Baburam Bhattarai who assumed the post of the prime minister on the back of widespread public support a year ago has now been leading a caretaker government for the last three months. When he took the helm as the country’s most powerful executive, the common people and independent-minded intellectuals seemed to believe that if anyone could take the country out of the morass it found itself in, it was Bhattarai. How their hopes have been dashed! In a matter of 365 days Bhattarai’s popularity has plummeted as some of the same people who supported him at the start are now describing him as possibly the country’s most controversial and the least successful chief executive—ever.
This is because despite the popularity stunts with which Bhattarai dazzled his countrymen during his early days in office, ultimately, he failed in almost all of his professed goals. Perhaps his biggest failing was his unilateral dissolution of the popularly-elected Constituent Assembly on May 27 without giving people a new constitution. In the CA’s aftermath, people’s frustrations grew as political parties failed to meet their aspirations, raising serious doubts over Nepal becoming a federal republican state in true sense of the term.
The CA’s demise invited a political and constitutional vacuum. In a way, the dissolution was inevitable as the parties failed to arrive at consensus on the most contentious issue of federalism, which could have helped kick start the process of overcoming the age-old discriminations in Nepali society and providing equal opportunities to the marginalized communities. That wasn’t meant to be. Bhattarai went on to announce election for a new CA on November 22. But with the opposition parties not willing to cooperate, the possibility of holding the polls on the scheduled date soon vanished. CA’s dissolution, more than any other incident, made people suspect Bhattarai’s true intentions. It didn’t help that in the aftermath of CA dissolution, he continued to take one unilateral decision after another, which further widened the gap between the parties, when what he should have been doing was striving to create an environment of trust for political consensus.
The issue here is not when and how the constitution should be formulated but what should be included in it. When the “People’s War” ended with the 12-point understanding between the then Seven-Party Alliance and the warring CPN (Maoist), people heaved a huge sigh of relief as the decade-long conflict had caused them immense suffering. Not only had it led to over 16,000 deaths, but the conflict had also brought the country’s development process to a grinding halt. One positive outcome, however, was the strengthening of the debate on the grievances of the minorities who had traditionally been deprived of their rights. As this debate rolled on, the pressure from minority groups, who were now asserting their rights and seeking equal share in state affairs, started to mount.
The nation is now on the verge of a societal change, a change that is expected to transform the country. One thing is for sure: a new constitution would not be possible without first addressing the grievances of the marginalized groups. Creating a just and inclusive society where all the people get equal opportunities—irrespective of their castes/ethnicity, religion, region and gender— through the inclusive mechanism of CA should have been the one and only goal of the political parties. With CA gone, the only other option for the ruling coalition was to seek a fresh mandate. But Bhattarai failed to convince the opposition parties, chiefly Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, which was vital to create conducive environment for fresh polls.
As we have said in this space time and again, election for new CA to be conducted by a consensus government would be by far the best way out of the current impasse. But, instead of trying to overcome the trust deficit between the parties, Bhattarai decided to go it all alone and began flooding the President with ordinances. The President’s subsequent call to the prime minister to look for consensus before bringing ordinances was a clear message that Bhattarai needs to pull up his socks and start re-negotiating with the opposition in earnest.
When he assumed office, Bhattarai had announced peace, constitution and addressing people’s major concerns as his main goals. Forget concluding the peace process and promulgating a new constitution, he has failed to provide even a little relief to the people. Bhattarai’s failures are a legion. The peace process is far from complete. The cantonments are being emptied with ex-PLA starting to leave the camps as they see no hope of honorable integration. The constitution-making has been put on the backburner as Bhattarai, instead of finding solutions to the country’s pressing problems, seems more focused on cementing his position at the top.
Bhattarai’s one year in power has been a roller-coaster ride, with many more downs than ups. His popularity that crested when he decided to ride the Nepal-made Mustang upon assuming office started ebbing as soon with his appointment of the biggest cabinet in the country’s history. So far, he has not been able to convince the opposition parties about his unilateral decision to dissolve the CA and has thus failed to create an environment for fresh polls, which still remains uncertain. And despite his populist practices like spending a night at a village every month, he has failed to honor people’s sentiments and address their genuine grievances.
The latest confrontation with the President over ordinances indicates that Bhattarai will have increasingly tough time taking care of even day-to-day affairs of the country. People too have lost their hope and patience with Bhattarai. Therefore, it would be advisable for caretaker PM Bhattarai to celebrate his first year in office by stepping down in order to pave the way for a consensus government, and restart negotiations to bring the peace and constitution-making process back on track