KATHMANDU: Unlike other colleagues of hers, Defence Minister Bidhya Bhandari is in
the centre of politics for her controversial remarks on many issues of national importance. Whenever she gives speeches at public places and gives statements to the press, they suddenly become a matter of annoyance and tension
for Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.
Among the many others, representatives of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) and the main opposition UCPN-Maoist rush to PM Nepal seeking the government’s official stance after Minister Bhandari’s controversial remarks are floated.
However, the prime
minister already has an answer to all those who seek clarification — ‘Minister Bhandari’s remarks do not represent the government’s official stand.’
Since the CPN-UML-led government was formed, PM Nepal and Bhandari are at loggerheads and their relationship has soured, though they belong to the same party. Some Cabinet ministers say differences of opinion between the PM and the DM clearly surface in party meetings.
Bhandari boycotted many Cabinet meetings in the past, expressing her dissatisfaction over PM Nepal’s ‘indifference’ in promoting Major General Toran Jung Bahadur Singh to the post of Lt General on time. She gave a message to the PM that she would not join another Cabinet meeting until the Cabinet decides to promote Toran. Finally, she was successful in promoting Toran, despite opposition from national and international quarters. The latter opposed the idea of promoting Toran for his alleged involvement in human rights violations during the decade-long insurgency. Even the United Nations objected to Toran’s promotion.
Similarly, Bhandari’s remarks on reviewing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement also created ripples in the political circle for days on end. Speaking at a committee of the legislature-parliament, Bhandari said the CPA should be reviewed as it has created numerous problems in the Nepali Army in performing its regular job.
Mainly, UNMIN and the Maoists slammed Bhandari’s remarks stating that it would jeopardise the fragile peace process. PM Nepal later clarified that Bhandari’s remarks would not represent the government’s official position. Bhandari had reasoned that the CPA should be reviewed to pave way for the recruitment of army personnel and bringing arms and ammunition for the Nepali Army. The PM also clarified that the government would not take any step that was likely to put the CPA at crisis.
Nepali Army Major Niranjan Basnet’s case is another instance which brought PM Nepal and Bhandari at loggerheads. PM Nepal directed Bhandari to hand over Major Basnet to a civilian court; however, Bhandari turned down the request.
Basnet was repatriated while on a peace keeping mission in Chad for his involvement in human rights violations. Instead of producing Basnet in a civil court, the NA formed a board of inquiry to investigate Basnet’s repatriation. National and international human rights organisations are upping pressure on the PM to produce Basnet in a civilian court.
Minister Bhandari has also repeatedly been saying that the NA would soon start a recruitment drive to fill vacant posts in the army, while the Maoists have been saying that doing so would violate the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. She is also mounting pressure on PM Nepal to bring equipments for the NA from neighbouring
countries. According to an NA source, there are more than 5000 vacant posts in the NA, while filling these posts would not be a violation of the CPA.
However, the Maoists and UNMIN are saying
that both the government and the Maoists cannot recruit additional troops. In each and every forum, Bhandari says the NA would soon start the recruitment process.
Recently, Bhandari said that bulk integration of the UCPN-Maoist combatants into the Nepali Army is impossible. The Maoists have seriously objected to the remark. She further said that it would not be obligatory to accept and implement what the Special Committee on integration and rehabilitation decides on integration. “The special committee lacks representatives from stakeholders concerned, such as the Defence Ministry and the NA.” She further claimed that the CPA does not have any provision regarding the integration of PLA into the NA.
The NA is looking to send representatives in the special committee and the technical committee claiming that it was a must if the political parties are going to integrate combatants into the Nepali Army. Bhandari’s challenge to the Special Committee which was formed according to the provision of the Interim constitution has also annoyed PM Nepal.
Bhandari’s remark came at a time when the work of the Special Committee is smoothly going on. Leaders claim that they are near consensus on the number of PLA combatants to be integrated into the security agencies. It is learnt that the government has agreed to integrate 4 to 5 thousand combatants into the security agencies.
Political pundits reason that Minister Bhandari is adopting a hard line approach to the UCPN-Maoist, which would not be very much helpful in the ongoing peace process. PM Nepal is facing many difficulties and pressure is ever building and this is ultimately affecting the government’s efforts on taking the peace process ahead, and all this, simply because of Defence Minister Bhandari’s stance and her controversial remarks.