Fallout of Manmohan-Bhattarai one-to-one in Tehran
Last week’s meeting between Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh at Tehran on sidelines of the 16th NAM Summit has run into controversy in Kathmandu.
This brief meeting between the two leaders has given fodder to some leaders from Bhattarai’s party, diplomats and sections of media to raise questions about New Delhi’s alleged mistreatment of the Nepal Prime Minister.
It was the fifth meeting between the two since Bhattarai’s official tour to India last year. Their last meeting on sidelines of the Rio+20 Summit in June had also made headlines as Bhattarai on his return from that trip made clear his unwillingness to step down from office.
On Tuesday, ‘Kantipur’, Nepal’s highest circulated daily, carried a front page report on how Bhattarai had ‘lost weight’ by taking part in a one-to-one interaction instead of the proposed bilateral talks.
Another report in ‘The Kathmandu Post’ mentioned how Deputy Prime Minister cum foreign minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha is unhappy with Bhattarai for being sidelined in Tehran.
Differences between the two senior Maoist leaders came out into the open following Shrestha’s opposition to Bhattarai’s insistence on signing the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Act with India during his New Delhi visit last October.
The Manmohan-Bhattarai interaction in Tehran has widened the rift further. Reports say Shrestha complained to Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda about Bhattarai’s exclusive encounter with Singh.
The recent controversy has roots in a news report issued by Rashtriya Samachar Samiti, Nepal’s state-owned news agency, on August 31 giving details of the Manmohan-Bhattarai meeting.
The report mentioned that though the proposed bilateral talks didn’t take place, the two leaders discussed bilateral issues and the latest political situation in Nepal for nearly one hour.
Another report mentioned that the bilateral talks didn’t materialize as Singh was reluctant to meet Bhattarai. Still another stated that while Bhattarai was the only member from the Nepali side present at the interaction, Singh was accompanied by several senior Indian officials.
Confusion over what exactly happened and Shrestha’s unhappiness with Bhattarai led many in Kathmandu to surmise that New Delhi may have deliberately refused to go ahead with the bilateral talks and the Nepal PM reduced his stature by agreeing to a brief one-to-one.
However, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu has clarified that instead of the one-hour long interaction as reported in Nepali media, the two leaders met for barely 5-7 minutes. It also made it clear that no officials from both sides were present during the one-to-one talks.
“The proposed bilateral talks couldn’t be held as host nation Iran requested Prime Minister Singh to chair a session of the NAM Summit on Thursday. Since it was not planned, several scheduled meetings including the one with the Nepal side had to be cancelled,” said an embassy official.
The two leaders, however, managed to discuss Nepal’s political scenario and electricity supply on Thursday evening after the session was over. During the short interaction held in a hotel lobby, Singh assured all possible support to Nepal including supply of additional 200 MW during winter.
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