PM Bhattarai can neither ignore public frustration nor sideline it because it is what he inherits as gift from predecessors
Nepalis have over the years learnt not to expect much from the leaders including Prime Minister. They have bitter experience of how their high anticipation got snubbed by the politicos in power in recent times. Will Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai be able to offer them a different taste? Does the fourth communist Head of Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal have any thing special and positive meant for the people who feel rhetoric-fatigued and let-down by years of varied political manipulations?
The questions are being raised prominently in the public as the first Ph.D. Premier of Nepal completes his inaugural rituals to structure his cabinet and settle down in Singha Durbar. The queries present a glimpse of the public mood. BRB-Premiership has to evolve in it. PM Bhattarai can neither ignore public frustration nor sideline it because it is what he inherits as gift from predecessors. The only option, he has, is to tailor his discourse and practice to the need of the people. He has to generate hope for them.
For this, he has to undertake practical measures with a view to integrating 19,000 plus Maoist combatants and making his Maoist party really civilian, distanced from weapons and army as per Maoists' earlier commitment. Some other tasks are pressing, too: implementing past pledges, assuring law and order, making government functional, and allowing the economy to operate in an uninterrupted manner. Not a tall demand, but a simple duty of a government!
Building trust among political parties constitutes another agenda. BRB cannot share the luxury of one party show like his Maoist mentor in the first government after Constituent Assembly poll. Neither can he try the modality of embracing most parties and excluding the opposition like in Madhav Kumar Nepal's grand coalition administration. The recently practiced JNK style of running government on the dictates of a very strong party would not be compatible with BRB dispensation. Â
It would not be easy for PM Bhattarai to accomplish the tasks in one go. They are, however, achievable piece by piece. Most important point to remember in this regard is:Â the force that has been either evading the issue of integration or postponing it under one excuse or the other for over three years would in no way be friendly to the new Premier.
In the latest case, for example, Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) had assured former Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal (JNK) about full support for the integration. JNK undertook various risks, some highly dangerous for his political career, in the hope that the pledged support would be a reality. But the same never materialized and Khanal had to quit in disgrace as a failure in the seventh month of Premiership. BRB is, of course, aware of this phenomenon. Will he be creative in avoiding its adverse effects on his political image?
Unless the integration matters are settled the ground work - the fundamentals - for sustainable peace will not be complete. The issue of assured peace is linked up with finalization of the draft of the constitution which, in turn, requires compromise in the political parties' ideological differences particularly those related to state re-structuring, federal mechanism, form of government and electoral system.
Thorny problems ahead!
All these are thorny problems that PM Bhattarai has to encounter to make his Premiership productive. Although not all of them are the direct responsibilities of BRB, they constitute the real challenges for him because he has to be instrumental in creating atmosphere favourable to them. BRB could make his Premiership different by facing them with courage, political wisdom and open mindedness.
One advantage that he enjoys is the faith that people, politicos, and friendly countries have in him. He has earned it because of the political role that he has played so far. Although an unknown quantity in the high decisive chair, Bhattarai has earned people's trust because of his handling Finance Ministry three years ago and his consistent struggle inside his party for peace and constitution. Seven months ago he won wide public sympathy as in-party tactics did not allow him to offer himself as a candidate for Prime Ministerial poll in Legislature Parliament.
People also fear the same tricks would now be played against BRB and efforts will be made to make him also a failure. There might be some who would defame him by misinterpreting his observation on Nepal-India ties. Others could ridicule his stand in left politics, his tolerance for parliamentary values and democrats, his insight in international affairs and his emphasis on key components of constitution. The new Prime Minister has to be cautious about such move and take meticulous care in undertaking steps in politics and governance.
The circumstance which resulted in the emergence of PM Bhattarai as the last hope for fulfilling the mandate of the Constituent Assembly is in itself a notable milestone in Nepali politics. He has been elected through normal democratic process in parliament. He won his party nomination for the post through hard work in what could be termed "primaries" in Maoist party. The new job is both a challenge and an opportunity for him. Three Prime Ministers, highly seasoned in leftist politics in their own ways, have failed to produce positive results for peace and constitution. If the new Premier cannot perform, the first experiment undertaken by Nepalis for writing the constitution will fail. It might push the country into chaotic future.
Some initial gestures that PM Bhattarai demonstrated as Premier - using Nepal made Mustang Jeep instead of luxurious car, paying tribute to notable communist leader Pushpa Lall in place of historic martyrs and accomplishing without hitch the three month-extension of Legislature Parliament â€“ appear not conventional and are politically interesting. But they do not possess potentiality to assure citizens yet. Neither do the directives he has given to bureaucrats.
People do not expect miracles from BRB. They simply expect integration issue to be settled promptly for ensuring peace. Will PM Bhattarai deliver this and open way to finalize the draft of constitution as per the mandate of the people? Or will he be simply happy over being listed in Nepal Prime Ministers' Club?