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Architect of devastation

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has left Nepal in the lurch, writes Kanak Mani Dixit.

india Updated: Oct 19, 2011 22:12 IST
Kanak Mani Dixit

Nepal would have developed into a robust democracy after the fall of the panchayat system in 1990, with its society proceeding rapidly towards the equity and economic growth that only pluralism can guarantee. But what worked for the people did not for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), then a small party with immense ambitions.

The Maoists announced war on the parl-iamentary system in February 1996, seeking a fast-track to power using strategic brutality, the rugged terrain and a reactive State. The public was silenced and the parliamentary parties terrorised out of the villages. Over the one decade of fighting, with the evaporation of employment, a population in poverty was forced to seek survival in migration to India, the Gulf and Malaysia.

The architect of that insurgency and the resulting economic devastation and lost opportunities was Baburam Bhattarai, the man who handed a 40-point memorandum to the Kathmandu government before going underground in February 1996. Bhattarai visits New Delhi today as head of government, and lionised by a section of the media and academia.

When he became PM in late August, Bhattarai knew that his stint was unlikely to extend beyond the third-time extended term of the constituent assembly that expires on November 30. He had hoped to use the time to build an image of probity and action, establishing a new reality vis-a-vis his party chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda. Prachanda had vice-chairman Bhattarai placed under house arrest for ideological deviation back in the underground days, but whose help was needed to reach out to New Delhi when the party emerged into open politics. By 2009, however, Prachanda had become alert to his deputy’s growing ambitions and sought to puncture it with selective disclosures that Bhattarai was “an Indian lackey”.

While many see Bhattarai as a moderate who understands realpolitik, others regard him as a rigid dogmatist. Those who believed that Bhattarai was true to his ‘peace and constitution’ stance were shocked mid-monsoon when he suddenly aligned himself with the ultra-radical Mohan Baidya to isolate Prachanda. Cornered, Dahal agreed to make Bhattarai PM. But no one doubts that the wily Prachanda holds the future of this government in his hands.
Bhattarai was made PM by Dahal as a peace offering to India. But Bhattarai is more like a sacrificial lamb, having been unable to create a new reality against his chairman using the power and privilege of the office of the PM. Already, Bhattarai is contending with loud accusations of ‘Sikkimisation’ from the powerful Baidya faction.

Bhattarai comes to India as possibly the weakest prime minister of Nepal since 1990. It is incongruous that a PM who seeks to build an image of decency maintains a circle of political advisors that is a roster of convicted and accused killers and thugs. Last week, he only reluctantly jettisoned a confidante who was minister for land refo-rm, accused by the police of murder in 2010.

New Delhi’s political class, so exasperated by the interminable ‘transition’ in Nepal, seems to have lost interest in Nepal and left the bilateral management to the apparatchiks. In the severely degraded bilateral landscape, opportunist overseers, carpetbaggers and failed politicians turn up in Kathmandu, to be lionised for want of anyone better.

A stable and prosperous Nepal is vital for the long-term economic growth of the Indian heartland. And democracy is what will push this agenda, while ‘realpolitikal’ compromises made out of sheer exasperation cannot yield results for the people on either side. The job of converting Nepal into a prosperous open society, with social justice and inclusion, is for the Nepali people to conduct. What New Delhi can do during Bhattarai’s visit is to insist that the Maoists prevaricate no more on the promise made on the peace process to the Nepali people and the international community.

Kanak Mani Dixit is the publisher of the Nepali fortnightly news magazine Himal Khabarpatrika, The views expressed by the author are personal.