Friday, September 23, 2011

I like to identify myself as a radical democrat: Dr Baburam Bhattarai

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.

from Republica daily newspaper
Published on 2011-09-23 11:09:38 

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