By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.
Jhalanath Khanal, chairman of the UML was elected as 34th Prime Minister on 3rd afternoon, when the Maoist candidate Prachanda made a dramatic withdrawal from the contest.
The election of Khanal was not without the usual drama. The Madhesi groups suddenly decided to put up its own candidate Gachedaar, making it a possible four cornered contest. The Madhesi groups have shown that they can never get together for the progress of Terai but can only act as “spoiler sport” when their support is essential for any decisive result! This has to change but will they?
The Maoists having realised that it would be another loss of face wisely decided to support Khanal of the UML as per their plan B. Media reports indicate that there was stiff internal opposition within the Maoist ranks of supporting an outside candidate and in the emergency standing committee meeting both Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya were said to have opposed the move.
Khanal has also not become a prime minister without cutting a deal both within his own party and the Maoists. While the deal with the group led by Madhav Nepal and K.P.Oli is not important, one will be interested to know what he has conceded to the Maoists as a price for supporting his candidature. It is hoped that he has not given in over the modality of integration where the Maoists are still insisting on bulk integration and if not, a special force of all the four representative groups of the army, police, armed special force and the Maoist combatants.
Though the formal transfer of the PLA combatants to the Special committee of the Government has taken place, the Maoists are resisting all further moves till a political consensus is reached among parties.
Khanal has two immediate tasks and for both he needs the support of all parties. First and foremost is integration of the Maoist combatants and he has to ensure that the first step of classifying them into those willing to leave with a golden handshake, those willing for rehabilitation and those eligible for integration into the security forces, is taken immediately. Unless this is done and the process is made irreversible, Khanal cannot move onto other pressing issues facing the country.
Second, is the new constitution that has to be completed before the term of the present interim constituent assembly is over- that is May 28th of this year. For this again he needs the support of not only the Maoists but more importantly the Nepali Congress who appear to be peeved over the current turn of events.
The Nepali Congress will only have to blame themselves. It is shocking to see old veterans like Sher Bahadur Deuba still having ambitions to become a prime minister once again, when he was once sacked for being “incompetent.” One feels sorry for Ramchandra Paudel who is a “gentleman” among politicians who deserved to get a chance to lead the country.
There is no doubt that the Nepali Congress stands itself isolated today. Old prejudices and intra party squabbles continue and too many leaders because of their ‘connections’ speak out of turn. There is lack of discipline and veterans who have given their lives for the party are being ignored. Younger elements who have proved their mettle and are popular are also being ignored. The party should also get out of the ‘dynastic politics’- a malady that is afflicting not only Nepal but other countries in the region as well.
The UML by biting the bullet is in the danger of being destroyed. One should recall the comments of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai earlier, that the leftist space in the country can be occupied only by themselves and no one else. The Maoist embrace now may be “too tight”and uncomfortable.
Unless the party braces itself to unite and work together, there is the danger of party getting irrelevant in course of time. One can safely ignore the faction led by Bam Dev Gautam , but the group led by Madhav Nepal and K.P.Oli is strong enough to create problems, unless Khanal makes up with them, and consults them even before consulting Maoists in taking major decisions.
Media reports say that Khanal’s appointment is a set back to India and that the Maoists supported Khanal only to keep India out. This line of reasoning has no basis and India can comfortably get along with Khanal as the latter is not anti Indian and is one of a few who knows that India’s support is necessary for the well being of Nepal itself.