Nearly four months since the CA’s demise the political parties are no closer to a breakthrough than they were at the end of May 27. If anything, the polarization between the forces in the government and those in the opposition seems to be increasing. Republica’s Thira L. Bhusal and Biswas Baral talked to former prime minister and senior CPN-UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal about ongoing intra-party negotiations, the opposition’s future plans and internal divisions within the party.
In a recent meeting of four main political forces, you proposed Nepali Congress should take the leadership of consensus government. How confident are you of this outcome?
Basically what I did with that statement was break the silence over this crucial issue. Congress leadership is natural too. It’s a different thing if Congress does not want to take leadership. But what we have heard is that the proposal is not acceptable to the Maoists. If the Maoists are really against the proposal, they should express their reservation in formal meetings, not declare it out on the streets.
You have been in constant touch with the Maoist leadership. What level of opposition from the Maoists have you found against Congress leadership?
I can’t say anything on this issue because the Maoist leaders keep changing their stand. Their words have no value. If I say the Maoist leaders said this, tomorrow they might say, no, we didn’t say that. Now, it has come out in the media that UCPN (Maoist) wants to lead the consensus government too. But when I asked them during our meeting if that was the case, they denied they were against Congress leadership. But the very next day, we heard the same leaders saying that no, they had never accepted Congress leadership. This constant change in position makes us question their true intent.
Even within CPN-UML circles we hear reservations against Congress leadership. Some question the rationale behind Nepali Congress getting to lead every election government.
No, I haven’t heard any such views. No one is saying we should take government leadership again. UML rank and file is reasonable. All they want is free and fair election. We are not a party that lusts for power and money.
What was the main reason the four political blocks came to the conclusion that there was no alternative to new CA polls?
The main reason is Pushpa Kamal Dahal. He was the one who had proposed the 11-state model four months ago. But now he is saying the model is not acceptable. If it was unacceptable, why did he propose it in the first place? Why did he put forth the proposal without proper homework?
There was also talk of CA revival once agreements were reached on crucial constitutional issues. Why was the option aborted?
Again, it was Dahal who said we should close this chapter
[of CA revival]. He said the possibility of agreement on vital constitutional issues had evaporated. Now, if the biggest party wants the chapter closed, did it make sense for us to keep harping on the issue?
Is there a possibility that the parties could again raise the CA revival option?
How many times do we have to keep repeating the same thing? There is no point in losing more time by lying to the people. If they [the Maoists] want this option to be discussed, they have to present it in formal meetings, not publicize out on the street.
There is a belief that Nepali Congress is unwilling to put forth its PM candidate. Is that the case?
I haven’t asked Congress to announce its PM candidate. I haven’t raised this issue because first there should be an agreement on Congress leadership of consensus government. Without such an agreement, it is not right to ask the party to furnish its candidate. That said, it would definitely have helped if Congress could be proactive on this issue. But again, it is for Congress to decide.
But wouldn’t the projection of a clear contender help in light of PM Bhattarai’s announcement that he would make way if there was a clear alternative?
The issue of candidacy is not that important because the current discussions are over which party should get government leadership. We have not yet entered the question of who in particular should lead the government. So either we change the agenda of the debate and discuss which person is acceptable to all forces, or not raise this question at all.
Is it possible that if Congress is unable to furnish a candidate, your party will stake a claim to the top post?
An issue should be discussed only when it is appropriate. We have not discussed this option within the party.
Let’s come to UML’s internal affairs. A big section of UML leaders under party vice chair Ashok Rai is threatening to split. How do you see this development?
I don’t know of any ‘big’ section threatening to split from mother party. PS Gurung has personally told me he wouldn’t leave the party, and so have Dal Bahadur Rana and Kiran Gurung. These are the shining stars in our party who have strong hold over party organization. They haven’t threatened to split.
But haven’t the likes of Rai and other Madhesi and janajati leaders publicly announced that they have been left with no option but to quit the party?
I believe coming to such a pessimistic conclusion would be unfortunate. We call on all such leaders to rethink their option because the party still expects a lot from them. CPN-UML is also mindful of finding them respectable positions in party organization. I would like to ask him [Ashok Rai] to revisit his decision and continue serving UML in his capacity as vice-chair.
Do you believe that the party will suffer losses among Madhesi and janajati communities in next election if these leaders do quit UML?
The whole UML party machinery has said with one voice that future federal states should be multi-identity, which recognizes the needs of Madhesis, janajatis, women and other marginalized groups. Thus there is no question of us losing support among these groups.
Without Bhattarai clearing the way, there is no meaning to discussing other issues. The goal is not to replace one person, but to remove a corrupt, dysfunctional and anti-national government.
Your party has proposed a seven state multi-identity model. Is the model liable to modifications?
Our party has made an official stand although there are many dissenting voices. We should give respectful hearing to all those voices.
If the country is to go for CA polls, how difficult will it be to hold such a massive exercise at a time the Nepali society is torn not just along party lines, but also along ethnic and caste lines?
At the root of all these problems is UCPN (Maoist). They are bent on destroying the country, by rending our social fabric apart; by destroying the feeling of harmony and brotherhood, decimating nationalism, barring growth of physical infrastructure, promoting corruption and criminalization. Their concept of new Nepal is a country in ruins. They have been responsible for the killings of dalits, janajatis and Madheshi leaders. This makes one question: For whose benefit are they in politics? The Maoists are after only three things: regime, power and money. They are ready to sell the country’s dignity to capture the regime. Till date, no other political party had rivaled the depravity shown by UCPN (Maoist).
What we wanted to know was if free and fair polls could be held in such a polarized climate.
You tell me, then. What is the alternative? Do you want to keep the country in a state of transition for years to come? The focus should rather be on making people aware of the available choices prior to the election. This should be a matter of concern not just for the political parties but every Nepali citizen. The opposition parties have been saying that the current government is the most corrupt in the country’s history. Yet you have not been able to mount a credible challenge to it.
I believe these things take time, especially when some forces are busy selling false dreams to the masses. The Rana regime lasted for 104 years; the panchayat system lasted for 30 years. Thus even corrupt and autocratic regimes can last.
If there is no consensus, when do you plan to launch a decisive movement?
We are discussing this option. Soon, around 26 parties will get together and agree on a resolution against the government. That will be the base for a common movement with the single agenda of the ouster of the Bhattarai government.
Is the Baidya-led Maoist party also on board for such a movement?
Yes, they have said that they are one with other parties on the issue of the removal of the current government. They said they wanted to set aside the question of federalism for time being because it could foster divisions among the parties.
It is also said that the movement against Bhattarai government has failed to gain movement as it has no bigger agenda than his removal.
No, you are wrong. The goal is not to replace one person, but to remove a corrupt, dysfunctional and anti-national government, which has handed away the country’s key to outsiders. This should be the common goal of all people who love Nepal.
On the basis of current negotiations, do you see any possibility of a breakthrough in the near future?
I don’t see any such possibility because our faith on the Maoists has been dashed. I don’t see how this faith can be resurrected.
So you are already bracing yourself for a new movement against the government?
Yes, we are preparing for a decisive movement.
Do you imply negotiations cannot move ahead without Bhattarai’s ouster?
This is right. Without Bhattarai clearing the way, there is no meaning to discussing other issues.
In the event of CA polls, what agenda will you take before the people this time?
We will ask the people to vote for us in order to complete the unfinished task of the Constituent Assembly.