Checkered history-2016

Checkered history

Besides his old Maoist comrades and some leaders of minor political parties, Baburam Bhattarai’s ‘New Force’ has attracted several respected development professionals, artistes, intellectuals and civic leaders. Many thoughtful young people are attracted and intrigued by the New Force’s development-oriented agenda, but are sitting on the fence before deciding whether to join it. It is understood that many donors and diplomats, too, are attracted by BRB’s pragmatic-sounding development agenda.

Indeed, among Nepal’s established political leaders, no one else has articulated a vision for a prosperous and equitable Nepal as systematically and thoughtfully as BRB has. Most of Nepal’s top leaders do not have the habit of reading contemporary books and following global mega-trends as carefully as BRB. Thus, BRB sounds enlightened, wise and up-to-date with global trends while most other leaders continue to spout old ideological clichés that no longer inspire the younger generation and the general public.

The problem, however, is Bhattarai’s core belief and message are covered up by a progressive-sounding agenda. As I have recounted in my recently published book, Lost in Transition: Rebuilding Nepal from the Maoist mayhem and mega earthquake, Bhattarai has been a master at tailoring his message to suit different audiences, hoping that amnesia in civil society and the yearning for long-lost progress will make people forget the contradictions between his words and deeds. Here are some illustrative examples.

Contradictory persona

In 2010, on behalf of his party, BRB personally drafted and presented a “Constitution of People’s Federal Republic of Nepal: 2067″ which was advertised as containing the most progressive ideas for a 21st-century “people’s constitution”. This draft constitution rejected pluralism while grudgingly accepting the concept of multiparty democracy, provided the political parties met what BRB would consider certain “democratic” and “patriotic” criteria.

Many articles of that BRB-drafted constitution were comparable to those of North Korea’s 1998 Constitution that also theoretically supports multiparty democracy and a wide range of socio-economic and political freedoms, under the benevolent guidance of the vanguard Workers’ Party of DPRK.

BRB played a lead role in drafting Nepal’s new constitution over two Constituent Assemblies, but now he is at the forefront of criticizing this document. With proportional representation and no provision for a minimum threshold for parties to be represented in the legislature, the parliamentary system under the new constitution seems guaranteed to deliver unstable coalition governments.

Fully knowing this would happen, why did BRB not advocate for minimal threshold for political parties when he was leading the constitution drafting process? He is now a votary for executive presidency, but one worries that his personal leaning is for a more classical communist-style strong executive as envisaged in his 2010 draft constitution.

Matādesh v Janādesh

In 2012, BRB as Prime Minister dissolved the first elected Constituent Assembly when it became clear that the Maoists and their allies would be unable to secure the kind of constitution they wanted. Later, in November 2013, they willingly participated in the second CA elections. But after they lost these elections badly, they sought to interpret the results in an artful and self-serving manner, with BRB pontificating a whole new political theory that says elections merely provided matādesh (“voters’ verdict”), whereas the Maoists and Madheshis were the guardians of a far more legitimate janādesh (“people’s mandate”) deriving from earlier revolutions and political agreements.

Precisely because BRB prefers revolutionary janādesh over democratic matādesh, local elections have never been his priority since many popularly elected VDCs and DDCs were replaced by his revolutionary jana sarkārs as a result of the Maoist mayhem at the grassroots, and more recently by Nepal’s most corrupt “all party mechanisms” without any accountability to voters.

What kind of democracy does BRB really believe in? If his New Force performs poorly in the next elections, will he accept the results gracefully or will he once again invoke the self-righteous matādesh versus janaādesh theory to reject the election results? If the New Force emerges as a minor party after the elections, will BRB accept to be part of a constructive “loyal opposition” as in all mature democracies, or will BRB resort to his old tactic of demanding that all matters of national importance be decided by “consensus” thereby giving his party and other like-minded “progressive” groups veto power regardless of how they perform in elections?

Guns v butter

Today, BRB sounds like the apostle of economic prosperity, and would like us all to believe that this has always been his conviction. He would like us to believe that the violent revolution and various insurrections he spearheaded were only meant for creating a favorable political atmosphere for his cherished economic and social agenda. But how faithful was BRB about this conviction—when he actually had the opportunity to implement it?

Here is a disturbing example: After signing the Comprehensive Peace Accord, winning the first CA elections, and twice leading the government, BRB and his party had a golden opportunity to show their commitment to development by demobilizing their 19,000+ combatants and deploying them for national reconstruction.

Some of us made concrete proposals for specialized technical and vocational training and equipping the combatants to serve as health workers, teachers, agriculture extension workers, forest guards, mechanics and entrepreneurs. Donors were ready to provide necessary funding and technical support for a massive training and employment program. However, BRB and his cohort did not show any interest in such proposals. Instead, they insisted till the end that maximum combatants be integrated into the already bloated Nepal Army.

Even for the 3,000+ child soldiers, as verified by UNMIN, BRB and his comrades never embraced proposals by UNICEF and others to reunite them with their families, support them to resume their schooling or provide them with special vocational training. Instead, these youngsters were continuously given false promises that they too will “somehow” be integrated into the national army or be given very generous cash grants.

When their bargaining to milk the government and the donors failed, the Maoists betrayed their child soldiers and released them to the harsh world with no more than token pocket-money. Today, the former child-soldiers form a sullen group that feels abandoned by society. Shamelessly, BRB is courting these ex-combatants with new promises, hoping that their angst and distress can be strength to his New Force.

When they failed to induct most combatants into the national army, the only other “honorable” option that BRB and his comrades bargained for was maximum financial compensation. All funding for this came from cutting development budget of this poor country; this was done instead of utilizing the generous donor support for vocational training and employment-oriented rehabilitation.

Some of us had proposed that among the Maoist combatants to be integrated into the Nepal Army, priority should be given to the large contingent of women, Dalits and other groups who were historically under-represented in the national military. But we did not hear of support for this proposal from BRB. He and his party’s exclusive focus was securing senior-most positions in the army for their loyal commanders, or extorting maximum money from the state.

Why was BRB not advocating preferential opportunity for women and Dalits in the integration exercise, even when his rhetorical commitment to inclusion has been so loud? BRB now seeks to pass blame for such “misjudgement” to his former comrade Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda). But as the self-proclaimed leader standing for “peace and development”, why did he not assert himself to seize the golden opportunity for deploying his great human resources for reconstruction and development?

The episode with the integration of Maoist ex-combatants raises serious questions about BRB’s commitment to humanitarian values and development-focused agenda.

By Kul Chandra Gautam