Bhattarai at a crossroads as he bids to build new party before imminent pollsObservers say his intentions to create a new force are fine, but efforts so far have failed.
With the date for general and provincial elections announced and the five-party ruling coalition forming a task force for seat-sharing, excluding Baburam Bhattarai, he organised a gathering of his newly formed Nepal Samajbadi Party on Saturday.
The party formed a 189-strong Central Committee, appointing Bhattarai the senior chair, with Mahendra Rai Yadav as another chair and Ganga Shrestha as the co-chairperson.
“For the upcoming polls we should try to forge an alliance with like-minded and ideologically close forces,” said Bhattarai, while addressing his Central Committee meeting.
Just as Bhattarai takes a new turn in his decades-long political career, he, however, appears to be standing at a crossroads.
He registered Nepal Samajbadi Party, which translates into Nepal Socialist Party, on July 29, after being expelled from the Janata Samajbadi Party by Upendra Yadav. Bhattarai had been the federal council chair in the JSP since 2019.
The former prime minister, considered the architect of the decade-long Maoist “people’s war”, severed his ties with the Maoist party in 2015, days after the promulgation of the constitution.
He had formed Naya Shakti in 2016 with a view to offering an alternative to Nepal’s “traditional” political parties, but it turned out to be a dud. He was the sole candidate from his party to make it to the House of Representatives representing Gorkha Constituency-2, defeating Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a Maoist leader.
After registering the new party, the 68-year-old leader, who holds a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, had told the Post that his quest for a socialist force continues so as to bring about economic and sociopolitical transformation in the country.
But there are challenges galore before him. In the last six years since he formed Naya Shakti, many have left Bhattarai, with some of his key members including those with strong ideological views, undecided about continuing their journey with him.
Bhattarai has asked many leaders including Dambar Khatiwada to support him at least until the elections.
One of the leaders who had supported Bhattarai in his bid to build an alternative political force—Prashaant Singh—has already decided to part ways with him.
The elections are just a little over 100 days away and Bhattarai has a fledgling party.
With the ruling coalition not including Bhattarai’s group in the task force formed to decide on seat-sharing, Nepal Samajbadi has to explore other options, which are limited.
“We have not discussed the entry of Nepal Samajbadi Party in the ruling coalition yet,” said Shrestha, the officiating chairman of the Maoist Centre, who was defeated by Bhattarai in 2017 with the support of the Nepali Congress. “You better ask them [Nepal Samajbadi Party].”
The first Central Committee meeting of the Nepal Samajbadi Party on Saturday took the decision to forge an alliance, make a front and even go for party unity with like-minded forces.
“Today, we took some policy decisions to forge an alliance with like-minded forces but we have not decided which party or parties to join hands with,” said Ganga Shrestha, the newly elected co-chair of the party. “We have kept all the doors open. We will start discussions with all the forces and take a decision though our priority is to be part of the ruling coalition.”
According to a senior leader close to Bhattarai, party leader Ganga Shrestha had talked to UML chair KP Sharma Oli about two weeks ago and had arranged for their entry into the UML but Bhattarai had asked Shrestha to wait.
Bhattarai, according to insiders, has been in touch not just with Oli, but also leaders of Loktantrik Samajbadi Party and the Maoist Centre.
In the past few months, Bhattarai has also held talks with Maoist Centre chair Dahal several times, at least three times in the presence of Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun at the latter’s residence.
On Saturday, Durga Sob, Hisila Yami and Bhakta Bahadur Shah were elected vice-chairs while Ramesh Yadav was elected general secretary. The party has kept the post of federal council chair vacant for now.
Political commentators say Bhattarai’s intention to form an alternative force is not wrong but his efforts so far have failed.
“There’s no denying that Bhattarai’s aim to give a new direction to Nepali politics has good intentions,” said Tula Narayan Shah, a political analyst. “Since his idea has failed to come to fruition, he has been gradually alienated.”
Shah believes Bhattarai could remain with the ruling alliance if some electoral seats are allocated to his party.
“Upendra [Yadav] seems more concerned for his son’s political future which was affected due to the Congress. So there are chances that this coalition may not remain in its current form until the polls,” said Shah. “Some seats for Bhattarai’s party won’t be difficult as Upendra Yadav may join hands with the CPN-UML.”
Dambar Khatiwada, who considered parting ways with Bhattarai, said he has decided to be in the Nepal Samajbadi Party for four months as per Bhattarai’s request.
Khatiwada, however, doesn’t think the ruling coalition will accept Nepal Samajbadi in its fold.
“And, why would Dahal come to Bhattarai’s rescue leaving his prospects of becoming prime minister?” he said.