who have been accused of involvement in the red passport scam, are at large and one Maoist lawmaker — Gunakhar Basyal — has been out of contact for some months.

After tabling of the proposal for his candidacy at the parliament meeting, Bhattarai said being a prime minister of a majority coalition was not his choice. “Still the doors for transforming the government into a consensus coalition will always remain open and I will make efforts toward that end,” he said.

NC candidate Paudel said his entire political career has been aimed at fighting for democracy and safeguarding the universally-accepted norms of democracy and “this is also the objective of my candidacy.”

“No revolution or transformation is more precious than democracy,” Paudel said.

NC leader Bimalendra Nidhi, seconding Paudel´s candidacy, said there was a problem in basic ideology adopted by the Maoists. “They say there is no such word as pluralism in their dictionary. And there lies the problem. I urge them to study the new dictionaries that define pluralism,” said Nidhi.

Most of the leaders who presented their views at the House meeting before casting their votes appreciated Bhattarai for his intellectual and clean image.

“While he had already established himself as an intellectual and studious political leader, he has also proved to be a leader of peasants and laborers during the decade long conflict,” Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal said while seconding Bhattarai´s candidacy in parliament.

Shankar Pokharel of CPN-UML said the Maoist decision to field Bhattarai for the prime ministerial post might boomerang as he might not succeed in overcoming the grave challenges of the transitional period. “Leaders like him should have been made prime minister after the completion of the transitional phase,” said Pokharel.

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