Originally Published 2012-03-19 00:00:00 Published on Mar 19, 2012
The United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which heads the present coalition government, is currently faced with the most severe intra-party differences over key issues of national concern.
Nepal: Hard choices for Prachanda
The United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which heads the present coalition government, is currently faced with the most severe intra-party differences over key issues of national concern. These will have an adverse impact on the peace process and will further derail the Constitution-making process with less than 70 days remaining for the last deadline of the Constituent Assembly.

On March 17, political tensions in Kathmandu heightened after the hardliner faction of the UCPN (Maoist) led by senior Vice-Chairman Mohan Baidya organised a press conference to announce their plan to topple the present Baburam Bhattarai government and frame a ’people’s constitution’. The faction also expressed its desire to revive the ’people’s governments’ that were in place during the insurgency. Baidya faction has threatened street agitation in case Bhattarai fails to step down immediately. Baidya claims to have the support of the former PLA combatants, more specifically those combatants who have recently taken voluntary retirement from the camps.

This has left chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda with hard choices and he finds himself in a most "difficult position" in his party. If he chooses to go along with the hardliners, he stands to lose much credibility and political clout, which he gained while agreeing to let Bhattarai be the prime minister in August last year. On the other hand, if he decides to stick to Bhattarai’s moderate line, the polarisation within his party will increase and will be a major hindrance in delivering a Constitution by May 27. In that case, all reconciliation efforts with other political actors, mainly the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the Madhesi group, too will come to a grinding halt as the hardliners’ position on integration and federalism remain unacceptable to all of them.

In the past, Prachanda has been seen to be vacillating between the hardliners and the moderates to retain his position as the top Maoist leader. But by choosing to align with the Bhattarai-faction, Prachanda was seen committed to completing the peace process and the Constitution-making within the present deadline. It will be disastrous for the peace process if Prachanda would now bow to the hardliners. As it is, going by the turn of events in the last few months, it is clear that Prachanda is losing the grip over his party and its workers and is seen to be no more in overall control of the party affairs.

The Bhattarai government, unfortunately, is not doing too well. It came under severe public criticism for a number of unpopular decisions aimed at promoting vested interests. Just last week, there were major protests in Kathmandu when the cabinet approved a budget of Rs 2 crore (about IRs 1.25 crore) to a private group for an upcoming expedition to Mt. Everest, which had Prachanda’s son Prakash as one of the main organisers. Although Prakash later said he had "rejected" the government offer and that the expedition was planned to apply pressure for early conclusion of peace process and constitution, protesters, mainly youths, belonging to the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML burnt Bhattarai’s effigy on March 17 to protest the grant. The same day, Bhattarai’s daughter, a university student, also declined to accept her nomination as a board member of the Cricket Association of Nepal. It was alleged that she got the membership on her father’s recommendation.

It will be much difficult for Chairman Prachanda now to maintain the delicate balance between the hardliners and the moderates in his party. With Bhattarai’s own credibility shrinking, there will be more resistance from the hardliners who could even evoke the ethnic card to stem violence in the capital city and elsewhere. But Chairman Prachanda must realise that he has a greater responsibility - one of building a "New Nepal." That will require settling the integration issue and state reconstruction.

After the death of the veteran politician G P Koirala, Prachanda is considered to one of the most influential politician in Nepal today. He should show statesmanship and not be guided by narrow vested interests. The risks he will take now will go a long way in institutionalising democracy in Nepal. Even at the cost of a split in his party, Prachanda must stick to the line of peace and Constitution for the larger good of the country.

The hardliners have of late shown irrationality in their demands and actions. They have sought renegotiation each time the party has entered into a formal accord with the other political parties over peace process and Constitution. The November 1 agreement signed last year by all major political parties was said to be the final deal to integrate 6500 combatants in to the security agencies which could have paved the way for completing the peace process. The UCPN (Maoist) agreed to start the process of returning of seized property and also to come up with a Constitutional framework by the new deadline. But soon after the agreement was signed, the Baidya faction burnt copies of it and demanded that the number be increased with senior position up to Brigadier General-level be allotted to the former combatants. Similarly, the hardliners obstructed every government move with senior leaders threatening "dire consequences" if their voices go unheeded. They organised blockage on the very day Bhattarai was sworn in as the PM. Such sort of political manoeuvring for narrow gains is against the spirit of Jana Andolan II and the peace agreements that followed after the end of the civil war and the abolition of monarchy in the country.

Akanshya Shah is Associate Fellow, ORF.

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