Dr. Bhattarai And New Party
The nation’s politics frequently witnesses the making or breaking of political parties. Dissatisfied leaders and party dissidents are often at loggerheads with the leadership. The frustration to get the choicest of roles within the parties and in the government often impel party dissidents to take extreme steps of breaking and forming parties or defecting to other groups.
Not long ago, the once powerful Maoists that waged a bloody People’s War underwent several avatars ever since it agreed to join peaceful politics. Several of its leaders who earned name and fame during the insurgency period separated them from the mother party and formed their own parties. Recently, a group of leaders from the breakaway CPN- Maoist headed by Mohan Baidhya returned to the mother party, now rechristened the Maoist (Centre).
In the latest incident of erstwhile Maoist leaders forming a new party, former Maoist ideologue, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, has formally launched his new party, Naya Shakti. Before launching the party with much pomp and show at the Dashrath Stadium, he kept his party in incubation for about nine months. He severed ties with the erstwhile UCPN-Maoist about nine months ago with the much-hyped idea of forming and leading a new party, whose motto, according to him, would be to drive the nation towards economic prosperity.
Though the launch of the party was done with much publicity in the media that drew flak for Bhattarai, the former Maoist leader, however, was successful in roping in many well established names into his party. Many erstwhile Maoist leaders, who were said to be his allies, also helped in setting up his Naya Shakti.
Before severing his relation with the erstwhile UCPN-Maoist, Dr. Bhattarai, who once had headed the People’s Government during the insurgency period, had waged a struggle for gaining wider space within the party. Apparently, his differences were with the party supremo Prachanda, who had been enjoying the party top post for the past two decades. Prachanda had headed the party’s People’s War, which catapulted the party into a powerful political entity.
Bhattarai’s desire to lead the party made him restless on several occasions. He was even put under detention by the party during the insurgency. Despite the controversies, he continued to remain the party’s senior-most leader. When his erstwhile party joined mainstream politics, he could not get the seat he loved most – that of the chairman - even after a decade of joining peaceful politics. The reason behind this inability was his feeble hold on the party members, as majority of the Maoist leaders and cadres backed Prachanda. He had exhibited his dissatisfaction at not being able to get the chairman’s chair by renouncing his vice-president’s post.
Many who watched Bhattarai break away from the Prachand-led party even stated that the move had come at a critical time, making him a suspect in the eyes of his own party men and others. His decision to severe relations came at a time when India had upped its pressure on Nepal to prorogue the launch of the new constitution. His party chairman was the one who had put up a strong nationalist posture against India regarding the new constitution. Many thought his decision to quit the party came owing to his pro-Indian posture. When he became prime minister, many thought India had worked to garner a majority for him in the House through the Madhesi parties.
All these incidents hint that the former Maoist ideologue has a controversial past, but his latest endeavours to make the new political entity different from the other existing political forces sound attractive to many.
His agenda of heralding an equitable, prosperous democracy in the nation through his agenda of economic development sounds appealing, and the proclamation that his new party would be an alternative force that would not be like the political parties of the day has caught the imagination of many. During the launch of the party, the former finance and prime minister claimed his party would work to end poverty within the next seven years, double the income of the citizens and make the nation a middle income country in 15 years and turn Nepal into one of the richest in the next 25 years.
Bhattarai, an architect engineer by education, said that Nepal should be made an economic bridge between the two economic powers - China and India. The age-old adage that Nepal is a yam between two huge boulders should now be discarded, and a new era should be kicked off by making Nepal an economic bridge to reap dividends from the progress of its two neighbours. This sounds highly appealing, especially at the moment when both the big neighbours have been taking a keen interest in Nepal, owing to their own geo-politic situation vis-à-vis Nepal.
Another thing that suggests Naya Shakti has brought a change in Nepali politics is the way he launched his party. The party came into formal existence amidst an extravagant show of modern technology and heavy advertisements in almost all the newspapers, radio and television channels and cinema. It was the first time in Nepal that a party was launched when its leaders were administered the oath of party allegiance amidst the largest gathering of supporters at the stadium. All this gives Naya Shakti a different look as a political force.
However, the real test of Bhattarai and his party will be when he takes up the agenda of economic development. Poverty and backwardness are still the main issue in the nation. Inequality and marginalisation of the masses are still rampant here. Tackling these issues and ending poverty within the stipulated time frame will be watched with great interest by all.
The formation of Naya Shakti is indeed an attempt by Bhattarai to reinvent himself. He has now shaken off his past. And now through his new party, he has tried to attract new constituencies - the urban middle classes that are frustrated in the three major parties. Likewise, he has also attempted to attract Maoist party supporters but are looking for alternatives. Having said this, it is also true that attracting these constituencies is easier said than done, because the urban middle class forms the bastion of the two traditional parties - the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML.
In the meantime, Naya Shakti can bank on several of its eclectic party functionaries who have been drawn from different walks of life. These diverse personalities with deeper insight would prove vital in attracting more supporters in the days ahead.
However, no one can say for sure how Naya Shakti would fare as it is a party that is still evolving. Yet, given the nature of introvert Bhattarai, it is likely that he will try to hang on as the party chair as long as he can, making the very idea of democracy within the party a victim. If it happens, his agenda of achieving optimum economic development within the stipulated time would be a distant reality.