It’s extremely difficult to stabilise Nepal without managing geopolitics properly

  • Interview Baburam Bhattarai

Dec 19, 2016-Little progress has been made on the constitution amendment bill that the government registered in Parliament Secretariat on November 29 and that it plans to table for parliamentary deliberations today, a move the CPN-UML has already threatened to block. The amendment proposal has faced criticism, on the one hand, from the UML, which argues that the bill lacks justification, and on the other hand, from some agitating forces such as the Sanghiya Gathabandhan, a broad alliance of Madhesi and Janajati forces, whose coordinator Upendra Yadav has claimed that the bill does not go far enough to address concerns of the Madhesis and other disgruntled constituencies. Naya Shakti Nepal, led by former prime minister and Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai, has expressed solidarity with the agitating forces. Bhattarai, who left the Maoist party last year, has suggested that the party has outlived its purpose and that it is time to focus on economic growth and prosperity. Anil Giri and Tika R Pradhan spoke with Bhattarai about the amendment proposal, his party’s solidarity with the agitating forces, federal restructuring, Nepali nationalism and foreign policy. 

Why is the rationale behind your solidarity with the Upendra Yadav-led Sanjhigya Samajbadi Forum Nepal?

Any object or phenomenon has a ‘totality’ aspect as well as a ‘partial’ aspect. For Naya Shakti, the former is to make Nepal prosperous within a short time span, and the latter is to achieve political stability and national unity. For this, we have to institutionalise an inclusive democracy, one that can accommodate Nepal’s diversity.  To this end, we have been holding talks with various forces, and we will continue doing so. 

Prime Minister Dahal recently had a meeting with you and Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party Chairman Mahantha Thakur. What did the three of you discuss?

Everyone is familiar with the mistakes made while promulgating the constitution. It is worth remembering that the Tarai was shut for more than 40 days and dozens of people had died prior to the promulgation last September. And the Madhes movement continued for months afterwards. Still the issues it raised have not been addressed, which has deeply hurt people’s feelings. The main issue is to take everybody into confidence and provide a way out for the country. A straightforward process would have been to amend the constitution and go for polls. 

Instead, the amendment proposal has been put on hold—it has even been criticised by the UML—and there has been talk about holding elections under the old structure. This risks moving the country in a backward direction. Our role is to facilitate the process of taking the country forward by acting as a bridge between the government and the agitating forces like the Madhesis, Tharus and Janajatis. Contrary to rumours that we are instigating the dissatisfied parties, we want to help bring them to the constitutional mainstream in a dignified manner. To this end, we urged the prime minister to accept a refined amendment proposal. He took our proposition positively. 

But the Madhesi Morcha is said to be ready for elections under the existing structures.

We should not run after rumours. State restructuring is Nepal’s latest political agenda. Multi-party democracy came about in 1990. After that, the Maoists raised the issue of republicanism. We should credit the Madhesi and Janajati forces for 

pushing the agenda of federalism to end Nepal’s unitary structure. Without federal restructuring, 

the constitution cannot be implemented. And without implementing the constitution, polls cannot be held. Holding elections after federal restructuring is the straight way forward. 

But won’t that make holding local level polls by March-April even more challenging?

 So we shouldn’t do it just because it’s challenging? We have to do it. Let’s all cooperate with the election commission. First, let’s resolve the provincial disputes. Then let’s undertake local level restructuring. And then let’s hold local polls. In fact, we can even conduct all three levels of elections simultaneously, if necessary. If a huge country like India can do it, why can’t we? We have more than a year left. The main obstacle is consensus among political parties. 

Federal demarcation seems to be the biggest bone of contention. What solution can you offer?

The solution has already been offered by the State Restructuring Commission formed by the previous Constituent Assembly, whose report formed the basis for federal delineation. Deviating from it is the problem. A long-term solution is the 10-province model proposed by the Commission. Nepal has to gradually move in that direction. But for now we have to accept the seven provinces envisioned by the constitution.  

 

Have you been able to take into confidence the Tharus, who have been agitating for a separate state?

Relatively speaking, the Madhesis have a voice; it is the Tharus who are the biggest sufferers. Of the approximately 17 to 18 lakhs Tharus in Nepal, about 12 lakhs reside to the west of Nawalparasi. As many as 4.5 lakhs are in Kailali and Kanchapur alone. These two districts have to be in Province 5. I am the only national leader who has been saying this; others fear doing so. 

This seems to be the hardest knot to crack. How is a solution possible, given that the UML and sections of NC and the Maoist Centre are against what the Tharus are demanding?

The country is not the NC’s and the UML’s property. Aren’t the Tharus and other ethnicities Nepalis? Shouldn’t we take them into confidence? We have to ensure the identity, dignity and rights of them all and let them rule themselves in an autonomous region. Only this would bring about political stability. Only then can the country achieve prosperity—a post-conflict agenda of Naya Shakti. But for that we have to resolve the conflicts, which is why I am advocating the rights of the Tharus and other marginalised groups. This does not mean that I have abandoned the agenda of prosperity, as some claim ridiculously. 

Is Naya Shakti’s goal to challenge a party like the UML that is carrying a nationalist agenda?

The latest political battles have been all but won; only a few minor issues remain. Now the country’s agenda should be clean politics that delivers development. But the old force is trying to reorganise itself under the leadership of KP Oli. There is a tussle going on about who will represent the old force. Naya Shakti, as a new force, is offering an alternative. So it is possible that the next competition will be between the UML and Naya Shakti. 

Naya Shakti does not appear to have taken off successfully, given that it has lost some members. 

On the contrary, the rise of Naya Shakti within a short period of less than one year is a first in Nepali politics. We have been consistently attracting new members. What is true though is that our post-conflict agenda of prosperity has not been apparent enough because of the obstructions in national politics. As soon as the obstructions are cleared, Naya Shakti, with its inter-connected agenda of inclusive democracy and inclusive development, will be the country’s top force. Whereas KP Oli is pushing monolithic nationalism that is reminiscent of the Panchayat era, we are for inclusive, ‘rainbow’ nationalism. 

Are you implying that the kind of nationalism the UML is promoting is hurting the federal project?

I’m worried that it could be part of a plan to sabotage federalism. The so-called nationalism being peddled by some parties, particularly the UML, is creating rifts among communities, and is inimical to the federal agenda as well as to an inclusive Nepal. Nobody should do irresponsible politics like that. It could have dangerous consequences.  

Let’s talk about international affairs. What will be your post-conflict foreign policy priorities?

It will be extremely challenging to bring about political stability and prosperity in Nepal unless we tackle geo-politics properly and formulate our foreign policy by taking our two giant neighbours into confidence. Nepal should be able to act as a vibrant bridge between the two powerhouses and take advantage of their gigantic markets. India seems hesitant about the idea of cooperation with China and has aligned itself with the US.  Cooperation, rather than competition, between India and China would also be in Nepal’s interest. It could, of course, simply be a pious wish. But we should do what we can to promote cooperation between our two neighbours. 

How have you assessed India’s role in Nepali politics?

India’s Nepal policy is still mainly guided by a security perspective. I have told them that they should reconsider and change it. The idea of security has to be tied with development now; it cannot be viewed solely from a military point of view. India as a big power will obviously have stakes in its neighbours. But it is mainly because of our domestic follies that India gets a pretext to meddle in our affairs. In this day  and age, no power can wrest our political sovereignty from us, but it is up to us to reduce our economic dependence on India. Only then can we truly assert our political sovereignty. 

Published: 19-12-2016 08:07

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