When Prachanda joked

"I am the candidate for the prime minister's post," Maoist chief Prachanda told an assembly of party workers in Gorkha district, to applause. Less than 24 hours later, PM Baburam Bhattarai told a similar assembly in Taplejung district, "Comrade Chairman was just joking."

"Yes, I was joking," Prachanda said at the same venue, showing the degeneration of Nepal's politics, where public lying is a norm. Politicians have failed to find a successor to Bhattarai, caretaker PM for nearly eight months now, with the chances of a legislative election within the May 15 deadline almost nil. Bhattarai, also the vice chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), takes this as his best opportunity for indefinitely continuing as PM. But he needs at least his party's support. With the national convention of the UCPN-M scheduled this week, Bhattarai knows it's an opportunity to extract as much as he can from Prachanda and strike a deal. For Prachanda, stooping to conquer is crucial for his own survival.

Bhattarai is also trying to send a message to party cadres, who still talk of capturing the state and annihilating "class enemies". On January 22, he went to Dailekh in western Nepal, where Maoists detained, tortured and then buried alive journalist Dekendra Thapa eight years ago along with Prachanda, to terrorise local residents and journalists protesting at his efforts to stall the investigation. As mass fury welled up, the PM took shelter in the army camp and had the district civil and police chief summarily transferred for not suppressing the protest. Angry Maoist cadres announced they would fell 10 other journalists. More than two dozen journalists have now fled the district.

Two major political parties the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) have begun their 20-day long joint campaign to oust Bhattarai. However, given that they have followed not only the Maoist leadership but also their radical policies blindly, their ability to mobilise the public is doubtful. Moreover, the interim constitution's silence on the PM's replacement in parliament's absence, allows Bhattarai to argue that he is indispensable.

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