Baburam bhattarai

  • Convergence on TRC, CA bodies positives for new constitution
- AKHILESH UPADHYAY, KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI
Baburam bhattarai

Apr 27, 2014-

The long-awaited transitional justice bill mandating the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a Commission to Investigate Enforced Disappearances was finally passed by Parliament on Friday.

The bill had drawn some criticism from the human rights community but the major political parties remained committed to the process of reconciliation that they hope the TRC process will initiate and lead to a collective healing of society. On the same day, the chairpersons of the five Constituent Assembly (CA) Committees were also unanimously elected, providing much-needed impetus to the constitution-writing process, which has in recent weeks been largely overshadowed by issues of transitional justice. Akhilesh Upadhyay and Kamal Dev Bhattarai spoke to senior UCPN (Maoist) leader and Chairperson of the CA’s crucial Dialogue and Consensus Committee about the transitional justice mechanisms, inter-party dynamics, his controversial call for a ‘New Force’ in Nepali politics and the constitution-writing process.

There are concerns that most of the proposed amendments on the TRC bill were set aside and it was passed through party whips, without adequate debate in Parliament.

The passage of this TRC bill, which came about after a lot of debate and preparation, is an important milestone in Nepal’s peace process. The previous TRC ordinance was also brought thr-ough consensus but the Supreme Court issued a number of directives asking to refine the bill further. Lawmakers also sought a number of amendments, which was only natural. The law minister considered those amendments while responding and the new bill was only brought after much consultation. So I believe it is balanced.

One big concern of the human rights community regards Article 26 in the bill—concerning grave human rights violations—where the TRC might not address the interests of victims.

The allegations of impunity are false. This bill was drafted by keeping

in mind the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the Interim Constitution, the Supreme Court verdict and suggestions from the human rights community and civil society. It clearly states that amnesties will not be provided in cases of grave human rights violations.

Once the TRC is formed and if there are attempts to undermine cases of grave human rights violations, will there be avenues for complaints?

Some seem to be undermining the fact the TRC will be formed under the larger mechanism of transitional justice. This is not about regular criminal justice. Some quarters seem to have problems understanding the difference between criminal violence and political violence and the different means of ending these two forms of violence. The root causes of political violence lie in existing social and economic conditions. Legal means cannot end political violence. This is why we need transitional justice. The to-be-formed TRC will uphold international standards, the country’s laws and the CPA while taking decisions. You can rest assured that there will be no impunity for cases of grave human rights violations.

So are we to understand that all major actors from across the political spectrum are on board the TRC process and the new legislation?

Yes. The TRC bill was drafted and passed with the overwhelming support of parties both inside and outside Parliament. It is only natural that there should be debate and dissent on the issue in a democracy but to read this as massive opposition would be misleading. What is true is that there is overwhelming political support for the process and this is what we should make clear to everyone, including the international community.

For a while, the TRC issue dominated the national agenda but there is a larger issue at stake: constitution writing. Now that there is agreement in favour of the TRC process and consensus among major parties for the chairpersons of the CA committees, how will this affect constitution writing?

The unanimous election of the chairpersons of the five committees is a positive signal for the constitution-writing process. Speaking as chairperson of the all-important Dialogue and Consensus Committee, we will seek discussions and consensus on all outstanding issues left behind by the previous CA. All the parties have taken lessons from the experience of the first CA and all the major parties now know that without consensus on contentious issues, such as federalism and forms of governance, the constitution will again not be written.

There is a significant difference in the mandate your party received and the overall CA makeup in the first CA and now the second one. How will the new balance of power reflect in constitution writing?

The numbers might have changed but it does not look like there is any qualitative difference in the overall CA equation. No party can backtrack from their commitment to federalism, republicanism, secularism and an inclusive democracy. The belief is that these major meeting points will lead to consensus and a new constitution. While the parties might hold slightly different views on these issues, the CA has been formed in such a manner that compromise is the only way. So all parties will need to demonstrate flexibility in their individual stances and reach for a common meeting point. Parties should look after the common national interest and concentrate on maintaining a balance of power.

What are the issues you will not compromise on?

The main mandate of the ‘people’s war’, the Janaandolan, the Madhes Movement were an end to the unitary state and a restructuring of the state that will take into account and address ethnic, regional and class differences. So while these issues will need to be addressed, the question is the extent to which they will be addressed. While we are all proponents of change, our party wants a lot of change while the NC-UML want comparatively less change. So we need to find a half-way point for compromises to happen.

Federalism has been the biggest stumbling block. Are you any closer to compromise now than when you were in the last CA? Were external factors responsible for the constitutional deadlock?

Addressing differences in nationality, language and region are important. While it is not possible to give every nationality a separate identity and state, groups that have a distinct region, language and numbers will need to be recognised and given a state with rights. This is the primary concern. The security concerns of our neighbours are important but secondary while federating. To say that consensus could not be had on federalism on the past due to foreign influence would be wrong. We were unable to address federalism internally. But I will say that the unequal relationship with foreign powers since the signing of the Sugauli Treaty has led us to become economically backward and overly dependent on others.

What can be a meeting point on forms of governance?

We have decided to dissolve the unitary state and go for federalism but given Nepal’s geopolitical situation and the instability of parliamentary politics, it also seems like we need a stable government at the centre. We need to devolve power and at the same time, maintain a strong stable government at the centre. To balance these two aspects, we have proposed a directly elected executive head. But we need to conduct discussions and select a model that is right for us.

Moving on, your recent remarks about the need for a ‘New Force’ have led some to perceive you as a confused political thinker, vacillating from one extreme to another. How do you see this?

My philosophy is that the world is always changing and that our thoughts too continue to change. But this is not just about me. It is an issue that is being debated within the party too. Right now, we have completed the bourgeois democratic revolution phase and entered a new socialist revolution phase. For the new socialist revolution, we need to strengthen the country’s industrial economic base and focus on socio-economic transformation and this can only be done by a new political force. Our party itself must come to this realisation and transform itself by bringing in other political forces and creating a new political polarisation.

Is this new force aimed at re-energising your party post-November 2013 poll debacle or do you see it as a broader vision for change?

It is both. First, the UCPN (Maoist) needs to be able to reinvent itself according to new necessities. Second, the epochal responsibility that we are shouldering requires not only us but all progressive parties to consolidate and repolarise politics. Third, there are also individuals outside of the political process who need to be brought in. So the new political force will compromise of internal changes in the party, polarisation of outside parties and the participation of those outside the political process.

After the November election drubbing, you had said that your party leadership needed to introspect and that Chairman Dahal needed to take the lion’s share of the responsibility. How has this difference between the two of you progressed?

Many tend to make all kinds of speculations about the relationship between the Chairman and I. Our relationship, in Marxist terms, is that of unity, struggle and transformation. We discuss, and in the course of the discussion, come up with new ideas and a new mode of struggle. We both believe that our party cannot address the needs of this age without transforming itself and its

ideology. We also believe that we must transform ourselves. However, how exactly to conduct this transformation is still under discussion right now.

Will this proposed transformation of the party also entail a change in leadership?

Our discussions have centred around the mode of struggle and a new form of leadership. We have not discussed replacing anyone. The tradition in Communist parties is that leaders tend to be in power for a long time. We should not do this. We should take up positions for a limited term and hand over responsibility of day-to-day organisational affairs while only playing an ideological role. This will infuse fresh blood in the party. So it is not about replacing Prachanda with Baburam and replacing Baburam with Narayan Kaji. We want to institute a new leadership process.

On a final note, the CPN-Maoist is still outside the political process. So there is a danger that even if a constitution is written, they may disown it and there might be a resurgence of violence.

We are serious about involving everyone in the constitution-writing process. As a component of the war and having been elected in the first CA, the CPN-Maoist must have a stake in the constitution-writing process. As chairperson of the Dialogue and Consensus Committee, I want to assure Mohan Baidya, and all other parties outside the CA, that we will initiate dialogue to build consensus. The revival of the High Level Political Committee will also be crucial in bringing forces outside the CA within the constitutional process.

Published: 28-04-2014 09:12

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