Man of many faces
- Baburam and Prachanda are best suited for their current roles, as thought and organisational leaders
Feb 7, 2015-Baburam Bhattarai, former prime minister and senior UCPN (Maoist) leader, is a man of vision, conviction, intellect, and academic excellence—virtues little found in his boss, party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’. Yet Bhattarai has always remained number two while Prachanda has been party chairman for a quarter of a century, thanks to his strong common sense, flexibility, and organisational and manipulative skills required for success in realpolitik. Owing to his poor organisational skills and poorer still inter-personal communication skills, an inward-looking, introverted, and self-centred Bhattarai has few followers. He had never been, therefore, a threat to Prachanda’s leadership, though he has challenged the latter time and again, including during the ‘people’s war’. Shrewd Prachanda had always successfully capitalised on Bhattarai’s talents and incongruities to his benefit. This time, however, things seem to be different; Prachanda is in a fix.
Man of the people
Of his many assets and liabilities, Bhattarai’s passion for populism is one. During his premiership, he introduced several innovative measures. They were: staying overnight with a poor family, riding a ‘made in Nepal’ jeep, launching Hello Sarkar, and establishing two-way communication with people through live radio programmes. Of them, Hello Sarkar—a programme launched to hear public complaints for quick actions—became ineffective over time; other programmes were just showpieces, not intended for delivery.
Bhattarai’s public relation exercises have been either unsuccessful or counterproductive. The reasons are plentiful. He preaches ideals, but keeps mum when it comes to serious allegations of corruption against his wife and close associates. He actively uses social networking sites, namely Twitter and Facebook, where
nine out of his 10 followers/respondents are sharply critical of him. But he does not care. Instead of trying to analyse
what went wrong with that techno-savvy, well informed, and educated class, he keeps blocking many of them. He never welcomes criticism, even if it is
Man of contradictions
Bhattarai had been a great advocate of a ‘people’s education system’ against the ‘bourgeois education system’. While he has never explained nor introduced the ‘people’s system’, he has never expressed regret for the wasted youth of hundreds of thousands of party workers, who, during the insurgence, quit their schools/colleges as part of the boycott campaign of the bourgeois system. Paradoxically, Bhattarai himself is a product of the universal education system, a PhD in architectural engineering, who loves to use the title ‘Dr’. This is just an example of Bhattarai’s or, for that matter, the Maoist’s, hypocrisy and inconsistency.
Bhattarai has been the principal architect of his party’s political course and ideology. He is the one most responsible for the numerous shifts in the Maoist party—from hardcore Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and a decade-long bloody war to bourgeois democracy via several peace agreements. However, he has never offered a convincing explanation for the turnabouts nor has he apologised for the trauma and troubles his party’s violence and policy of fear inflicted upon the Nepali people. If they were to later join mainstream politics and practice ‘bourgeois’ democracy, why in the first place did the Maoists launch a ‘war’ that claimed 17,000 lives, maimed thousands others, and displaced and destroyed billions of rupees worth of
public and private properties and infrastructure in pursuit of the elusive and impossible ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’? Bhattarai always has a readymade answer to this, ‘wars are not always fair’. If someone asks him to apologise, he reacts curtly.
Bhattarai was a great advocate of his party’s alliance with mainstream political parties to oust the monarchy and establish a republic. Yet it was he who, in the aftermath of the tragic royal massacre, wrote a full-page article in Kantipur, where he proudly disclosed that his party had been secretly working with king Birendra. It was he who gave an ultimatum to the then government headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba to fulfil demands submitted in his 40-point memorandum. Nearly 20 percent of those demands pertained to India’s real or perceived hegemony, especially in trade. The memorandum demanded to scrap all ‘unequal’ and ‘unfavourable’ clauses of bilateral trade pacts, decrees and, of course, the 1950 Nepal-India treaty. But again, when he or Prachanda headed the government, neither took any initiative to do so. On the contrary, Bhattarai took extra pains to sign the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Act with India. He has never clarified why he chose to defy the sixth demand of his 40-point memorandum which says, “Foreign monopoly capital should be ended in Nepal’s industry, trade and financial sectors”. Both within Maoist
circles and outside, he is widely believed to be New Delhi’s ‘trusted ally’, and not
Man of the party
For the past few months, Bhattarai has been arguing that his party must transform politically or else, it has no future. He has repeatedly opined that a ‘new force’, like the Aam Aadmi Party of India, should emerge, hinting that he will launch and lead such a party. He has even gone further and said that a ‘fusion’ of good qualities of Marxism and neo-liberalism
is the need of the day, something very unusual for a staunch Maoist leader. While hardliners and cadres close to Prachanda reacted angrily, the educated class, once his fans, appreciated his stance and stood in his defence. An already weakened Prachanda—following the election defeat, the party split, and so on—did not want to lose the ‘intellectual’ face of the party, despite his distrust and disdain towards Bhattarai.
At this point, Bhattarai suddenly demanded that he become party chairman. A calculative and strategic Prachanda promised to hand over the organisational leadership at the party’s next general convention and remain a ‘thought leader’. Soon after Prachanda’s public promise, Bhattarai discontinued the debate, which proved that all his tall talk of party transformation was a bargaining chip for chairmanship. Moreover, contradicting his carefully projected image of a moderate and liberal Marxist, he has recently appeared more and more extreme on issues pertaining to ethnocentric identity. He has also taken a hawkish stand in his party-led alliance’s opposition to constitution-drafting through a majority vote.
Even if Bhattarai becomes party chairman which, given Prachanda’s lust for position and authority and dubious record on promise keeping, is doubtful, Bhattarai’s ability to successfully lead the flagging party, let alone revive it, is unlikely. He is best suited for thought leadership only while Prachanda is fit for organisational leadership only. A reversal of roles will only be a ‘round peg in a square hole’ exercise, in both cases.
Published: 08-02-2015 09:11