Fresh tremors in Nepal as Maoists seek cabinet reshuffle

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Fresh tremors jolted Nepal’s uneasy ruling alliance Monday as the dominant Maoist partners sought a major cabinet reshuffle ahead of a crucial deadline and the prime minister as well as the largest opposition party baulked at this.

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A relentless three-corner tussle for leadership within the Maoist party finally saw its chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda agree to recall the Maoist ministers in the government of Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal and recommend a jumbo list of 24 ministers from the party.

It was the former revolutionary’s sop to his warring deputies, Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya, who had been threatening to seek a change in the party leadership.

The new list, decided by the party’s central committee late Sunday, has ironically recalled two tainted ministers whose appointments were opposed by human rights activists.

Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is also the home minister, has been under fire from rights organisations for seeking to withdraw criminal cases filed against Maoist leaders.

A second Maoist minister, Agni Prasad Sapkota, currently features in a law suit with the petitioners alleging that he ordered the killing of a school teacher during the 10-year insurgency waged by the Maoists from 1996.

While both the Maoist leadership and the prime minister turned a deaf ear to the calls for the removal of the two tainted ministers, now ironically, Prachanda is ready to sacrifice them to retain his grip on the party.

But the Maoist move met with unexpected resilience from the prime minister, regarded a puppet in the hands of the former guerrillas.

When Prachanda met Khanal Monday to apprise him of the new list of Maoist ministers, Khanal reportedly disagreed with the move and asked the Maoists to consult the largest opposition party, the Nepali Congress.

It is a tense time for the government that faces a constitutional crisis next month when it needs to unveil a new constitution.

Nepal’s ruling parties failed twice in the past to get the constitution ready and the Khanal government will be no exception next month.

On May 28, Khanal managed to win a three-month extension from parliament after failing to announce a new constitution.

However, since then, the peace process has remained in the doldrums. The other major task of discharging the Maoists’ nearly 20,000-strong guerrilla army has also not moved forward even five years after the civil war ended.

To add to Khanal’s woes, he is also facing renewed calls by the Nepali Congress to quit and pave the way for an all-party government.

The Maoists, who helped Khanal win the prime ministerial election this year, joined the government in March after cut-throat bargaining for ministries.

The feud over power-sharing continued till May when ahead of the constitutional deadline, Khanal capitulated and gave them the additional ministries they had demanded to ensure their continued support.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])