Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bhattarai on a lone journey?

Nabin Bibhas

Former PM and former senior Maoist leader Dr Baburam Bhattarai is all set to form a new political force if one is to go by his recent defection from the UCPN (Maoist) and subsequent visits to districts to interact with people from different sectors and professional background to garner support to launch the new force.
But whether the new force that Bhattarai has been campaigning for since the past few years will come to fruition or merely confine as his much-cherished wish is a question that Nepali pundits have begun probing.

There are no indications that Bhattarai's meetings and interactions across the country have helped his cause. To begin with, the idea of Bhattarai being the 'first man' of a new political force does not seem to convey anything novel about it. Although never the head of a political party, he was at the wheel of a major communist political party as a second man for over two decades. And he has also already served as Nepal's executive chief. Political power, therefore, is not something that is new to Bhattarai. Therefore, common people, who have already been spectator to Bhattarai's works as the premier, don’t seem convinced that the leader would do any better as the first man of a political party.
Bhattarai always stood determined in the political line he believed the Maoist party should adopt. Although at times, Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda', chairman of his party UCPN (Maoist) - CPN (Maoist) before coming to the peace process - supported his line, mostly Bhattarai would have to defend his line alone. At one point during the insurgency, the party put him under house arrest for his political line. Yet, nothing deterred Bhattarai's conviction that his line was indeed best for the party. Ultimately, he succeeded in converting the Maoist party into a parliamentary party.
Bhattarai repeatedly claimed that the Maoist party ran in accordance to his political line after the 12-point deal with the mainstream political party in New Delhi in 2005. Similarly, he also claimed himself as the champion of the new constitution through the elected Constituent Assembly.
His claims are true.
But it is also true that the downfall of UCPN (Maoist) from the largest party in the first CA election to the third party in the second CA can also be read as the failure of his political line. But, Bhattarai did not concede this was the case.
In the last days of the constitution drafting process, Bhattarai devoted his all efforts to draft constitution as the chairman of the Constitutional Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee of the CA. However, he quit from the CA as well as his party soon after constitution promulgation. Although from the surface, his decision seems to be fueled by his dissatisfaction with the new constitution, his main intention is to grab the sentiments of the dissatisfied groups like Tharus, Madhesis, janajatis in addition to cashing in on those issues raised by the 'People's War' but not addressed in the new constitution. Similarly, he wants to capture the interests of India and Western countries that were not addressed in the statute.
Bhattarai's calculation is that all the dissatisfactions could be consolidated as the basis for forming and leading a new political force he had been campaigning for.
Bhattarai feels his two characteristics make him a credible candidate to garner support for the new force. One, being a Pahade Bahun championing for the cause of Madhesis and other minority groups would give him a character of the national leader when the top leaders of the mainstream parties have failed to gain trust of Madhesi community and the Madhesi leaders are limited to regional parties. Two, as someone who has already served as the prime minister only augments his 'national leader' character. His recent remark in Gorkha that Prithivi Narayan Shah began Nepal's unification campaign from Gorkha and that he would also launch the new force from the same place explicitly hints at his intention to showcase him as figure keen to unify the Nepali population that has polarized since the promulgation of the new constitution.
Bhattarai has a challenge to regain his lost charm. Being SLC board topper, Nepal's bourgeoisie, especially Kathmandu's middle class, intellectuals and Nepali media were attracted to him. But as a PM, he failed to keep up with their expectations. Moreover, for someone who rose to politics with claims that he was championing the cause of the poor, Bhattarai made a big blunder by forcefully evacuating the slum dwellers in Thapathali in Kathmandu, thus losing the trust and support of the country's poor folks.
His ex-comrades have tagged Bhattarai of being pro-India and state several of his moves to prove their point - for instance, allowing air-marshals for Indian aircrafts at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).
Bhattarai has always refuted the allegations. India's dissatisfaction over Nepal's new constitution which took explicit attempts at political interference and subsequent blockade on Nepal has increased anti-Indian sentiment in Nepal. In this context, Bhattarai's success at forming the new force would rest much on how well he can dispel pro-India label on him.
Moreover, Bhattarai has no partner who could serve as his alternative - either in the ideological or organizational front - in the new force. His old comrades along with those who are hopeful of joining him, like former bureaucrats, bankers and artists, are not skilled organizers when it comes to operating political organization.
In addition, Bhattarai lacks a clear political ideology or agenda. On the one hand, he has indicated that the new political force would be a non-communist party where , in Bhattarai's words 'Saraswoti and Laxmi would coexist' meaning that this force would represent all sections of Nepali society. On the other hand, he has charged the UCPN (M) leader of abandoning the legacy of 'People's War' and steering his party to the like of CPN (UML). His aides have also been claiming that they still stick to the legacy of 'People's War'. But, there are other forces like Netra Bikram Chand 'Biplab' led CPN Maoist and Mohan Baidya 'Kiran' led CPN-Maoist which have also been claiming themselves of carrying on with the legacy.
Earlier, Bhattarai had paid his all efforts to attract youth leaders of NC and UML and other professionals to his new force. But unlike his expectation, they did not give him a green signal to join him. Only after this did he showcase his new force as the one that would take ownership of the 'People's War' legacy. But it merely appears to be a ploy to attract the core Maoist cadres frustrated with how Dahal and UCPN (M) have evolved after coming to the peace process.
Bhattarai's past and attachments do not suggest that his real intention is to carry the legacy of the 'People's War', rather it is to form a non-communist party. But it is not clear where his new force would fit? Would it merely be a new Nepali Congress-like force? It is not clear. After all, the lines that separate NC and former royalist parties, and UML and Dahal-led Maoist are very thin.
Bhattarai himself is an ideologue, not a keen organizer or manager. It is true that he did not get an organizational role during the insurgency period; but, he failed to make organization and attach with party cadres after peace process too.
Irrespective of these, Bhattarai has come to the political ground with some strong issues, albeit diverted by the Indian blockade currently. But in order to meaningfully champion these issues would require a strong organization. Since not all of his old comrades have hinted about joining him, there is a rising fear that Bhattarai's desire to form and lead a new force will merely confine as his much-cherished wish.
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