As the crisis in Nepal over constitution building deepens, senior Maoist opposition leader and former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai met President Pranab Mukherjee and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to discuss the situation.
Speaking to The Hindu , Mr. Bhattarai said he “wanted to update the leadership here on what is happening in Nepal, to seek the views of our friends in India.”
The UCPN (Maoist)-led 30-party alliance walked out of talks with the government led by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala over differences on how to resolve the remaining issues after the political parties missed their self-imposed January 22nd deadline to complete the constitution process. Mr. Bhattarai’s meetings in India have sparked speculation that the opposition is reaching out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to play a role in mediating the current crisis, with Nepal’s parties unable to break the deadlock, raising concerns over a prolonged stalemate. However, speaking to The Hindu , Mr. Bhattarai denied that he was “inviting interference” from India “but a positive role as a good neighbour, to promote a conclusion of the peace process.”
Mr. Bhattarai also lashed out at the Nepali government, which he accused of promoting the old Constitution promulgated by the former King Birendra in 1990, and rejecting the Maoist suggestions over reforming the federal system, the form of government, and the electoral process. “We wanted to improve on the electoral system of ‘first past the post’ practised by the U.K. and India, by introducing proportional representation that would include Dalits, women and other oppressed identities into the system. Federalism and inclusive democracy are the two issues the old parties don’t want change in, whereas the Maoists and new parties do,” Mr. Bhattarai claimed.
The Ministry of External Affairs made no comment on the visit by the senior Maoist leader. But after Mr. Bhattarai’s meeting with President Mukherjee, who played a key role in mediating the12-point formula in 2006 that saw Maoists join the mainstream, a statement by Rashtrapati Bhavan said that the President had “recalled the progress in Nepal’s ongoing political transition and expressed the hope that the draft Constitution would be finalised at the earliest.”
Mr. Bhattarai also called “hypocrites” those in the Nepal government who criticised Mr. Modi’s call for a Constitution through “consensus not by majority vote.” “The people just want to conclude the peace process according to the earlier understanding, especially the comprehensive peace agreement [CPA]. In that sense, Mr. Modi’s statements on both his visits were taken positively by Nepal,” Mr Bhattarai said. Maoist parties have been pushing for consensus to drive the process as well, while the government that has a majority in Parliament has been pushing for a vote.
Mr. Bhattarai is also expected to meet National Security Adviser Ajit Doval before returning to Kathmandu on Thursday. The Maoist party has threatened a three-phase “decisive agitation” if the government does not reconvene talks and accept their conditions by the end of this week.