Nepal cabinet expanded amid confusion

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Within 72 hours of Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon’s visit to Nepal to give a push to the stagnating peace process, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal Wednesday expanded his cabinet for the third time, inducting the Terai parties that had remained deadlocked over the allocation of berths.

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But though Nepal named eight new ministers – including two ministers of state – confusion dogged the swearing-in ceremony with one of them not turning up at the presidential palace for the ceremony.

The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, the biggest Terai party that had locked horns with the government demanding plum ministries, Wednesday sent Sharad Singh Bhandari as tourism and civil aviation minister, and Mrigendra Singh Yadav as agriculture and cooperatives minister.

The Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP), the fifth largest party in the house, had agreed to send three cabinet-rank ministers, making its debut in the government since its inception during last year’s election.

The TMLP ministers are Ram Chandra Kusabhah (education and sports), Mahendra Yadav (industry) and Ganesh Nepali (youth and sports).

However, Yadav did not attend the swearing-in ceremony.

The third Terai party that too had been negotiating for berths – the Sadbhavana Party – also stayed away accusing the Nepal government of going against consensus politics.

But a former royalist party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), entered the alliance, sending its senior leader Deepak Bohara as forests and soil conservation minister.

With Wednesday’s inductions, Nepal now heads a six-party alliance in which the dominant partners are the Nepali Congress and his own Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.

Two new ministers of state are also scheduled to be sworn in the Prime Minister’s Office.

They are TMLP’s Dan Bahadur Chaudhari (industry) and Man Bahadur Shahi of the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist (land reforms and management).

With the infighting among the allies for powerful ministries reaching some kind of reconciliation, the new government is also trying to reach an understanding with the biggest party, the Maoists, who are sitting in opposition and have kept up a siege on parliament since the fall of their government last year.

The decision-making unit of the Maoists, the politburo, is currently engaged in drawing up its future strategy. While the Maoists favour a national government under their leadership, they have refused Nepal’s proposal to join his government.