KATHMANDU, Sept 10: Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Narayankaji Shrestha are once again engaged in a tug of war -- the new bone of contention between the two leaders being the prime minister´s “secret” meeting with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the NAM Summit.
The prime minister has been accused of holding a meeting with Singh without informing DPM Shrestha and other foreign ministry officials.
In a Westminster system, it is unusual for a sitting cabinet minister to publicly express differences against the prime minister. But it has become a routine affair for Bhattarai and his deputy to lock horns.
“More than the differences over foreign policy conduct, this I see as a manifestation of trilateral conflict within the UCPN (Maoist) -- between Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Bhattarai and Shrestha," says former Maoist leader Mani Thapa, who worked together with Dahal and Bhattarai during the conflict.
Shrestha, who was previously the leader of Ekta Kendra (Masal), was a close confidant and also an “informal” emissary of the top leaders of then CPN (Maoist). Chairman Dahal had decided to give Shrestha the portfolio of party Vice Chairman following unification with Ekta Kendra (Masal). This had somewhat irked Bhattarai.
Thapa said the differences between Bhattarai and Shrestha have become “irreconcilable” as there is a serious trust deficit among top Maoist leaders. “There is serious trust deficit among leaders. Bhattarai suspects that Shrestha is trying to claim the second top position in the party," he said. "So it is natural for them to get involved in a perennial tug of war."
Maoist party insiders say that while Bhattarai faction regards Shrestha as a close ally of Dahal despite the fact that Shrestha joined forces with the Mohan Baidya and Bhattarai faction against Dahal at the famous Dhobighat meeting, Dahal and Shrestha faction project Bhattarai as being a ´pro-Indian´ leader.
Bhattarai himself substantiated the allegations when he publicly claimed in January that he is the only Nepali leader after late Girija Prasad Koirala to have direct contacts with top Indian leaders. "Though Bhattarai may not have ulterior motives, the two leaders have certain differences over dealing with issues related to India," said a Maoist leader, asking to be unnamed.
Political analysts, however, see Shrestha´s “nationalistic agenda” as a means of establishing his separate identity in the party following defection of the Baidya faction, which strongly pushed nationalistic agenda and stood against what it said to be India´s “unwanted” overtures to Nepal. "I see the issue of nationalism he professes to champion as a means of making his presence felt in the party," argues Jhalak Subedi. "He also seems to be trying to capitalize on the anti-Indian sentiment among Maoist cadres following the split in the party."
Though Shrestha could be right in raising the “nationalistic agenda”, it is not good to publicly criticize the prime minister from his own party, said Subedi. “It is natural for a minister to have differences with the prime minister, but those differences should not be expressed publicly," said Subedi. "If a sitting minister has irreconcilable differences with the prime minister, he should step down."