More euphoria and less skepticism greeted the election of Baburam Bhattarai to the hot seat of Singh Durbar through an unlikely alliance of a party that once threatened to wage “a tunnel war” against India and a hotchpotch of four regional parties which the former still sees as “a stooge” of the southern neighbor.
The prime minister seem to realize the price of the euphoria he will have to pay if he is found wanting in the long-coveted job.
Making a departure from his predecessors, he has decided to go for a cheap “assembled in Nepal” jeep and immediately ordered a check on the doling out of the state fund to the “needy”.
A populist relief package is what he is working on to sustain the momentum of the euphoria.
The true test will however lie in how far, if at all, will he able to push the peace process forward and prepare credible grounds for a democratic constitution.
He has apparently full backing of his wily boss. Having engineered the elevation of his deputy to the country’s top executive job, Prachanda has thrown his full weight behind Bhattarai and boasted that the Maoist-led government would do a miracle in the next three months.
But many suspect such a miracle without Chairman Prachanda himself giving up his ambition of “taking the peace process (that he says he started along with the late Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress) to a logical conclusion.”
Insiders say, Prachanda is just waiting for the right moment to reduce his junior to yet another figure that has its photo hung on the Singh Durbar walls.
Bhattarai will have to race against time but walk cautiously. Doing both will indeed require a miracle.
He did not become prime minister. He was made prime minister. Like former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, he is neither the chief of the party nor the parliamentary party leader. Yet, in the very first bid he was able to pip Prachanda who, despite holding both positions, had lost seven rounds of polls last time around.
Understandably, Prachanda has taken Bhattarai’s success with a pinch of salt, although he had no choice after Bhattarai ganged up with other vice chairmen, Mohan Baidya and Narayan Kaji Shrestha and mysterious general secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa for what is famously called Dhobighat alliance.
Because prime minister Bhattarai does not have full control over the party, he will have hard time selling his plans and actions, howsoever popular they may be, without the full support of Prachanda.
The ambitious chairman who is said to be jealous of “the popularity” of his deputy would surely not want to write what he suspects to be own political obituary.
It was not for nothing that he worked extra hard to rally the ever-unreliable hotchpotch of the “pro-Indian” Madhesi parties behind Bhattarai. The in-fighting in the Madhesi parties over plum ministries and the tainted face the parties sent to join the government have already given a bad name to the Bhattarai government notwithstanding his pledge for “zero tolerance” for corruption.
Said an insider, “the chairman wants to give the dog a bad name and hang it.” That’s why, according to him, Prachanda is not keen to have the two big parties, the Nepali Congress and the UML, on board irrespective of public postures.