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Maoist ideologue finally emerges from shadow of Prachanda

Shirish B Pradhan, PTI
Kathmandu, Aug 28 - Nepal's India educated new prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, is a Maoist party ideologue who was instrumental in transforming the rebels into a political outfit that emerged as the single largest party in the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections.

The 57-year-old Bhattarai, who has a doctorate from New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, has finally emerged from the shadow of his party supremo Prachanda.

The vice chairman of Maoist party, who is from a Brahmin family in western Nepal's Gorkha district, was the deputy prime Minister and finance minister in the government led by Prachanda in 2008.

Bhattarai, who is a key party ideologue, played a crucial role in mainstreaming the Maoist guerrillas after a decade- long insurgency following an agreement with the interim government led by G P Koirala in 2006.

He earned praises for the surge in revenue collection as the finance minister.

Maoists chief Prachanda proposed Bhattarai for the post of prime minster as he is seen as a moderate in party and was in a position to win the support of the centrist party in the country.

Bhattarai underlined that his government "will give top priority to concluding the peace process and drafting a new constitution".

"Government will make efforts to forge national consensus on key issues," he said.

The Maoists, who do not not have an absolute majority, need the cooperation of all the parties to push forward the stalled 2006 peace process and the drafting of a new constitution.

However, the new prime minister's first challenge is to build a consensus on extending the term of the parliament, which was extended twice, the latest on May 29 that is set expire at the end of this month.

After finishing his schooling in Nepal, Bhattarai won a scholarship to study engineering in Chandigarh under the Colombo Plan. He completed his Bachelors in Architecture from there in 1977.

In 1979, he enrolled in the New Delhi-based School of Planning and Architecture for Masters in Town and Country Planning, with specialisation in the urban and regional planning.

Bhattarai obtained his PhD in Regional Development and Planning from JNU.

His involvement in politics started during his stay in India when he came in contact with Nepalese leaders like former Prime Minister B.P. Koirala, Tulsi Lal Amatya and Mohan Bikram Singh among others who were in exile.

He was elected the founder president of All India Nepalese Students Association in 1977.

In 1981, he formally became the member of the Communist Party of Nepal and was active in organizing migrant Nepalese workers in India through All India Nepalese Unity Society.

Bhattarai returned to Nepal in 1986 after finishing his education and took part in the anti-Panchyat system under the country's monarchy.

He was part of Prachanda's inner circle when the Maoists launched an armed rebellion in 1996 to overthrow the monarchy.

He was a key figure in the peace talks with the government in 2003 when the Maoist insurgency was at its peak.

Bhattarai argued for an alliance with mainstream parliamentary parties, when a popular movement erupted against the monarchy in 2006, leading to the end of the 240-year-old institution in 2008.

He told lawmakers today that the country's future is "very bright" and together they can "accomplish the task of constitution drafting and complete the peace process".

However, some have argued that Nepal's fractured political environment will pose a serious challenge to his ability to push forward the stalled peace process.

Political analysts have warned that the persistent rift among the parties will may prove a problem. The Maoists, who do not have enough seats to govern alone, had struggled to hold together a coalition that fell in 2009. PTI

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