In its desperation to get to power, the Maoists made huge compromises in the last week's parliament election for a new prime minister. It offered half the ministries to the Madhesi alliance to ensure the victory of its candidate, Baburam Bhattarai. He won comfortably with a margin of 105 votes.
The popular move to ride on a Mustang was a perfect score, and confirmed to a public largely positive about the new prime minister's intellect and honesty. However, any prolonged delay in giving shape to the cabinet will invite criticism at a time when people are desperate to see immediate changes.
The 4-point deal, signed at the eleventh hour with the Madhesi alliance, once again exposes the fact that leaders enter into agreements without adequate homework, or perhaps with the deliberate intention of never keeping their promises.
PICS: MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Adviser to Baburam Bhattarai and politburo member, Devendra Poudel, says the media should not have a knee-jerk reaction to compromises in coalition agreements. "There is a lot of give and take, and there are many factors that come into play," Poudel told us on Wednesday.
Maoist lawmaker Jaypuri Gharti had refused to join the last government demanding 33 percent representation for the women, sparking off a debate in the party which ultimately led different factions to unite against party chairman's unilateral decision. Bhattarai seems to have learn a lesson from that, and is striving to balance gender, ethnicity, geographic regions as well as the political leanings of cabinet members.
But there are other problems for Bhattarai. The Maoist ministers who joined the last government at the later stage could stay in their post for only 13 days, and some of them have expressed their desire to stay on. However, having doled out half the cabinet posts (many of them "powerful" ones) to his Madhesi partners there aren't too many left for his own party aspirants.
And then there are the members of what has come to be known as the "Dhobighat Cluster", the hardliners from the Kiran faction that met in Patan last month to clip party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal's wings. For Bhattarai, it's payback time to them too, especially senior leaders who have not been in power before.
The Madhesi alliance is also engaged in finalising the list of those that will join the government. "We have differences within the alliance on issues, not over the portfolios," explains Raj Kishor Yadav, co-chairperson of Madhesi People's Rights Forum (Republican), adding optimistically that the cabinet will take final shape very soon.
Bhattarai met NC president Sushil Koirala on Tuesday in a bid to bring the NC onboard. Koirala is reported to have advised the PM to make a significant progress in the peace process and implement the past agreement within the promised 45 days before NC could consider joining the government.
"Personally, we don't have any doubts about Bhattarai's capability to deliver, but we are not sure if his party will cooperate," says Deep Kumar Upadhya. But Maoist leader Paudel told Nepali Times Bhattarai has the full support of his party. "This time, the party unanimously passed two things: Bhattarai's candidacy and the issue of integration," he says. "We are very serious about the peace process."
The only differences the Maoists and NC have is about integration, he added, it is not about numbers but of modality. The Maoists argue for a "dignified integration" which means recruiting their fighters as full soldiers, while NC says they can not be taken as regular NA soldiers.
"Dignified integration means recruiting our fighters as full-fledged NA soldiers," Poudel says. NA has already recruited as many number of soldiers in five years of peace process as the numbers the Maoists have been demanding to be integrated.
The NC also has severe reservations about the four-point agreement, particularly the provision for mass amnesty to those accused of excesses during the conflict and the Madhes movement.
But, Upadhya adds: "Politics is full of possibilities, if significant progress is made in the peace process in 45 days, it will create an environment for the NC to join the government."
He says NC will be supportive to the government even if it is in the opposition and will evaluate its work on the basis of merit.
THE DOCTOR'S CHECKLIST
Prime Minister Bhattarai has his work cut out. Here is his check list in order of priority:
1. Complete the cabinet
2. Complete peace process in 45 days as promised
3. Keep NC and UML happy so they don't throw spanner in works
4. Hand over keys as a symbolic step. But regrouping and compromises on integration will be more difficult to push through
5. Keep one eye on Chairman Dahal, so he doesn't wreck things
6. Back track on amnesty provision on 4-point deal, this will be a major stumbling block with opposition and international community
7. Constitution, take the bull by the horns on ethnic federalism and state structure
8. Show the presence of the state, tackle law and order
9. Improve investment climate, tame unions
10. Hunker down for 18-hour power cuts this winter
Make or break
Keep the flame of truth burning, EDITORIAL
Peace or ceasefire?, ANURAG ACHARYA
Time to move beyond symbolism to real progress on integration and rehabilitation of ex-guerrillas
From JNU to Kathmandu, JYOTI MALHOTRA
Baburam Bhattarai: "We were too ambitious Öwhile India underestimated our strength."