Nepali Times
From The Nepali Press
Bhattarai's four pillars, Kantipur


The opposition has been on a warpath against Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai for eight months now, but he refuses to budge. Now, factions within the ruling coalition itself have added pressure on him to step down. His own party has started looking for alternatives to deputy-chairman Bhattarai. But Bhattarai is admant about not quitting. "I'm not leaving," he says with finality.

When the CA was dissolved in May, Bhattarai had set elections for 22 November which never happened. One month after his deadline expired, Bhattarai is still unwilling to make way for an all-party agreement that will elect a government to hold elections in April.

But despite a lack of support at HQ, the loss of initial goodwill people showed towards him, PM Bhattarai shows no signs of discomfort and is on a confrontation course with the president, calling his statement unconstitutional. What could be the source of his power?

UML deputy chairman Bamdev Gautam says Bhattarai told him: "I have the goodwill of our southern neighbour, the Madhesi faction supports my stance, the army trusts me, and my party's earlier decisions are in my favour. Why should I quit?"

Everybody knows that India is deeply concerned about Nepali politics. Gautam says the BIPPA treaty, the unchecked flow of Indian agricultural products into Nepal, the handover of Nepal's water resources into Indian hands, and the government's nod to allow an Indian company to run Kathmandu's airport and immigration attest to Bhattarai's attempts to appease the Indian ruling class.

A former home minister says Bhattarai is close to Indian intelligence agency, RAW, and is in intimate terms with its current chief, while he is friends with the next chief Alok Joshi. At home, the same Madhes-based parties who had voted against UCPN(M) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal's bid to become PM backed Bhattarai later. Madhesi leaders say that the four-point agreement is the basis for their support of Bhattarai. But almost a year and a half after that agreement was made, none of the subjects outlined have been fulfilled. It is because of their large presence in the government, as well as their leadership of important ministries, that the Madhesi Front is loathe to withdraw support.

Even though the Front's leader Bijay Kumar Gachhedar publicly declared a week ago that they would seek an alternative to Bhattarai, the Front came out with another statement calling for 'consensus on a package deal' after the PM expressed dissatisfaction with party chairman Dahal wooing NC and UML leaders. NC leader Shankar Koirala says the Madhesi Morcha's support is the main basis for Bhattarai's staying power in government. In any case, a successful coalition with political forces that normally look southwards for blessings is important in Bhattarai's context.

PM Bhattarai also has a good relationship with COAS Gaurav Samsher Rana. They have a similar understanding of India's role in Nepali matters, and the PM even accepted Rana's advice regarding promotions when Chhatraman Singh Gurung was army chief. This is seen in the PM's approval last week of the promotion for Raju Basnet, an officer accused of gross human rights abuse.

When the November deadline for elections seemed unlikely to be met by Bhattarai's government, President Ram Baran Yadav summoned Rana for discussions. Rana is understood to have told President Yadav that the army's control lay with the government. Soon after, Bhattarai expressed his displeasure towards the president through Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun's public declarations. In recent meetings too, Bhattarai has been quoted as saying that the army is on his side.

Political analyst Jhalak Subedi says: "No matter how grave the situation becomes, the president cannot remove Bhattarai. It would be unconstitutional to do so, and Bhattarai is staying on only because of that technical reason."

Ultimately, Bhattarai is also helped by his own party's decision to nominate him prime minister in 2011, but he will have to step down if the party decides to withdraw support. Bhattarai's command within the party is weak, and the party can choose to remove him against his wishes with a majority vote. Calls for his resignation have been growing within the UCPN(M). Should such demands be realised, PM Bhattarai will have to leave the party to stay in power, or leave power to stay in the party.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)