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Nepal government totters after new ministers’ entry

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Within 24 hours of inducting eight new members into the cabinet, Nepal’s new coalition government headed by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was plunged into a fresh crisis Friday with a key ally threatening to withdraw support.

Regional party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, which had been sharply divided on the issue of joining the new Communist government, seemed headed for a vertical split with one faction beginning a signature campaign against its lone minister in the cabinet and saying it would withdraw support.

“The new government is unconstitutional and undemocratic,” said Upendra Yadav, former foreign minister and chief of the Terai party that rose to prominence in the last election with its pledge to fight for the rights of Madhesis, people of Indian origin living in the plains who have been ignored by a succession of governments.

“We will withdraw our support and initiate action against people who went against the party’s norms.”

The Yadav faction is at loggerheads with the group headed by Bijay Kumar Gachhedar, who heads the party in parliament and was sworn in as physical planning and works minister Thursday.

The two groups have been locked in a fierce rivalry for power which delayed the expansion of the cabinet by more than a week.

Violence simmered in the party office Friday with the Yadav faction padlocking the door to prevent a triumphant Gachhedar from entering. Nearly three dozen members of the party have signed a petition asking for the recall of Gachhedar, who, the Yadav group claims, was nominated without consulting the party.

The feud erupted last month after the fall of the Maoist government with the Yadav faction desiring to stay with the former guerrilla party but the Gachhedar faction insisting on joining forces with the new Communist government.

Besides the Terai party, there is also a sharp divide in the other key ally of the government, the Nepali Congress of former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, after the octogenarian leader, who was given a free hand by his party to choose the new ministers, picked his daughter Sujata Koirala to lead his party in the government.

Sujata Koirala was sworn in Thursday as foreign minister while the five other Nepali Congress members inducted with her are yet to be allocated portfolios.

Prime Minister Nepal’s own party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, also failed to send additional members after disputes persisted over the new nominations.

Besides the infighting, the new prime minister has to also deal with continuous street protests by the Maoists, who are demanding a debate in parliament on the role of President Ram Baran Yadav.

The Maoist government fell after the president reinstated the chief of the army, Gen Rookmangud Katawal, whom it had sacked.

On Friday, scores of Maoists, including their former finance minister Baburam Bhattarai and ex-information and communications minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, defied police to stage a sit-in before the prime minister’s office, condemning the presidential move.

It led to a clash, with Bhattarai sustaining minor injuries.

The new turbulence is especially alarming for India with the former guerrillas now having added an anti-India agenda to the protests. They are accusing India of encroaching on Nepal’s territory and the Indian border security forces, the Seema Suraksha Bal, of assaulting and raping villagers.