Right Honourable President Bidya Devi Bhandari is the second President of the Republic of Nepal and the first President after the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal 2015. Her election as the Head of the State by Nepal’s Legislature Parliament on 28 October 2015 (11 Kartik 2072 BS) placed her in the league of twenty-six women leaders of the world, who were heading either the state or the government at the time of her elevation to the post.
President Bhandari was born on 19 June 1961 at Manebhanjyang of Bhojpur District in the eastern hills, as the eldest of five children of mother Mithila Pandey and the late father Ram Bahadur Pandey. The President’s journey, from a daughter in a peasant household to the dignified position of the country’s Head of State, has been inspiring and breath taking.
President Bhandari had her school and college education in Bhojpur and Morang respectively. College life marked a turning point in her education, as Bidya Devi got to understand the fundamental challenges facing Nepali society. Through her studies, personal observation of inequities under the autocratic Panchayat regime, as well as interactions with fellow-students and teachers, she came to the conclusion that there could be no socio-economic advancement in the absence of democracy. She became involved in the Left politics and in the democratic movement against the Panchayat, and her political horizons expanded significantly. She not only joined the students’ movement, but also participated actively in the democratic movements against autocratic monarchy and party-less Panchayat regime. Without doubt, the path she had taken during the height of the Panchayat regime, was arduous and risky. She established herself as a promising student leader and led the Eastern Zonal Committee of the All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU) for eight years. During the same period, she was elected as Treasurer of the Free Student Union (FSU) in the same campus.
Already inclined towards Communist Movement of Nepal since her school days in Bhojpur, President Bhandari became member of the Youth League of the Nepal Communist Party (Marxist Leninist) in 1978 and received full membership in the party the next year. In 1980, she became the member of All Nepal Women’s Association (ANWA), the women’s wing of the party. Increasingly, she raised a voice on political issues of the day, including the need for representative democracy from the grassroots to the national level. At the same time, she also raised her voice against discriminations faced by Nepal’s women, and she struggled for equal rights for women at every level. In this way, her political life proceeded in three dimensions simultaneously – a student leader, a women rights activist and as a dedicated cadre of a political party fighting for democracy.
During her party related work, Bidya Devi Bhandari got to know Madan Bhandari, an emerging popular Left leader of Nepal. They got married in 1982 and were blessed with two daughters- Usha Kiran and Nisha Kusum. President Bhandari continued her political activism together with Madan Bhandari at the forefront of the democratic movement that ended the autocratic Panchayat regime and ushered parliamentary democracy in Nepal in 1990. Madan Bhandari met with a tragic death in a mysterious highway accident in 1991. Upon the demise of her husband, she took up additional political responsibilities while also raising her children who were still young.
The Sixth National Convention of Communist Party of Nepal (unified Marxist-Leninist) in 1999 elected President Bhandari as the member of the Central Committee, its highest policymaking body. She began significant activities as a national level leader, and was elected Central Committee member again in the Seventh National Convention, and the Eighth National Convention in 2009 made her the Party Vice-Chair. The delegates voted her Vice-Chair and member of the Standing Committee again in 2014, recognizing her popularity, work ethics and integrity.
President Bhandari’s ascendancy to elected public office first came in 1993 through a by-election as the Member of Parliament from Kathmandu-1, that fell vacant on the demise of her husband. She thereafter won three consecutive terms as MP from different constituencies of Kathmandu, in 1993, 1994 and 1999 respectively. Simultaneously, she was elected as the President of All Nepal Women Association (ANWA) in 1998 and served in the position for three consecutive terms, struggling to end gender-based inequality and discrimination. One of the most remarkable and outstanding achievements of her struggle for equality during this period was the passage of the resolution by the Legislature-Parliament to guarantee at least 33 percent women’s representation in state’s political structures at every level, including for the House of Representatives. The Constitution of Nepal, promulgated by the Constituent Assembly in 2015, has ensured this provision.
President Bhandari started her career in the country’s executive as Minister for Environment and Population in 1997. In the year 2009, she served in the Cabinet as the Defence Minister, becoming the first woman leader of Nepal entrusted with this sensitive portfolio. During her time as Defence Minister, President Bhandari facilitated the integration of former Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army, as per the Comprehensive Peace Accord, and to the drafting of the National Security Policy. She remained the Member of Parliament, Vice-Chair of the CPN (UML) and President of the ANWA, until she was elected as the President of the Republic of Nepal.