Fresh from the first foreign tour that included a hand-shake with President Obama and face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, Baburam Bhattara faces the same old challenge: completing the peace process and preparing a draft of the new constitution.
There has been no substantive progress on either front since he left for New York a week ago. Nor was there any expectation.
As he gets down to the business on return from New York, the challenge has only got stiffer.
The so-called hardliner faction of the party led by senior vice chairman, Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran’ has openly declared a war against the Bhattarai government over the alleged attempt at ‘Sikkimisation’ of Nepal.
Bhattarai may have hoped to bolster his position by direct meetings with Obama and Man Mohan Singh on the sidelines of the UN general assembly.
But his detractors inside the party would see the same as adding up to his liability.
Chairman Prachanda, currently seen to be aligned with Bhattarai, has vowed to carry the peace process forward even unilaterally if other parties did not cooperate. Said a pro-Prachanda party secretary and a senior minister, Post Bahadur Bogati, “the peace process will not stop due to the Maoists.”
This will please the opposition Nepali Congress and the UML. But antagonise the opposition within the party – the Vaidya faction.
With Prachanda only tactically backing Bhattarai in the PM’s chair and a major faction opening a battle front of its own, the prime minister finds himself in a tight spot.
As the peace process and the constitution are increasingly looking unlikely before the extended deadline of November 30, the prime minister may want to look beyond.
He may be popular at home and abroad. But that alone is not sufficient to enable him to deliver the goods. He is not too strong within the party and relies heavily on chairman Prachanda for organisational support.
Until and unless Prachanda makes it sure that the party is firmly and genuinely committed to the universally accepted form of democracy and peace process, Bhattarai’s solo commitment will not much ice.
The Nepali Congress and the UML are not ready now to trust the Maoists on borrowed commitment.
The Maoist leaders do realise this. They said that informal talks with the two big opposition parties will be intensified during the Dasain festival holidays to win their trust and build a credible base for completing the peace process and preparing a draft of the new constitution.
Said the Prime Minister Bhattarai’s principal political advisor, Devendra Poudel, “A lot of things will move forward after the prime minister returns from New York.”
But this is just a hope. There is no guarantee that the hopes will not dashed, given the deep mutual mistrust among the parties.
Prime Minister Bhattarai and chairman Prachanda are said to be mulling alternatives too.
According to sources, “they want to put pressure on the Nepali Congress and the UML by portraying the two opposition parties to the international community as the villain of the piece, in case they did not on board of the Maoists’ roadmap of peace.”