Nepal’s businessmen to make their mark in pollsApril 4th, 2008 - 12:17 pm ICT by admin
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 4 (IANS) Banwari Lal Mittal, one of Nepal’s most respected businessmen and the owner of a private helicopter company, received an unusual call ahead of the critical constituent assembly elections. It was from Baburam Bhattarai, one of the top leaders of the Maoist party that finally laid down its guns to fight the battle of the ballot. “We would like you to contest the April 10 elections as a civil society representative from our party,” said the former rebel leader, whose party in the past had trained its sights on capitalists.
Though Mittal decided to stay away, the historic poll next Thursday will see unprecedented participation by Nepal’s business sector, which has in the past preferred to stay aloof from politics.
The elections will choose 601 representatives to draft a new, pro-people constitution. Almost two dozen top names from business and industry are in the fray, raising hopes for the flagging sector that its woes will be remedied after the poll.
The poll will also mark the entry of Nepal’s Marwari community in active politics for the first time.
Heading the list is Binod Chaudhary, former chief of the powerful pressure group, the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), and a scion of the Chaudhary Group whose business interests range from construction and finance to computers.
Chaudhary, who had been dreaming of floating a “technocrats’ party” with professionals and businessmen, was fielded by the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, which is supporting an end to monarchy and a federal republic.
However, the family’s bets are hedged evenly with his younger brother Arun, chief of the Nepal-India Chamber of Commerce, being a candidate of the Rastriya Janashakti Party (RJP).
Led by former prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, who was appointed in 2003 by King Gyanendra, the RJP is regarded as a royalist party despite its apparent support for a republic.
A third prominent trader nominated by UML is Niranjan Tibrewal, who deals in bank, finance company and insurance shares.
The largest party in Nepal, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC), has also roped in the influential and wealthy community.
Its candidates include Diwakar Golcha, a member of the powerful Golcha Group that has a wide range of business interests from infrastructure and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) to car dealerships.
Another NC contestant, Birendra Kumar Kanodia, is the owner of a sugar mill and ran up a controversy when the mill was blacklisted by Nepal’s apex bank, Nepal Rastra Bank, for failing to pay its bank loans.
A new party, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum that has established itself as a rising power in the Terai plains in south Nepal, has fielded three contestants of Marwari origin, including Atmaram Murarka, who heads the association of vanaspati ghee manufacturers.
Nepal’s business community became active in politics after the fall of King Gyanendra’s government in 2006 and it organised a series of strikes to pressurise the new government into taking action against Maoists for assaulting entrepreneurs.
The sector is concerned at the deteriorating security situation and the impact of a daily eight-hour power cut on industries that has forced dozens to close down since last year.
Other pro-industry laws are also expected to be on their agenda, if they are elected to the constituent assembly.
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Tags: assembly elections, chambers of commerce, chambers of commerce and industry, communist party of nepal, constituent assembly, fncci, former prime minister, helicopter company, india chamber of commerce, king gyanendra, maoist party, marwari, marxist leninist, mittal, nepalese chambers, pressure group, private helicopter, royalist party, society representative, thapa