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Baburam’s forceful ‘demarcation’ of the old and the new!

Politics NewsBaburam's forceful 'demarcation' of the old and the new!
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Kathmandu: The party led by former Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai is currently named Nepal Socialist Party (Nespa). This party was formed in July 2022 after splitting from Upendra Yadav’s Janata Samajwadi Party, Nepal.

When is Nespa’s founding day? No one seems to be concerned. There was no grand ceremony for the establishment of Nespa. The party completed its registration process with the Election Commission through a room meeting.

Immediately afterward, in the last general election, it formed an alliance with the CPN (Maoist Center) and shared the election symbol. Many had predicted that this party would merge back with the Maoists after the elections. Therefore, there was no need to commemorate its founding day.

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However, Nespa has decided to celebrate its founding day on the date the Naya Shakti Party was established. The Naya Shakti Party was founded on June 12, 2016, with a grand ceremony at Dasharath Stadium.

It has been eight years since the establishment of Naya Shakti Party. In this sense, Dr. Bhattarai’s Nespa is now considered to have entered its ninth year. Supporters of Dr. Bhattarai often informally refer to the party as Nespa (Naya Shakti), indicating a growing preference for the Naya Shakti brand over Nespa.

Politically, the nine-year-old party’s representation is currently limited to one provincial assembly member, Phanindra Devkota from Gandaki Province. He is currently in the news and has become a minister in the provincial government.

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Due to sharing the election symbol with the CPN (Maoist Center) in the last general election, the Maoist Center’s provincial parliamentary party is preparing to take disciplinary action against him for allegedly violating the party whip.

Three other Nespa members of parliament have decided to merge back with the Maoists. Mahindra Ray Yadav and Umrawati Yadav from the Federal House of Representatives and Ganganarayan Shrestha from the Bagmati Provincial Assembly were not present at the party’s founding day celebration on Wednesday. They might not have been invited.

Writer and civil society leader Khagendra Sangraula considers Dr. Bhattarai’s eight-year achievement to be ‘less than that of a snail.’ At the founding day program, he said, “At least a snail slowly crawls somewhere, but where has Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s party reached, no one knows.”

Dr. Baburam Bhattarai regards June 12, 2016, as the day a clear boundary was drawn between new and old politics. How much importance history will give to his effort will be revealed in the future, but he has certainly made a forceful attempt at a ‘demarcation.’

Therefore, during the Naya Shakti founding day program held on Wednesday at the Siddhicharan Hall of the Nepal Academy, Dr. Bhattarai did not invite any of the earlier political parties. There were no representatives from the Congress, UML, Maoist Center, or any communist factions. Neither the older Madhes-centric parties nor the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) were invited.

Instead, he invited parties established or emerged after June 12, 2016. These included the National Independent Party (RSP), Janamat Party, Nagarik Unmukti Party (Naupa), Aam Janata Party (AJP), and Bibeksheel Sajha Party. Similarly, two political campaigns—the Citizen First Movement and the Identity Movement Front—were also invited.

The event was attended by some intellectuals from civil society, including Khagendra Sangraula, Dr. Suryaraj Acharya, and Yug Pathak. Among the participants, there was a murmur—Dr. Bhattarai himself is an old figure, but what is the new message he is trying to convey?

Dr. Bhattarai, who chaired the ceremony, addressed this question in his closing speech: “I am an old body with a new soul. Though I am an old person, I am striving to be new in my ideas.”

However, this answer alone did not satisfy everyone’s curiosity. The question of how new he really was in his decisions, practices, and actions over the past eight years, or why the results were not favorable, still lingered.

At the beginning of the program, Dr. Bhattarai’s daughter, Manushi Bhattarai Yami, presented a documentary. It highlighted many topics and decisions from the past eight years, acknowledging that “mistakes were made.”

Among the mistakes, the most recent and significant one—the decision to bring Prachanda to contest from Gorkha-2 in the last general election—was not acknowledged in the documentary. Dr. Bhattarai’s approach of supporting a candidate by saying “I brought a better candidate than myself” and then opposing the same candidate the next day lacked justification.

Participants at the event were discussing among themselves, noting that Dr. Bhattarai’s approach is quite peculiar: admitting past mistakes while continuing to make new ones. They observed a pattern of piling mistakes upon mistakes.

However, there was a pledge made not to repeat such mistakes. Party leader Durga Sob read out a new ‘pledge letter’ that committed to not repeating past mistakes. Participants were looking for the practical credibility of this pledge.

The attendees seemed to be filled with enthusiasm among supporters and well-wishers of ‘new’ and ‘alternative politics.’ Observing the expressions on social media, there was hope that if all these groups came together, a strong political force capable of challenging the old guard might emerge.

However, this was merely a cheap, immature, and rushed expectation. The event was not organized to unite the ‘new forces.’ The differences in thought, leadership ambitions, prejudices, and working styles among the so-called new and alternative groups are quite vast. Thinking that just being together in a formal event would unify them is meaningless.

Among the new political forces, there is an ongoing debate about whether it is appropriate for the three newly emerged parties from the last general election—Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), Janamat Party, and Nagarik Unmukti Party—to join the existing political syndicate and government.

Dr. Bhattarai, who has been criticized for his alliances, unity efforts, splits, and coalitions with the old forces over the past eight years since the establishment of Naya Shakti, seems to express regret. However, past regret alone is not sufficient guidance for the future.

He described the alliance, collaboration, and power-sharing between new and old parties as the “embrace of Dhritarashtra.” In the Mahabharata, the blind King Dhritarashtra would embrace those he loved, but his embrace was so strong that it could potentially crush them.

Dr. Bhattarai’s warning did not seem to be taken seriously by RSP president Rabi Lamichhane and Janamat Party leader Dr. CK Raut. They seemed to find his suggestion unappealing.

Rabi appeared delighted to be a partner in the federal government, considering it a significant political achievement in his two-year political career. Similarly, Dr. Raut was pleased to lead the Madhes government.

All three new parties seemed to favor cooperation over conflict with the old forces, choosing integration and power-sharing over becoming an alternative. Resham Chaudhary, on the other hand, was frustrated with Prime Minister Prachanda, feeling that he had caused internal conflict within his party.

Activists Dambar Khatiwada and Khagendra Makhim did not align with the thinking of these new party leaders. They argued that merely changing parties and leaders does not change the nature of the state, and that altering the character of the state is the most significant task.

Khatiwada bluntly stated, “In calling ourselves new, have we become the old? In claiming to be an alternative, have we become just like the so-called mainstream? The effort for alternative politics is not yielding meaningful results; we don’t need new ones that are just like the old.”

Overall, the founding day of Dr. Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti has drawn a strong ‘demarcation.’ By not inviting any of his former colleagues or peers and instead bringing together ‘junior’ politicians for discussion, he has demonstrated his ‘liberality.’

The most crucial yet unanswered question remains: Will Nepalese politics in the future polarize between the new and the old, or will it remain confined to traditional power struggles among the old forces?

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