Eight months after the initial agreement between the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist United (CPN-UML) and the CPN (Maoist Centre) on a party unity, the two ruling left parties have sealed the merger. The earlier announced date of the unification got postponed there was speculations that the it was losing its steam. But taking everyone by surprise, on May 17, the unification process gathered momentum and the two parties unified. Mukul Humagain and Sanjeev Giri talked to Janardan Sharma, one of the key leaders behind the unification on what made this historic moment possible and what this unification means for Nepal.
There was a lot of scepticism regarding the unification of the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (MC) since the planned unification date was postponed repeatedly. But the news of unification came all of a sudden. What led to this development?
Our unification plans, which we had announced before the elections, were well received by both the public and the cadres. After the elections, some tensions arose. But the leaders were not in a position to give up the already approved idea of unification. Also, there were a few elements in both parties who impeded the unification process. There were ideological questions pertaining to the political documents and constitution that needed to be reconsidered. So in the last meeting, the members of the unification coordination committee decided that the meeting should be held in the presence of us all. We discussed the existing bottlenecks, and eventually signed the unification accord the same day at Baluwatar. The main bottleneck was deciding whether to stick to our old struggle for a republic or go one step forward and imbibe socialism.
You mentioned that there was scepticism in both parties. What were they? Also, questions about what Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s new role would be in the unified party were doing the rounds too. Have all these issues been sorted out?
The main objective of this unification is not to decide the new positions of the leaders in the newly unified party. The left alliance has a resounding mandate of a two-thirds majority in Parliament, so we should form a strong centre on the basis of that. This is the primary motive for unification. A strong party is necessary to tackle issues of poverty, trade deficit and unemployment, and eventually take the nation toward prosperity. Another issue is that of sovereignty and autonomy. It is only thorough economic prosperity that we can achieve that. So keeping in mind all these things, we decided to go for unification. Since the two parties came from different ideological streams, trust building was an issue. The national interest of the country is supreme, and that is what led to the unification.
If past history of Nepali communist party is considered, if there are leaders with a strong personality cult in the party, it disintegrates. The newly unified party too has strong leaders like Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Oli. So the general curiosity is regarding the permanence of this unification.
To maintain stability, I feel everyone has a role to play. Not just the party members but every patriotic citizen must make way for this. Making this unification a success is our responsibility too. The second factor is management. Factions have been created in the past due to lack of proper management within the party. These things should be taken care of now. Inside the party, too we should practice democracy and encourage debates and discussions before making any decision. The third factor is leadership. The unified party will function smoothly if the leaders direct their cadres effectively and in the right direction.
As one of the prominent figures who has been involved closely in making this unification a success, how difficult, or easy, was the process?
We initiated the process of unification even before the elections, and it was not an easy task. Before the initial agreement to unify the party was announced, the preparations had to be done in a clandestine manner in order to counter various elements that were unlikely to support it. Similarly, relations between Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Oli were cold. Trust building was not easy and there were a lot of risks involved. But one discussion led to another and slowly scepticism was replaced by optimism. Bamdev Gautam, Bishnu Paudel and I worked tirelessly. My intention was to see a change in society and hand over to the next generation of Nepalis a better Nepal, a prosperous Nepal.
When it comes to ideology, both parties have a strong legacy. The unification is set to be a confluence of the CPN-UML’s guiding principle of ‘People’s Multi-party Democracy’ and the MC’s ‘People’s Democracy of the Twenty-First Century’. What does this mean?
When we were talking about People’s Multi-party Democracy or People’s Democracy of the Twenty-First Century, we were talking about fighting the autocratic and oppressive rule of the Panchayat regime. Such ideologies were legitimate then in that context. A fusion of both ideologies helped end the autocratic rule and write a new constitution. The new constitution lists many rights as fundamental rights, now we are in a position to exercise those rights. For a state to guarantee rights the nation needs to be developed and prosperous. Not just prosperity but prosperity that is embedded in social justice. But this is a tentative framework. We will hold debates on this and discuss incessantly to come to a conclusion--a discourse that addresses new movements for prosperity and socialism.
The two parties’ stands on the issues of indigenous communities and Madhes were different in the past. Now that the two parties have unified, how will those issues be resolved?
Whatever has been mentioned in the constitution of Nepal is quite clear. The rights of indigenous communities, Madhesis, women, differently abled people and children all have their place in the constitution. I believe the constitution in itself is our political manifesto and the motive for the unification so that we can deliver whatever has been mentioned in the constitution. The prime minister too has said that he is ready to make amendments to the constitution as and when needed.
The CPN-UML and the MC had two different starting points and two different ideologies. Now that the two parties have unified, do you still see a possibility of yet another radical communist movement in Nepal?
Anything that is pro-society is radical if we look at it differently. Currently, the growth and prosperity that we are talking about is radical; achieving the highest form of democracy is radical. Forming a government by receiving a resounding mandate of the people is radical. In the past, there was monarchy and autocratic rule. People faced oppression and discrimination. But we don’t have those issues any more.
As the left alliance has taken full form and the electoral allies have now formed an unified party, which also leads the government, there are fears that this will give birth to authoritative rule. How true is this?
The basic tenets of democracy all have been mentioned in the constitution, and we have been moving forward keeping them in mind. Forming a government by receiving a majority vote is not authoritarianism; a minority ruling over a majority is authoritarianism. However, when it comes to developing the nation, achieving prosperity and implementing the rule of law, the government will exercise its authority. If we have been following democratic procedures, be it to form a party or a government, then the question of having authoritarian rule does not fit.
Now with unification is complete, the government is preparing for the budget which will be coming in a few days. People have huge expectations from this government. How do you think it will be able to deliver?
I won’t say that this new budget will change everything. This budget will lay the foundation for the Nepali economy which will be implemented in a transparent manner. To usher in prosperity, the government will come up with policies, of which the budget is a part. And gradually, year by year, we will keep on delivering so that by the end of five years, the public will be able to see some changes.
You keep mentioning prosperity, but is the bureaucracy ready to work hand in hand with the government to make changes possible?
The bureaucracy became more invested in sycophancy than in delivering because of the kind of political leadership we have had in the past. However, there are capable and sincere people in the bureaucracy too. Besides, the work of the bureaucracy is not to develop new ideas and vision, but to implement them. Unless we make structural reforms, implementing anything will be an uphill battle. As long as the there is strong political willpower, getting the bureaucracy to deliver will not be an issue.
There are no shortcuts to development and prosperity. What are the immediate priorities of the government?
The electoral manifesto is a blueprint, it’s a dream. The government will be turning that dream into reality by addressing them in the upcoming budget. Collecting revenue is not the only means of generating capital. Our workforce is also a source of capital. Combining revenues and the workforce and integrating them with technology will help speed up development efforts. We will also change the existing laws and work culture. Corruption should stop and increasing efficiency should take precedence. The first year will be dedicated to establishing the rule of law and following them properly.