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Reenergised from Rio

Publication Date : 06-07-2012


With so much riding on Nepal’s “reenergised” Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai following his recent Brazil visit, what he had to say after he met his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh there might still be relevant.

The initial plan was to interview him on issues surrounding development and environment because that was the subject for the United Nations’ conference he was attending and I was covering for the BBC.

But given that he had met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Rio de Janeiro — at direly deadlocked political times like this back home — that had to be my focus anyway.

So, I began with the stereotype: what had transpired between him and Singh.

He too replied with a ritualistic remark, “The talks were held in a very cordial atmosphere……”

But soon he was talking “business”: “We exchanged our opinions on the reasons that have prolonged the transition after the constitution could not be made.”

That was a background quite befitting what he brought up next: “And we convinced them to be all confident that Nepal will continue to see stability and that there will be no instability of any kind.”

He could have said “we tried to convince them” if that was the intended message. It wasn’t, apparently.

What he wanted to say subtly was that it was an accomplished job — whether it actually was or not.

It would then send the message that the influential southern neighbour was not unconvinced that Nepal had begun to slip into yet another phase of instability following the colossal constituent assembly fiasco — for which opposition parties are pointing fingers at his party.  

The choice of the words “we convinced them” was cautiously calibrated.

They also leave space for an interpretation that New Delhi was persuaded that the present government would not let the situation get out of control - of course, Bhattarai did not say that in so many words in the interview. But he did not say this either: “We convinced them that all the parties in Nepal would work for stability.”

Whether India was convinced the way Bhattarai claimed remains unknown.

But if you think it is all too much reading into what he was saying, consider how he ended his answer to my first cliched question.

“The Indian prime minister stated his country’s commitment to implement all past agreements and understandings for Nepal’s development.”

Again, that can be termed as a routine statement.  But, don’t forget the context yet.

Bhattarai added that immediately after he said he had convinced the Indian side to be all confident that stability will remain in Nepal.

So, if the first part was most probably to hint that he “had won the confidence of the Indian establishment”, the second was to reinforce that message — using Singh’s assurances on development assistances.

My follow-up question to that was what if his meeting with Singh provided ammunition to his critics who say he has the support of the Indian government.

A visibly irked Bhattarai dismissed that theory arguing, “In today’s international age, countries are interrelated.

“The country’s national interest cannot be secured without maintaining cordial relation with the international community.”

He further added, “Therefore I am proud of my efforts to move the country on the path of peace, constitution and democracy by maintaining balanced relation with neighbouring countries and international power centres. I will not be deviated from my goal just because someone says something.”

Whether it was for the country or for his own government, Bhattarai did hold meetings with few heads of state on the sidelines of the Rio summit. But his bid to hold a one-on-one with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was not successful.

Top sources in the Nepali official delegation said Chinese diplomats cited too many pre-occupations for the Chinese premier and so he could not give Bhattarai anytime for a meeting.

But the Chinese premiere did attend a side event of least developed countries Bhattarai had chaired. Upon his arrival, he greeted Bhattarai with a Namaste and remained in the side event hall for a little over 20 minutes. He even delivered a speech then.

Nepali diplomats were prepared for a last minute reschedule even during the LDC event if Wen Jiabao agreed for a one-on-one meeting. But it did not happen.

The Chinese prime minister, however, did find time to meet Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley. “The meeting carries great historic significance as it marks the first meeting between the heads of the two governments,” Bhutanese government’s cabinet secretariat said.

Whether Bhattarai would have been even more “reenergised” had he been able to hold a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, we don’t know. But, he certainly sounded quite confident after he emerged from the meeting with Singh.

A confidence he understandably wanted others to take note of.

But back home it rather created uproar — mainly among the opposition parties.

As if their leaders while in office one after another had not glowed following similar “reenergising” meetings in the past.     

Observers say the “revolutionary” Bhattarai had simply followed that tradition.

Khadka is a BBC journalist based in London


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