Dr. Baburam Bhattarai spoke this this past week at the New School in New York, as well as the UN General Assembly. I have provided the videos for those lectures below as I think that they are very interesting and clearly demarcate and demonstrate the direction in which Dr. Bhattarai would like to take his government. However, I do not wish to speak about Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s politics for they are well-known to all, and I have already made it abundantly clear that I disagree with him on a number of key issues, rather I wish to speak about Dr. Bhattarai, his wife and comrade Hisila Yami, and their daughter Manushi. I have had the honour of meeting and having spent time with all three of them, and had the great honour of introducing Hisila Yami in a programme in Canada. Indeed, some of my most cherished moments have been my discussions with Hisila Yami and Manushi about Nepalese politics, and both, despite their busy schedules have been more than gracious with their time.
I was recently asked why I have always favoured a Kiran-Bhattarai led party despite the fact that it is clear that Dr. Bhattarai’s politics are not the same as one that I believe will actually lead to the Nepalese revolution and to communism. I was asked why I would want to have a person who would be considered the archetype reformist by all who have paid any attention to Nepalese politics in the last 30 years to continue to be an influential member of any future revolutionary party. Indeed, I have been mocked by some on the Left like the Maoist-Third Worldist organisation Leading Light Communist Organization for advocating such an alliance. People are puzzled why I find disparaging remarks about him to be distasteful and unacceptable. And I can say that I with great clarity that the reason is simple: Dr. Bhattarai is one of the most honest, humble, intelligent, hard-working and subtle minds that the communist movement has produced in the last 50 years, and that nearly all of those who disparage him are simply not cut of the same clothe as him. Indeed, despite the fact that he has a reformist position I think that he has forced the party to develop better strategies and theoretical documents than it may have done otherwise. His work, “The Politico-Economic Rationale” remains one of the best articulations for the need for a people’s war in Nepal, and only has one volume worth comparison, Mohan Baidya’s “The Philosophy of Struggle” (which has yet to be translated but is in the process of being translated and published in English). Indeed, Comrade Mao said that two-line struggle was inevitable, so then why would we not clearly identify the rightist line and ensure that it is represented by one of the most intelligent comrades in the world today as to force the leftist line to become better comrades with more thorough theoretical and organisational solutions? Furthermore, I believe that Hisila Yami, despite my differences with her politics as well regarding the two-line struggle, except on the question of women on the party which she is 100% correct about (an issue that was much discussed with great fanfare by an international communist movement dominated by men, but has been largely subsequently dropped), also enjoys these traits, as does their daughter Manushi. In fact, both Hisila Yami and Manushi have tirelessly worked in Dr. Bhattarai’s shadow and have done so because of their dedication to the improvement of the Nepalese people’s lives. Whereas many other leaders of the UCPN(Maoist) have taken the reformist path due to the allure of riches and power, Dr. Bhattarai, Hisila Yami and Manushi have taken this path because they firmly believe that this will deliver the best possibilities to the Nepalese people at this current conjuncture. Unlike many other comrades’ children Manushi has worked her way up from the very bottom of the party and has risen up the ranks due to her own hard work. She is well-known in Nepal for leaving Kathmandu for days at a time and going into villages to investigate the conditions of the everyday Nepalese peasant and worker. This is especially remarkable in a time when many comrades have ceased to even go to the villages and areas that they are supposed to represent.
I have consistently argued that the Left faction of the party has to clearly articulate, as Dr. Bhattarai has and continues to do as evidenced in the below video clips, their vision of how to build a better Nepalese society within the restraints of the current conjuncture. Without doing so they can easily fall into a form of Left opportunism. Indeed, the Left faction of the party needs to present to the masses a strategic and philosophical document that measures up to Dr. Bhattarai’s “Politico-Economic Rationale for People’s War” and Mohan Badiya’s “The Philosophy of Struggle” for the current conjuncture. Dr. Bhattarai in a number of interviews, speeches (like those below), his tenure in the Chairman Dahal-led government and through the constitution-writing process a vision of Nepal has clearly demonstrated to the people of Nepal how he would take the country forward and has found support amongst some sections of the masses. Indeed, even in rural villages where the desire for a proper revolutionary process burns bright, the village comrades cannot but help point to social works projects, like hospitals, that Dr. Bhattarai has helped ensure were built. Comrades, despite their faction, cannot but admit that Hisila Yami has been one of the strongest voices for women in Nepalese society in general, and within the party as well, and has helped put into law a number of key provisions that have directly benefitted women and children. It is awfully easy to criticise comrades for their failings or theoretical shortcomings, but it is far more difficult to actually articulate a vision. This is something that continues to elude the Left faction.
I wish I could say that I was sympathetic to Dr. Bhattarai’s line. Indeed, I think I would have been a much happier person because Dr. Bhattarai cannot but help inspire people. However, I cant. I don’t think that the people of Nepal should have to wait another two generations, as Dr. Bhattarai has suggested, to make their revolution and firmly believe that there must be another way forward. However, I think that it will take an intellect like Dr. Bhattarai to do so. Mohan Baidya in the last three decades has often served as that intellect and has been able to produce documents for the Left that have been able to propel it forward. When Mohan Baidya split the Communist Party of Nepal (Masal) Dr. Bhattarai was on the wrong side of history and stayed at the side of Mohan Bikram Singh. The time has come again for Mohan Baidya and C.P Gajural, the leaders at the helm of the Left faction, to prove once again that they are Dr. Bhattarai’s intellectual equals. If they are not up to the task then they must step aside and make way for a new leader who is. It does not negate their previous roles, nor does it preclude them from playing an important role in the future, but it does mean that they will have to take lesser roles. However, I know that they are not such insecure men to not allow that to be the case. Indeed, it was this very Mohan Badiya who in 1986, due to the Sector Incident, who relinquished his role as Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Mashal) and allowed Chairman Dahal to take the role that he has become so famous for. Chairman Dahal was never known for his ideological capacity, but rather for his capacity to synthesise the documents of Mohan Baidya and Dr. Bhattarai and push the party forwards with organisational unity. However, it has become obvious to all and sundry that he is no longer capable of fulfilling that role and has become just another Nepalese politician, that he simply continues to bask in the light of previous glories and the fact that he has not had to deal with a serious revolt against his leadership since 1986. Whether one likes him or one despises him, Dr. Bhattarai is an intellectual force to be reckoned with and till date, despite that he has the smallest faction out of the three, has been the one who has firmly established the political programme and direction of the UCPN(Maoist) since 2005. If the Left is to have any chance of creating a new revolutionary process they had better best him, otherwise they risk being swept into the dustbin of history like so many other notable Nepalese communist leaders.
‘I like to identify myself as a radical democrat’
The following extract is based on interviews with Dr Baburam Bhattarai, Hisila Yami, and Manushi Bhattarai and is a part of an introductory chapter on Baburam Bhattarai from a draft manuscript by authors Bhojraj Pokharel and Shrishti Rana to be published as a book on Nepal’s peace process and Constituent Assembly elections.
The authors target to bring some untold and inside stories as well as hard realities and complexities of transition.
The Week brings you an exclusive sneak peek.
Baburam Bhattarai, who would later become a key actor in abolishing the all-powerful monarchy in Nepal, was born poor.
The Bhattarais stayed in the remote backward village of Belbase, Gorkha district. Though down-and-out, the family had seen better daysmany generations ago.
They belong to the priestly class family which helped to install the same Shah dynasty, which Baburam so bitterly opposed, some five centuries ago.
Within a few days of the tragic death of her eldest son who was just four, Dharma Kumari gave birth to a tiny light-brown complexioned baby boy with black gimlet eyes on June 18, 1954. An astrologer predicted that her newborn son would bring much fame to the family.
They promptly named him ‘Ram’ after a Hindu God yet his mother lovingly called him ‘babu’. That’s how he became Babu Ram.
Though illiterate and oppressed like other Belbase women, his mother had instinctive leadership. In Belbase, the poor and dalits approached her with their problems.
That’s how her son developed sensitivity towards injustice. She was his first and undying source of inspiration. But his father Bhoj Prasad was entirely opposite.
Introverted. Indifferent. Impassive. Baburam’s personality combined their characteristics in varying degrees. He had his mother’s rebelliousness and his father’s gentleness.
When he was barely seven, a relative came to Baburam’s home. This relative, Krishna Prasad, was a Congress Party activist hiding after King Mahendra’s power seizure in 1960. Krishna Prasad would sit inside their mud-house the whole day scribbling endlessly on scraps of paper.
A seven-year-old boy who had just started to read could not contain his inquisitiveness and would read all that had been written down. It was all against the King of Nepal.
That experience somehow convinced Baburam that the King was a bad person. That was how the first seed of republicanism was sown in his mind.
Baburam was rather attached to his mother but she could hardly spend time with him. She had to toil day and night in the parched fields just to eke out a living.
Life in the hill villages in one of the poorest countries was hard. Baburam’s life would have followed the same pattern had it not been for the magic wand of education he got to break through Belbase’s pastoral drudgery.
In 1963, the United Mission to Nepal established Amar Jyoti School in his village. It gave that nine-year-old peasant’s son an opportunity to get formal education which was then limited only to the urban elite.
A reserved boy, he enjoyed solitary studying. His mother encouraged him; she willingly sold off the property given to her by her father to pay for his education. Baburam’s favorite area of knowledge was science.
His interest in natural science and space science grew over time and he wanted to be like Stephen Hawkins or Einstein.
At sixteen, he drew public attention by being the first boy ever from the rural areas to gain the first position in the SLC examination.
His simple-minded father thought that the prediction made by the astrologer earlier about Baburam becoming famous one day had come true.
This success also gave him the chance to meet the royal who would later become the cause of his first jail sentence in life. Crown Prince Birendra personally gave awards to those students who got the highest marks in his favorite subject – Geography – in the SLC. A mere teenager, Baburam was curious about this meeting.
His impression at the end of the brief encounter was: “the Crown Prince was a decent person though the palace was not as grand as I had thought.” The event did nothing, nevertheless, to tone down his hostile childhood feelings for the monarchy.
Further studies brought him to Kathmandu. While pursuing an Intermediate in Science (ISc) from Amrit Science College, he got involved in various student activities.
After finishing his ISC, he chose to study engineering instead of medicine, a subject in great demand, because of his fascination with mathematics.
Bright that he was, he was awarded with the Colombo Plan for studying at Chandigarh Engineering College (CEC), Punjab. In the library of that college, he came across a name tied to a story so inspirational that it completely changed his life.
A wannabe Einstein got transformed into a revolutionary after reading that biographical book. It was just a matter of time before the whole of the Kingdom of Nepal and then most of South Asia would hear about him.
He even began to imagine how similar their lives were though the countries they came from were thousands of miles apart. After reading that book, he vowed to himself to devote his own life to the socio-economic transformation of the Nepali society like the young and revolutionary hero of that tragic epic.
A total metamorphosis as Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s life story transmuted the shy scholar into an unreserved rebel.
Not long after this, the bright alumnus of CEC turned into a full-blown political activist. He became the founder president of the All India Nepalese Student Association (AINSA) in 1977.
The AINSA helped him to befriend both prominent Nepalese and Indian leaders like BP Koirala, GP Koirala, Rishikesh Shaha, Sharad Yadav, Karan Singh, and Chandra Shekhar. Baburam respected BP Koirala greatly.
In his words, “B.P. was the only Nepalese leader who really impressed me. BP was quite fond of me too. I would have, may be, joined the NC due to BP’s charismatic leadership had it not been for his policy of national reconciliation. I was so sure that the monarchy needed to be abolished for any modernization in Nepal, any compromise with the King was just not acceptable to me. So after BP called for reconciliation with the King, I steadily drifted towards communism. Till then I liked to identify myself as a radical democrat.”
In 1977, Baburam joined the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi. As an outstanding student, he frequently got invited by his Indian friends to their homes.
These were mostly well-off Delhites whose apartments were looked after by Nepalese servants. It broke his heart to see his fellow countrymen working for survival in a foreign land; he felt that the love and honor he was getting from his friends was meaningless when his own people were menials – the actually exploited underclass he’d read about – in those very grand habitations.
It made him more of a radical. In 1980, he waved a black flag at King Birendra on a visit to Delhi and got arrested (though freed later).
In 1981, Baburam joined Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) “purely to pick up politics.” The same year he enrolled as a member of the Communist Party of Nepal.
At JNU, he studied Marxism and wrote a thesis, The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure in Nepal – a product of his own study.
While in JNU, Baburam also got married. It was in the mess of the Architecture School, where he had met his future wife, Hisila Yami, when she was just seventeen years with longer black hair.
She had enthusiastically extended her hand and said, “Hello! I’m Hisila Yami.” Belonging to a traditional Newar family, she did not know the Nepali language too well; so she spoke in English.
Yami was an unusual Nepalese surname. The sharp Baburam quickly remembered coming across that surname in a book mentioning a Dharma Ratna Yami.
Unable to stop himself, he asked her, “Are you a daughter of Dharma Ratna Yami?” Hisila nodded, appearing astonished. It was not love at first sight; such a “frivolity” was not possible for a wanting-to-be-a-celibate Baburam. They became friends first.
Hisila was full of youthful energy and enjoyed her life. Her passions were dance, music, and sports. Baburam was almost the opposite. His philosophy in life was not to enjoy it but to make it meaningful. Despite these personality differences, they came to spend a lot of time together.
As Hisila had grown up in India, she did not know much about Nepal’s history and politics at that time. Baburam taught her about politics, including her own father’s aborted political struggle and Nepalese history in general of which she was completely unaware.
That was how the duo fell in love while discussing politics. Somehow it took them a long time to realize it. By educating Hisila, Baburam expected her to work towards transforming the Nepalese society, but she was destined to transform his life first.
When Baburam left Architecture School where his junior Hisila was still studying, his life took an unexpected turn.
He started yearning for Hisila, missing her terribly. The only way to end his mental turmoil was by giving up his goal of celibacy. Young and outgoing Hisila had been the heartthrob of many boys then, both Indian and Nepalese, receiving numerous proposals of marriage.
When Baburam proposed to her, she gladly accepted, magnetized by his “seriousness.” In her words, “He was so intense, so completely different than me, I couldn’t help liking him.”
In 1983, Baburam met with a serious accident. Worried about his recovery, Hisila wanted to nurse her injured partner. It was not easy in intrusive South Asian society. At that time, she was the general secretary of AINSA.
It was sure to set off rumors. To avoid any scandal, they decided to get married in a low-key wedding. Despite belonging to different backgrounds, their marriage was unopposed. Baburam’s mother was rather happy that her “bairagi” son had finally settled down. Soon, Hisila became his strength.
She was loving, though the loss of both her parents at an early age had made her tough. She loved dancing and would dance whenever she got an opportunity – even on her own! Even while she was imprisoned during the democratic movement in 1990, she entertained her jail-mates by dancing for them. She also gave this leader joy in his life – his family.
Baburam had always dreamt of having a daughter due to his sensitivity towards women in general. His dream came true when Hisila gave birth to their daughter.
They named her after a radical feminist magazine that Hisila was associated with – Manushi – meaning “a dignified woman,” While politics kept Baburam busy, Hisila single-handedly ensured that their only child was brought up well.
Baburam greatly enjoyed going on vacations with his small family, watch “meaningful movies,” and discuss his political philosophy with them whenever possible. Baburam was proud that his daughter had grown up to be a sensible person. Its credit belonged to his dear wife.
In 1990, Baburam joined the Prachanda-led Unity Centre Party and was elected as its politburo member.
As this party was dissatisfied with the compromise between the King and the non-radical political parties, it passed a resolution to prepare “objective and political condition” for establishing “the People’s Republic.”
Baburam was made the Convener of its political front, the United People’s Front Nepal (UPFN). Under his leadership, the UPFN participated in the General Elections in 1991 and managed to become the third largest party in the Parliament.
Post-elections, the UPFN launched several protests against the elected government, demanding a range of socio-economic reforms, and conducted social activities to attract the general people.
As the government suppressed their movement instead of heeding to even their legitimate demands, it became easier for the UPFN to launch their planned People’s War in 1996. Baburam was one of the chief architects of the People’s War.
His clever strategies combined well with Prachanda’s fine organizational skills. By the age of 50, Baburam Bhattarai had established himself as one of the most powerful leaders of the CPN-Maoist at war with the Nepalese state. He would settle for nothing less than the full restructuring of Nepal.
His mission had become a grave threat to the very institution of a monarchy that had the accumulated strength of twelve divine Hindu monarchs.