Baburam's U-turn

The EU election mission’s report this week that Nepal’s Khas-Arya community should not have quotas for proportional representation has set off a social media storm.

The reaction was expected from the likes of the former Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa, or even politicians from the Nepali Congress and UML.

But it was ex-Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai weighing in with a harshly-worded tweet against the EU that surprised many. He asked the EU to shut up, dubbing its statement a ‘condemnable diktat’. He also re-tweeted Foreign Affairs Minister Pradep Gyawali’s post containing Nepal’s statement against the EU’s.

As Maoist ideologue, Bhattarai was foremost among those who planted the seeds of identity politics in Nepal. After the 2006 ceasefire, he actively backed ethnicity-based autonomous federal provinces. The trick worked, and more Janajatis and Madhesis stood up against the State.

As President of a committee responsible for sorting out thorny issues during the Constitution drafting process, he had advocated for quotas for Madhesi and Janajati clusters, and not for the Brahmin/Chhetri. Bhattarai quit the party he founded to set up the Naya Shakti in 2015. Bhattarai has now made a dramatic U-turn, and political analysts say the former prime minister’s course correction is a result of his party’s electoral debacle. While Bhattarai won last year’s election from Gorkha-2 constituency, his new party did not win any parliamentary seat elsewhere.

“The Khas-Arya did not trust Bhattarai because he was once against them,” explains Madhesi rights activists Tula Narayan Sah. “But the Madhesi-Janajati did not trust him either because he signed a constitution that discriminated against them.”

Sah says Bhattarai has made a calculated move, knowing which direction the wind is blowing: “Why would he otherwise criticise a statement that simply says Khas-Arya are already well-represented?”

The Khas-Arya have won about half the seats in Parliament through direct elections, and 30% more through proportional representation. This makes their presence in the House more than double the percentage of their actual population.

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