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Friday, March 4, 2011

Nepal Maoists rejoin government

Nepal's tottering, one-month-old communist government received a shot in the arm on Friday when its major ally - and frequently major foe as well - the Maoists finally condescended to join the cabinet, after weeks of keeping Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal on tenterhooks.
However, remaining true to Nepal's politics of discord, the former guerrillas sent only a mini contingent of four ministers after differences erupted between Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and his two deputies, Dr Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Vaidya, preventing the party from naming all the 11 ministers they have been allotted.
A relieved Khanal, who had been stumbling along with just three ministers under him, administered the oath of office and secrecy to the four Maoist ministers at the presidential office, Shital Niwas, in Kathmandu Friday evening. Led by former Maoist information and communications minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who got the same ministry once again, the others are Khadga Bahadur Bishwokarma (tourism and civil aviation ministry), Top Bahadur Raymajhi (physical planning and works) and Barsha Man Pun Ananta (peace and reconstruction ministry).
While Mahara and Bishwokarma are former ministers, the latter having been women, children and social welfare minister in an earlier government, the other two are first timers. Though two women were being considered, none of them made it to the first lot of ministers. Bishwokarma comes from the Dalit community.
With the swearing-in, the Maoists return to power 23 months after the collapse of Prachanda's government in May 2009. The development comes as a matter of concern for New Delhi, especially the allocation of portfolios. With Ananta getting the peace and reconstruction ministry, India's concern about Nepal's halted peace process and the fate of nearly 20,000 People's Liberation Army combatants, is bound to mount. A succession of visiting Indian ministers and top officials had urged that the PLA should be disbanded before the promulgation of the new constitution and Indian Army top brass in the past have been on record as saying that the PLA should not be inducted into the Nepal Army. A Maoist minister will give the former rebels an advantage during planning and negotiations.
With growing Indian companies employed in infrastructure projects in Nepal, a Maoist minister ruling the roost will also add to Indian worries. The recently concluded bilateral trade talks in New Delhi had seen the Indian side harp on the protection of Indian investment in the republic with Dabur Nepal and United Telecom Ltd being enumerated as instances of harassment and discrimination.
The continued absence of a foreign minister also affects India's further diplomatic lobbying. South Block has been eager to discuss visiting dates for Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna but the visit has been put on hold due to Nepal's council of ministers functioning without a foreign minister.

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