Wives also rise in Nepal politics

March 15th, 2008 - 11:52 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 15 (IANS) Following the trend worldwide, sons have been following in their fathers’ political steps in Nepal as well. But now, in keeping with a new phenomenon, Nepali wives are also treading the path taken by their husbands. After Hillary Rodham Clinton in the US, Sonia Gandhi in India and Begum Ershad in Bangladesh, the wives of some of the best known politicians in Nepal have also taken the political plunge.

Next month, when Nepal goes to the polls to hold a historic constituent assembly election, two wives will be in the fray.

For both Maoist leader Hisila Yami and Arzu Rana Deuba, it will be their first poll battle.

Both were educated in India and both their well-known husbands are also contesting the April 10 election.

Despite the similarity, the two women couldn’t be more different.

Yami, 48, the wife of Baburam Bhattarai, the number two in command of the once underground guerrilla party, says she was arrested several times and assaulted after she became an active member of the armed Maoist movement, which sought to overthrow Nepal’s constitutional monarchy.

Arzu, 45, on the other hand, comes from the privileged aristocracy of Nepal and has been used to the kid gloves treatment by virtue of being the wife of Sher Bahadur Deuba, three-time prime minister of Nepal, who was sacked by King Gyanendra once, re-appointed and then sacked again.

Yami is contending in a direct fight from Kathmandu valley, where her community was the original residents.

“In Gorkha district (her husband’s constituency), people know me as his wife,” she says smilingly.

“But in Kathmandu valley, people know me for my parents, both of whom fought for democracy in the past, with my father being given life imprisonment and my part in our 10-year People’s War.”

Yami, an architect from Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, is also the first woman in Nepal to become minister for physical planning and works, which till two years ago was dominated by men.

During the Maoist insurgency, she was known by the nom de guerre Parvati and from underground, sought to bolster ties with like-minded international organisations.

Her poll campaign therefore focuses on development of infrastructure, better drinking water supply, new roads and effective town planning.

Arzu, on the other hand, is not taking part in a direct fight. Her husband’s Nepali Congress party has nominated her for the proportional representation system.

A social activist, she heads three NGOs that work for better healthcare for women and underprivileged communities and pioneered shelters for battered women who were victims of domestic violence.

When the king sacked her husband in 2005 and jailed him, she ran the legal battle that resulted in his acquittal.

While the two are poll debutants, a veteran wife is also in the fray.

Vidya Bhandari, once known as the wife of Madan Bhandari, one of Nepal’s best-known communist leaders, is also taking part in the direct fight.

The soft-spoken, petite Bhandari came into her own after her husband was killed in a controversial car crash and is famed as a giant killer who humbled some of Nepal’s top leaders in two earlier general elections.

Bhandari has just won a war on blood cancer to fight the April poll from the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.

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