Baburam Bhattarai

  • Nepal needs new political force to address common concerns
Baburam Bhattarai

Aug 17, 2014-

The tumultuous relationship between UCPN (Maoist) leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai has long been known. It has seemingly worsened over time. In early July, the Bhattarai camp began forming parallel organisational structures, defying Dahal. This is exactly what Mohan Baidya’s breakaway CPN-Maoist had done before splitting in 2012. A tacit agreement between the two factions has apparently been reached for now to keep the party together until the constitution is written. However, tensions remain. Darshan Karki spoke to Bhattarai, who is also Chairperson of the Constituent Assembly’s (CA) Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (PDCC), about intra-party dynamics, progress and problems in the constitution-writing process and Indian PM Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Nepal.

You and the other faction of the UCPN (Maoist) have reportedly agreed to keep the party together until the constitution is written. Can you tell us about this intra-party rift?  

We believe a party is a unity of opposites. There will always be unity, struggle and transformation within a dynamic revolutionary party. In that sense, we have had discussions and debate within the party for almost 30 years. Through such ideological political debates, we have transformed the party and developed our movement. This time around, a new type of ideological political debate is going on within the party. But it is not a rift as people say. It is a debate, a discussion to transform the party. And we believe, this time too, we will be able to transform and unify our party at a higher level.

But the feud between the two factions has been going on for a long time now. Does it not make the UCPN (Maoist) look as though it is engaged in a constant lovers’ tiff in which two individuals frequently talk of breaking away and yet stay together?

Not at all. We believe in the philosophy of dialectical materialism that says everything develops with struggle. Without struggle, there is stagnation and no development. This time, our struggle is of a slightly different nature. In the past, we fought against autocracy, monarchy and a unitary centralised state for a republican, democratic federal state. Having achieved this goal, our next aims are economic development and prosperity for the country and to go towards socialism. I would like to clarify and dismiss all rumours of a split within the party.

So the debate within the party is only related to ideology and not leadership?

Exactly. It is not about leadership. It is about developing an ideological political line. We believe in Marxism. But Marxism is a science which needs to be continuously developed. It is not a dogma, a religion. The second point of discussion is: our political line has changed from a democratic revolution to a socialist revolution. The third and major issue is, we need a new type of party. The earlier party was for fighting for democracy and against autocracy, monarchy and unitary form of state. Now, we have more or less achieved that goal. To move towards economic transformation and socialism, we need an entirely new kind of party.

What exactly is the other faction’s problem with your view?

One tendency within the communist party movement is: though they call themselves Marxists, they don’t really practice Marxism. The other problem is, some people take Marxism as a dogma. I believe in creative Marxism, which needs to be continuously developed and applied to a concrete situation in the country. So this is a fundamental ideological debate which has become particularly acute when it comes to the party organisation. The party we built in the 20th century was heavily centralised. It was cutoff from the masses, the cadres. Only a few leaders exercised power and they converted themselves into a new bureaucratic capitalist class, which led to the degeneration of the party and the movement. I want to turn this upside down and develop a party which is more responsible towards the masses.

Isn’t it a bit confusing to talk of a new force and at the same time, say that you are only seeking to transform the party?

We have entered a new stage of development of society. For that, we need to have a new political force. These political parties should transform themselves into a new political force. If that does not happen, then all the progressive elements of the all parties should come together and create a new force. If that is not possible, then the people who are outside the party. Out of 30 million population only about four to five million people are committed to various political parties. More than 25 million people are outside the party. If the parties fail to cater to this need of history, then a new force may emerge from outside the party. I have floated these three alternatives.

Nonetheless, you have repeatedly mentioned that constitution making is the main priority for now. As chairperson of the PDCC, do you believe that we are any closer to completing the constitution than we were when the previous Assembly was dissolved?

Right now, the main function of the political parties and leaders is to concentrate on making the new constitution to institutionalise the gains of the ‘People’s War’ and other movements. That means we have to institutionalise the federal democratic republic and inclusive democracy. This is the major task before all the leaders. And I have devoted myself mostly to this endeavour to writing the new constitution by January. I am devoting most of my time to bring parties to reach a consensus on major contentious issues. Since the senior leaders of all the parties are in my committee, I have been in constant dialogue with them, formal and informal. We are slowly moving towards consensus. I believe, by the end of August, which is the time given to my committee to reach a consensus, we’ll be able to solve all the remaining problems.

What problems you have faced in bringing all the parties to a consensus so far?

We have discussed the reports of various thematic committees and reached an agreement on minor issues. Now some of the contentious issues like state restructuring on federal basis, form of governance, electoral and judicial system are to be discussed. I have adopted the Track II diplomacy path whereby I have been discussing with senior leaders of different party in groups and trying to reach a consensus. I wouldn’t like to divulge into the progress made as of now because until we reach a final agreement, it would be premature for me to disclose it publicly.

Talking of your party, what modality of federalism does the UCPN (Maoist) propose and how many states does it seek?

It is not the question of number of states. The state restructuring thematic committee of the last CA and the government commission formed under the Interim Constitution has unanimously agreed on five principles of identity [ethnic, geographic, cultural, linguistic and historical continuity] and four principles of capacity [economic inter-relationship, state of infrastructure and possibilities, availability of natural resources, administrative feasibility]. Based on that, we are going to evolve a model of federal restructuring.

The Madhes-centric parties recently mentioned that ‘one Madhes, one pradesh’ was their bottom line. But other parties in the CA who have received a bigger mandate in this CA hold different views. How do you see a meeting point?

Let us be clear about the mandate first. There is nothing like a new mandate of the election. The basic principle of the new constitution is enshrined in the 12 point understanding, Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Interim Constitution and various agreements reached between the Madhesi, Janajati and other parties. That is the basis of the new constitution. The number of parties in the CA is secondary. Based on that, we are going to write the new constitution and the Madhesi parties have already agreed upon two states in the Madhes. So I don’t think there will be much debate on it. Even the Janajati and other social groups also are quite accommodating. The problem I see is with the old parliamentary parties which still have some hangover of the old unitary form of state.

Does the UCPN (Maoist)’s alliance with the Madhesi parties in the previous CA still hold or are you open to forming new alliances as well?

In a multi-party democracy, like minded parties can form alliances. But this alliance should be for institutionalising a federal democratic republic. Such alliances should not go against the federal democratic republic and the peaceful development of society. There is no need to give undue importance or doubt on such various formations between parties.

But will the change in makeup of the CA not affect anything?

No. I don’t think anything has changed. The numbers and positions of the parties have slightly changed. But the fundamental issues of republicanism, federalism, secularism, inclusive democracy have been accepted by all political parties. The numerical order will, therefore, not make a substantial difference.

Still, you just said that the old parliamentary parties could create a problem.

There is some resistance from them. But that happens everywhere, the old political forces tend to resist change. In our case too, if I may mention, most of these parliamentary parties were against republicanism, federalism secularism, inclusiveness. But they have changed their policies with time and come to accept them. So even if there are some dissenting voices, there will ultimately be agreement on these fundamental issues.

Moving on, what has changed post Indian PM Narendra Modi’s visit?

I believe that India has gone through an epochal change in the last 60 years. And Nepal has also undergone a huge change. Both the countries need to revisit and update the bilateral relations to suit the 21st century. And Prime Minister Modi’s visit has given a sort of impetus to this bilateral dialogue. His visit has resonated quite well with the public and political parties as well. Though no substantial agreement was reached, it has created a very positive political atmosphere.

Do you see any paradigm shift in relations as you wrote a day before his visit in an opinion article?

The visit created a conducive atmosphere but a paradigm shift has not taken place yet. The cloud of uncertainty and trust deficit has been reduced and there is more trust, optimism on both sides. If we are able to capitalise on this in the days to come, especially to revisit and revise old treaties of 1950 and the letter of exchange, which have been a bone of contention, and manage to enter into a constructive dialogue and update those treaties, then a new era of close relations between the two countries will begin for the good of both the nations.

Published: 18-08-2014 09:22

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