Bhattarai himself marked the milestone by public self-scrutiny of his own performance in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday. Not surprisingly, he patted himself on the back for getting some momentum into the peace process, for efforts to build investor confidence, and even for his pet road-widening campaign in Kathmandu. But the prime minister seemed hard pressed to recall any other achievements worth mentioning.
So he did what every other politician before him has done on occasions like this: blame rivals. The leaders of the Nepali Congress naturally topped the list, with the UML coming a close second. Once more, he charged them with derailing the Constituent Assembly when by now it is pretty clear that the actual decision was taken by Bhattarai himself. Being an acolyte of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Bhattarai seems to follow his dictum: "Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth."
He also hurled gratuitous barbs at President Ram Baran Yadav even though he knows he needs the president to legitimise decisions during this period of political ambiguity. He condemned the courts, and came to the peculiar conclusion that an assertive judiciary could undermine democracy.
Although he did not refer to this during his speech, the prime minister has previously said he averted an eruption of street violence by dissolving the CA and announcing elections on 27 May, because compromises on the constitution would have put competing forces on a collision course. In this he is probably right.
Bhattarai became prime minister last year mainly because the NC and UML didn't raise any major obstacles to his candidacy. In fact, the real resistance to his prime ministership was from his own party. Nevertheless, Nepal's first PhD prime minister assumed office amidst tremendous expectations. His early efforts at populism by riding a Mustang jeep, travelling economy and inspecting highway stops gave way to a more realistic assessment of his limitations.
By far the biggest blot on the Bhattarai administration has been the corruption and blatant ransacking of the treasury by members of his government. This has been by far the most corrupt and least accountable government we've had in a long time, and that is saying a lot considering the sleazebags we have seen in office in the past. Not surprisingly, the graft and malfeasance have now seeped right down the line to the bureaucracy, district administrations and the political cadre at the VDCs. Despite his own upright reputation, Bhattarai's inability or seeming unwillingness to deal with corruption is bound to rub off on him and could have a lasting impact on his future political career.
Having said this, the prime minister must be commended for his emphasis on the economy and in at least trying to boost investment. The political impasse affected the passage of the budget and this has dampened what little economic growth was expected for this fiscal year. Nevertheless, the PMO with the Nepal Investment Board have put large infrastructure projects on the priority list. West Seti has go-ahead, the new Pokhara
Airport has been delayed for not following proper procedures but may soon get a green light. The prime minister has recognised the energy emergency, but his own line ministries are working at cross purposes, threatening to cancel licences of Korean, Chinese and Brazilian joint ventures that are about to take off.
We don't expect much to come out of the new round of negotiations between the three big parties that started on Wednesday. All that will happen is that they will agree to have an agreement, but what is holding back an agreement is disagreement about a new government and who should lead it. Out of desperation, some leaders are veering towards a resurrection of the CA, but the forces arrayed against that option are strong.
When political parties among themselves and within themselves cannot agree on a prime ministerial candidate, there is no sense asking the prime minister to step down. There is a way to make a clean break from all this and agree on a government of technocrats, but that would demand vision and common sense which is in short supply.
Coming back full circle, ANURAG ACHARYA
The debate on federalism has taken two extreme positions without sufficiently exploring the middle ground