Bhattarai’s new challengesYou can do a lot of things on paper but when it comes to people, it is always trust that matters
I know Baburam Bhattarai will be too busy to peruse a review from a cool analyst like me. Nevertheless, I am presenting a perspective through which he will have to launch his plan of action. First of all, I would like to compliment Bhattarai on the grand manner in which he launched his party ‘New Force Nepal’ as an alternative political force in Nepal.
During the inaugural ceremony, Bhattarai roared like Bhishma from the Mahabharata: “I vow that I shall not build a house of my own until the last Nepali is in a position to build his/her house.” This is his personal matter, but may I remind him that with Hisila by his side, he does not have to bother about his house! In contrast to this statement, the pompousness and extravagance visible during the event means that it must have cost an exorbitant amount to organise it. Where did the money come from? This gives enough room for the public to question Bhattarai’s integrity.
He has more serious things to answer for. Not very long ago, I had raised some questions in these columns about accountability for Bhattarai’s role during the decade-long insurgency. I do not think they have been answered properly. I am not repeating them here but I still feel that he has to answer them in one way or another in order to improve his image and credibility and to ensure that he will not lead the people in the wrong direction again.
In this piece, I am going to raise some questions about his economic promises. I have seen promises of economic prosperity made by forces of every political hue. So Bhattarai is not the only one to talk about economic prosperity. But he talks of ‘prosperous socialism’ (Samriddha Samajwad), which are contradictory terms. The concept of socialism came to deny the supremacy of capital during the industrial revolution in Europe, culminating in the Marxian concept of communism, which negated not only the role of capital but of money itself. But in the history of socialist struggle, capital remained the main motive as well as the means, because in the socialist race capital has always remained victorious. So the term prosperous socialism is only a palliative in the form of lollipop for people who cannot distinguish between prosperity and socialism.
Yes, prosperity without any artificial colouring can be the goal. You still need capital whether you call it investment from within or without. In the developed countries, investment grew from within, whereas in the lesser developed ones like ours, we have to bring in capital in the form of aid or loan which has to be paid back with a reasonable interest. Take the case of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which requires political stability and reasonable assurance of return. Bhattarai knows better than anybody else why Nepal cannot provide that assurance because he himself failed to implement the Bippa agreement he had signed with India as the prime minister.
Dreams and daydreams
The second most important factor for rapid development is skilled manpower. The quality of manpower improves along with the advancement in the process of industrial development. But industrial development is advanced only if there is political stability. In Nepal, the political process has been too fluid to allow industrial development. The rate of employment is so low that whatever skilled or even unskilled manpower we have goes out of the country in huge proportions. Leave the industries alone, even farmlands are getting increasingly barren because of the shortage of farm labourers and we are compelled to import an excessive amount of food grains.
In the face of this painful reality, Bhattarai has boasted of transforming Nepal from the state of a least developed country to that of a most developed one in the course of 25 years! It is not bad to dream, but daydreaming like this can be called a farce. To achieve this goal, we need to have a growth rate of 100 percent or even higher. Our actual growth rate has remained below four percent over the years. Assuming Bhattarai’s party gets an absolute majority in the next election, what machinery will he use to raise the growth rate so high? Nepali politicians have failed because they ignore the ground reality, and Bhattarai is no exception.
Words vs deeds
Let us examine some strong factors that a political party needs to achieve politico-economic success. The most important factor is a committed cadre base. Bhattarai has left behind a large cadre base in the Maoist party of which he was a senior leader. Only a few colleagues who were ejected from the main party have accompanied him.
Another weak factor is the lack of political orientation among most of his present supporters. They are either ex-bureaucrats or technicians or cine artists. So it would take a long time for the party members to develop political culture. They have dealt with people in the past from a vertical distance, but now they will have to shorten that distance and be on a horizontal par with the common people and deal with them in their courtyards, farms or factories. This transformation in the party leaders will take a long time. Bhattarai will find it very hard to develop a second line of committed leadership.
The weakest point is the presence of his ex-comrades who have now turned into avowed foes. Some of them are now united in the Maoist Centre, but some of them are still going alone. But they are all angered by Bhattarai’s turning away from Maoism. In their view, his approach is regressive to say the least.
Thus, Bhattarai faces a number of challenges, which will grow during the time of election. Remember how the Mohan Baidya-led Maoists had triggered a violent campaign against the Prachanda-led Maoists in the last election? You can do a lot of things on paper but when it comes to people, it is always trust that matters. Bhattarai has had a good rapport with the people of Gorkha by visiting it every month, but can he extend that rapport to other faraway districts by visiting them even once a year?
Sharma is a political analyst. He can be contacted at email@example.com