Women’s rights campaigner Bidhya Devi Bhandari : Broadening economic, social and political relations | Sunday Observer

Women’s rights campaigner Bidhya Devi Bhandari : Broadening economic, social and political relations

Pix by Sulochana Gamage
Pix by Sulochana Gamage

Nepal President Bindya Devi Bhandari, who was on an official visit to Sri Lanka from May 13 to 16, left the island with a ‘lot of happy memories’ as she explained to this writer in her mother tongue, Nepali – the night before her departure. That was when she was in a relaxed mood meeting the Nepali community during a dinner reception hosted by the Embassy of Nepal in her honour at the Hilton Hotel.

 Nepal President Bidya Devi Bhandari with former President of Sri Lanka Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga 

Talking to a couple of local journalists, through a translator, she enthused about broadening economic, social and political relations between the two nations during her tenure, in the future.

She admitted that it is important to establish direct air links between Colombo and Katmandu to bring people closer together, thereby increasing trade and investment activities. One of the key proposals she would consider discussing with Sri Lanka in the near future would be to encourage Buddhist pilgrims to visit Nepali Buddhist cultural sites, besides Lumbhini.

New Nepali Ambassador, Prof Bishwambher Pyakuryal who would be settling down in Colombo in two weeks, is also keen to improve bilateral relations between the two countries.

President Bhandari was in Sri Lanka at the official invitation of the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to attend the closing ceremony of the UN Vesak Day-2017 in Kandy, as the Chief Guest.

During this official visit, Bhandari’s diary was packed with official engagements. However, she took time off to visit some of the prominent Buddhist cultural sites, including, the Kelani Raja Maha Vihara, widely known as the crest gem of Buddhists around the world, which is also believed to have been visited by Gautama Buddha after attaining enlightenment.

Although Bhandari was elected President of Nepal in October 2015, her political role was not quite known among a majority of Sri Lankans. Bandhari is Nepal’s first woman president and her present role is considered to be ceremonial.

However, being in politics for a long time, Bhandari has the ear of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, and therefore, could potentially have greater influence in national policies and decision-making, according to political analysts.

Born in June, 1961, in Manebhanjyang of Bhojpur, Bhandari joined student politics in her youth. ​Her political career began from a Leftist student union and she got membership of the Communist Party of Nepal - Marxist-Leninist in 1980. She married charismatic communist leader Madan Bhandari.

Following her marriage, she gave up her political career and became a doting mother to her two daughters - Usha and Nisha.

But soon her life was turned upside down with the sudden death of her husband in a road accident in 1993, and she came back to the political limelight again.

Since then, Bhandari was elected twice, in the parliamentary elections in 1994 and 1999 defeating the then Prime Ministers Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Damanath Dhungana, respectively.

Bidhya, however, lost during the 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) poll. She held the post of Defence Minister in the Madhav Kumar Nepal-led Cabinet. The party elected her under the proportional electoral system in the second CA elections in 2013.

After completing her school education, Bhandari was enrolled in Mahendra Morang Adarsha Multiple Campus where she was elected as Treasurer for the Federation of Students’ Union (FSU) and played a pivotal role as Chairperson of the women’s wing of the party.

As a woman and a politician, she has led the All Nepal Women’s Association for nearly two decades.

He eldest daughter Usha also works on various projects to educate women on their rights and on women trafficking.

When she became President of Nepal, the international media described the move as ‘a milestone’ since she was widely known as a women’s rights campaigner. As president, she has promised to champion minority and women’s rights in Nepal.

Her role as a women’s rights campaigner has also been criticized by various women’s organizations. However, she is brave enough to continue her journey as promised earlier and is enthusiastic about leading the movement which is close to her heart.

She took this initiative forward while in Sri Lanka, having discussions with former President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Both ladies, whose political careers began in a somewhat similar manner, had much in common to talk about. But their discussions in Colombo focused on the empowerment of women, women’s participation in social development and politics and issues of common concerns.

She also participated in a program on Women Empowerment organised in her honour by the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs of Sri Lanka in Colombo.