THE MORIBUND PEACE PROCESS in Nepal has been given a new lease of life with the election of a former Maoist rebel, Baburam Bhattarai, to the post of prime minister. Garlanded and smeared in vermillion powder immediately after his election to the helm of power on 28 August 2011, a jubilant Bhattarai announced his priorities loud and clear: under his leadership, Nepal would complete its five-year-old peace process by integrating former Maoist fighters into the state forces, writing the long-overdue constitution and providing the deprived populace with relief packages. Widely perceived as an intellectual with an impeccable public and political image, Bhattarai, 57, is regarded as the most popular politician today in Nepal.
Sure enough, within days of his election, the stalled peace process gained momentum with the handover of weapons containers held in Maoist combatant cantonments to the Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, and the activation of the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC), tasked with merging Maoist fighters into the Nepalese Army. Similarly, a series of meetings with opposition parties on drafting a constitution has lent credence to the fact that he has both the will and a strategy to bail the country out of a political crisis. But, given the complex nature of Nepali politics, Bhattarai, a doctorate from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, is not in for a smooth ride.
The move to hand over the keys of the weapons containers met with stiff opposition from within his own party, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)—UNCP(M)—which had launched a decade-long insurgency to establish a communist regime before joining the peace process in November 2006. Dubbing the move a “capitulation to the regressive forces”, Mohan Baidya aka Kiran, who leads the so-called hard-line faction in the party, put up a tough fight. Despite his resistance, the keys were handed over to officials of the AISC on 1 September. But the move generated a backlash because Baidya has a strong support base in the party. His faction began campaigns against the move, staging protests in Kathmandu the day after and blocked vehicles during the morning rushhour.