Sunday, August 28, 2011

Breaking News: Dr. Bhattarai as PM

More at: Linky

Nepal's legislature-parliament on Sunday elected Baburam Bhattarai, Vice-Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), new Prime Minister. The Maoists were supported by the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), an alliance of five Madhesi parties. In the House of 594 MPs, 575 members participated in the election and around 340 voted for Dr. Bhattarai, helping him secure a simple majority.

The other candidate, Nepali Congress Parliamentary Party leader Ram Chandra Poudel, got 235 votes. The NC was supported by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist). NC and UML leaders said they had no reason to trust the Maoists. Mr. Poudel told the House: “The NC is totally committed to democracy and democratic principles. The Maoists have constantly breached past agreements and continue to retain their military apparatus.” The UML said it had not received a credible and acceptable peace process proposal from the Maoists.

The Maoist victory was made possible, thanks to a last minute ‘four-point agreement' with the Madhesi parties on fundamental issues of ‘peace, constitution and functioning of a joint government'. The Maoists agreed to ‘positively revise' their proposal for the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants. Political sources told The Hindu that the Madhesi parties would get 10-12 ministries, including Home and Defence.

Wow, that is BIG news from Kathmandu! Especially given that RCP vs. Khanal hung in for round after round of mayhem in the previous incarnation of this mess. Even bigger is Home and Defence to the Madhesis, that is indeed a BIG compromise by the Maoists given that they extracted this very pound of flesh from JNK. So now Shri Prasad's meeting with RCP and SK was for this?! I am pretty sure that the new dispensation in JP is very much inside the circle on this change of fortune for Dr. Bhattarai. This is one last chance, I must be thinking. One more flopshow and we are in for a new elections. Lets see if Dr. Bhattarai can steer clear of the two extremes in the maoist camp and the rabble-rousing parties inside Singha Darbar.

More from: Linky

Other than the five Madhes based parties, Bhattarai was backed by 15 fringe parties in the CA and an independent lawmaker. Poudel, on the other hand, was supported by four parties--the CPN-UML, the RPP, the RJP and CPN-ML--and independent lawmaker Baban Singh. The Nepal Majdoor Kishan Party didn't vote, citing both candidates had failed to impress it. RPP-Nepal boycotted the election after both the prime ministerial candidates rejected the party's demand to declare Poush 27, the birthday of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, National Unity Day.

As expected, Linky

Madhav Ku. Nepal informed that his party would not join the Maoist-led government. Meanwhile, Joint Chairman of Nepal Sadbhavana Party, Laxman Lal Karna informed his party would be a constituent of the new government under the leadership of Maoist Vice Chairman Baburam Bhattarai. Sadbhavana party is a constituent of the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM)—an alliance of the Madhes-based parties—that signed a four-point pact.
When asked which ministry his party would claim, he said, “We will take the available ministries under the government of Nepal.” Madhesi Mocha will get 13 ministers in the new government.

On the agreement struck by the Madhes parties and the maoists: Linky

Sources say SLMM voted for Bhattarai after the Maoists agreed to address the issues of Madhes and give some lucrative ministries to it. The agreement has fulfilled most of the demands put forth by Madhesi parties since a long time but it seems to have some points that are very difficult to implement. The two sides, each of whom presents itself as the rebel force of the country, have agreed to conclude the peace process in the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement(CPA) signed in 2006. However, the new agreement put the contentious issues of integration on hold stating that these would be settled later as per political understanding. The agreement is silent on the most cantankerous issues of the peace process and constitution drafting.

The four-point agreement, which was unveiled at a press conference in the Constituent Assembly (CA) building in the presence of top leaders of the political parties, states that the biggest issue for the country is the meaningful conclusion of the peace process in the spirit of the CPA and that the first responsibility of the new government is completing the peace process and writing a new constitution. As per the agreement, the proposal floated by the Maoists on August 25, 2011 will be revised and clarified, but there is an understanding to integrate 7,000 combatants into security agencies.

The Maoists have agreed to return property seized by them during the insurgency, a longstanding demand of the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and other parties. “No one will be deprived of their legal property in any way during the implementation of the proposals and commitments made by the Maoist party on August 25,” the agreement reads. Withdrawal of court cases registered against the cadres and leaders of the Maoists and Madhesi parties is another issue on which both sides have come to a common point. However, this is likely to draw criticism from the opposition parties and national and international rights groups. More than three hundred Maoists cadres are facing cases in various courts for crimes that they allegedly committed during the insuregency.

At a time when NC is demanding the formation of a state restructuring commission to be included in the interim constitution, the new agreement has dismissed the necessity of such a commission. Both sides have committed to build an inclusive and democratic army as per Section of 20 of the Interim Constitution and ensure the inclusion of Madhesi people in the Army. The budget tabled by the earlier government is yet to get parliamentary approval but the Maoists and SLMM have committed to revise the current budget.

Overall, yet another numbered pact (three-point, four-point, five-point) agreement has temporarily changed the see-sawing fortunes in Nepal. This time two nemeses are in the same camp: Madhes parties and maoists. The former (due to their geographical closeness with the Terai in Bihar and parts of UP) have enjoyed the confidence of the Indian machinery for so long. The latter has had a love-hate relationship with India, first being succored in absentia in India and then being bulldozed by India to showing their true face. This is a time for change in the maoist camp with a middling Dr. Bhattarai coming to the fore. As expected, Prachanda will be waiting in the wings to pounce on Dr. Bhattarai's misdeeds, if any. Same can be said about Mohan Baidya Kiran, but for now, MBK must be happy that his siding with Dr. Bhattarai has borne fruit in displacing Prachanda. The level of agreement with Dr. Bhattarai's candidacy only goes to show how much the Indian machinery must have hated the showmanship of Prachanda or the extreme rhetoric of MBK. Overall, I see it as a net win for the Indian dispensation.

What would make this win even better is if India engineers a vertical split in the maoist camp along the Prachanda axis. A moderate faction of the maoists headed by Dr. Bhattarai that is dominant among the rank and file will be acceptable not only to India, but also CPN(ML) and NC. The rabble-rousing/showmanship factions of Prachanda and MBK can gang up and tear apart the maoist party (or whatever remains of it). As one sagely wise-man said, to neutralize an entity, you have to divide it first.

Not all is in India's hands in terms of handling the maoists. The maoists speak for themselves, so do the people of Nepal. There is going to be a temporary lull especially given that the budget will be easily passed unlike the previous rounds. In contrast to clamor call from the Nepali version of the "civil society" to disband the Constitution framing committee, we will see its continuance. Nepal still lives day by day, hour by hour and limping from one calamity to the next. So it should not be completely surprising if any of the marginalized factions of the maoist camp or either CPN(ML) or NC pick up a ruse to agitate. There are enough reasons to agitate, the most important being a lack of agreement on the exact numbers of PLA combatants to be integrated. Any number that breeches the 8K mark is bound to cause extreme discomfort in everyone including the Army. Any number that sticks close to the 7K floated around now is bound to cause serious mayhem within the maoist rank and file. We are in for interesting days.

Another coincidence that has not escaped me is the quickness in reaching a truce between Dr. Bhattarai's camp and the arrival of Jayant Prasad. How many times have we had a new Ambassador arrive in a country followed by a regime change or color revolution (red this time) of sorts? One can draw deep meanings into what this could signify, but to me, there seems to be some form of division in the Indian camp in terms of course of action in Nepal. One camp (for good reason) wants to not trust the maoists ever, having been bitten and beaten black and blue. This camp has been holding forth for so long and the sending off of Shri. Sood seems to have reversed this group's fortunes. On the other camp lies the "Lets give them one more chance" bandwagon. I hope there are enough checks and balances and this "one more chance" does not run to eternity. This camp has become prominent as of now. And Prashant Jha's clamor call is to this sub-set of the babucracy.

Who will end up the wiser, time shall tell. I will pick the latter approach if the split in the maoist camp can be engineered. It is not a question of eventuality here, as the maoists will split eventually given the vacuum of commonality. It is a question of the now and the here. The ball is in India's court on this matter. If not, a status quo of subterfuge is better. As they say, this is the time for pro-active diplomacy in India. India has gone pro-active, Exhibit Zzzz paraded here (no pun intended). The end-game is a game of chance, subterfuge, wisdom, cunning and a lack of pathos from stopping/hindering certain objectives (however philosophically anathematic they are to a democratic discourse) from being achieved. Are we game for this game? Are we game to make South Asia the Indian subcontinent again?

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