INTERVIEW

Interview Subash Nembang

Mar 27, 2017-

Positive vibes are fine but inter-party talks have nothing concrete to offer yet With the Madhesi Morcha and the CPN-UML at loggerheads over the issues of constitutional amendment and federal demarcation, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal recently held discussions with leaders of the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the Samyukta Loktrantrik Madhesi Morcha in a bid to come to a consensus.

Tika R Pradhan and Supriya Gurung spoke with deputy leader of the UML’s Parliamentary Party, Subash Nembang, about a possible breakthrough as a result of the cross-party talks, the political ramification of UML’s Mechi-Mahakali campaign and the party’s electoral aspirations.

Do you think the cross-party talks organised by the prime minister will lead to a political breakthrough to pave the way for local level elections?

This is the first time that we have sat together with the Madhesi Morcha to discuss the current situation. Amendments to the constitution should not be demanded in such a hostile manner. This continuous aggression will not improve the 

situation; it will only make things worse. We thank to the government for the initiative in holding the talks, though such a meeting should have been held much earlier.

There is a perception that the UML’s hard-line position has only led to deeper political polarisation and alienated the Madhesi Morcha and the larger Madhesi constituencies.As the second largest party in Parliament, doesn’t the UML also have a responsibility to help resolve this crisis?

We are responsible and we are ready to help resolve the problems. However, we all have a collective responsibility, too. The UML is not approached for dialogue and even when we demand it, we are not included in the talks. This practice of blame game is wrong. Perhaps sitting together before the prime minister left for China created a sense of optimism. So further talks between the UML and the Madhesi Morcha were 

proposed. However, as of now, the government has made no efforts to contact us.

How about the UML reaching out to them so as to move the process forward?

We are always ready to work together. We have no antagonism towards amending the constitution. Our only contention is that the amendments must be justified. There has been no effort to establish the necessity for the proposed amendments. No one thought it important to hold dialogue with the UML regarding the necessity of the amendments. The recent discussion on the day the prime minister left for China was a larger cross-party talk, where we are just one party. 

But there is a strong perception that the UML is completely opposed to a compromise on federal demarcation. Hence, according to that school of thought, the need for other 

stakeholders in the talks.

We have a clear view on the amendment. The Supreme Court has ruled that if provincial boundaries are to be redrawn, they need to be endorsed by the separate federal provinces. Given that neither provincial nor federal elections have been held, there is no legitimate body to endorse the redrawing of provincial boundaries.

The Madhesi Morcha says that the boundary issues can be addressed by a commission. Is the UML open to the idea?

In the discussion, Prime Minister Dahal clearly stated that the issues related to the provincial boundaries could not be resolved before the elections. Therefore, they must be put on hold until provincial elections are held. The Madhesi Morcha did not make its position clear. Given that they did not raise opposition to the prime minister’s comments, we can infer that they must be—to some extent—ready to put a hold on the provincial boundary issues. The UML needs clarity on the issue of the formation of the commission. 

The Morcha has said that it could take part in the polls if the major parties agree to amend Article 274 that makes creating more provinces in the future difficult, and to form a permanent commission to deal with boundaries and increase the number of local level units.

There is no guarantee that the constitution will be amended to this effect. We do not know how the passage of the amendment bill can be guaranteed—this is one of the things that we are kept in the dark about. The Morcha also has to further clarify the demands it has for the amendment of Article 274. Another contentious issue is the fact that the Morcha wants a commission to deal with boundaries. This demand goes against constitutional guidelines and will be hard to reconcile with the government structure, as proposed in the constitution. We are open to talks on these issues, but first and foremost, we need clarity. 

How would you defend the charges that the UML’s recent move to go ahead with the Mechi-Mahakali campaign in the Tarai, including in Saptari, has only deepened the social cleavage?

We have gone about our campaign in a peaceful manner and we are not party to the conflict. We were pelted with stones, hit with sticks, and shown black flags. Even in the face of this aggression, we did not respond in kind. We carried on our campaign peacefully with only one aim: to spread our message among the civilians. We do not prohibit others from entering certain areas, and despite the prohibitions imposed on us by certain forces, we carried on with our campaign. 

What are your views on the Janajatis’ discontent with constitution amendment?

There is never a complete consensus in any state. However, it must be considered that the agitating forces in the Janajati and Madhesi populace are not representative of the entire Janajati and Madhesi population of the nation. While there is discontent amongst some Janajati and Madhesi people, and the issues behind this discontent must be addressed, what is also necessary is compromise. Of course, the process of conciliation is time-consuming and it cannot be rushed. It takes time to develop understanding and reach a resolution.

There are many who still think that you, as senior member of the UML who can demonstrate statesmanship beyond partisanship, can play a huge role in resolving the conflict.

I have repeated one thing time and again—both within my party and outside. The day of the promulgation of the constitution, on September 20, 2015, I spoke from my position as Chairperson for the Constituent Assembly and said that our achievement was historical. We had brought together people from the Tarai and those from the mountains for one common cause. I also said that it was our duty to put the constitution into effect. However, this could only be achieved if we stood united. While the constitution sets rules and regulations in place for the functioning of the nation state, it does not impart wisdom as to the way in which the populace should conduct itself. This wisdom should be shown by us, the people.

Towards that end, do you think any progress will be made once the prime minister returns from China?

The prime minister had hoped to leave for China following a resolution of conflict between the different political forces. However, this was not possible on that day. The talks were positive; he expressed hope that the talks would continue and that outstanding issues would be resolved after his return. So while the sentiment was positive on the day of the discussions, it has not resulted in anything concrete as yet.

What is the UML’s stance on the possible change in government?

All I can say is that the UML has no aspirations to be in the government at this point. The three-tier elections have to happen before January 2018. Once these processes take place, and only if we are supported by the Nepali people, will we try to form a government. We will lend our support for the electoral processes regardless of who is in government, and we will be against anyone who tries to interfere with this process. Our nation needs elections. We support whichever party is pushing the electoral process forward. 

Published: 27-03-2017 09:16

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