09 February 2006

Prachanda: From people's war to competitive democracy

Bespectacled and greying, 52-year-old Prachanda looks and sounds distinctly professorial. His measured tone and quiet demeanour bear no resemblance to the fearsome descriptions propagated by his royalist detractors. When I met up with him at an undisclosed location, he spoke for more than an hour-and-a-half on a wide range of topics concerning the situation in Nepal, its international ramifications, and the theoretical problems confronting the communist movement in the 21st century, which have led the Maoists to embrace multiparty democracy. The first part of an exclusive interview.
9 February 2006
The Hindu

From people's war to competitive democracy

Siddharth Varadarajan

As leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist),Prachandais arguably the most important political player in the Himalayan kingdom today. In an exclusive face-to-face interview withThe Hindu, he discusses his party's road map for the end to monarchy and the creation of a democratic republic in Nepal.

Prachanda: "Our strategically, theoretically developed position is that in a communist state, democracy is a necessity." — Photo: V. Sudershan.

Bespectacled and greying, 52-year-old Prachanda looks and sounds distinctly professorial. His measured tone and quiet demeanour bear no resemblance to the fearsome descriptions propagated by his royalist detractors. When I met up with him at an undisclosed location, he spoke for more than an hour-and-a-half on a wide range of topics concerning the situation in Nepal, its international ramifications, and the theoretical problems confronting the communist movement in the 21st century, which have led the Maoists to embrace multiparty democracy. Excerpts:

In your party plenum last August, you took a momentous decision — to participate in multiparty democracy. If you were going to accept multiparty democracy after 10 years of "people's war," why go about this in a roundabout way?

Prachanda: Three years ago we decided that the key question of the 21st century is how to develop democracy. This meant the negative and positive lessons of the 20th century have to be synthesised for us to move ahead. And we decided we must go in for political competition. Without political competition, a mechanical or metaphysical attitude will be there, without competition we will not be able to go forward. This was a unanimous decision. Last August, we took serious decisions on how practically to build unity with the parliamentary political parties. We don't believe that the peoples' war we initiated was against, or mainly against, multiparty democracy. It was mainly against feudal autocracy, against the feudal structure.

Is this decision a recognition by you of the impossibility of seizing power through armed struggle?

Here there is not only one question. There is a specificity to the political and military balance in today's world. The second thing to be seen is the experience of the 20th century. Third, there is the particular class, political, and power balance in Nepal. It is by taking these three together that we came to our conclusion. We are talking of multiparty democracy within a specific constitutional framework that is anti-feudal and anti-imperialist. That is why armed struggle is also necessary, and unity in action with other political parties against the monarchy is also a necessity. The socio-economic change we are fighting for is against feudalism and imperialism and it is within the context of that struggle that we are talking of multiparty democracy.

If the king says the steps he took last year were wrong and allows free and fair elections under the present Constitution, the Maoists will not take part? Is a new constitutional framework a pre-condition for taking part in elections?

Yes, you can put it that way. If the king says I was wrong, now come on, let us sit across the table, and then he talks of a free and fair election to a constitutional assembly, we will be ready. Our bottom line is the election of a constitutional assembly, that too under international supervision, either by the United Nations or some other international mediation acceptable to all. Under those circumstances, we will go in for elections and accept whatever the peoples' verdict is. But if the king says make an interim government and hold elections, we will not come forward.

Is your alliance with the parties tactical rather than strategic? When the monarchy is weakened or defeated, might you turn against them?

It is not like this. Our decision on multiparty democracy is a strategically, theoretically developed position, that in a communist state, democracy is a necessity. We are telling the parties that we should end not only the autocratic monarchy but monarchy itself. After that, in the multiparty democracy which comes — interim government, constitutional assembly and democratic republic — we are ready to have peaceful competition with you all. Of course, people still have a doubt about us because we have an army. And they ask whether we will abandon our arms after the constitutional assembly. We have said we are ready to reorganise our army and we are ready to make a new Nepal army also. We are talking of a democratic republic and our understanding with the parties is that the way to realise this is the constituent assembly. At that time, any other party would be free to call for a ceremonial monarchy, some may be for constitutional monarchy — such a thing is possible with the seven parties.

But whatever the outcome, you are ready to accept it?

We are. This we are saying in clear-cut language.

Your recent ceasefire did a lot to improve the image of the Maoists, which had been damaged by incidents like the Madi bus blast. What was the logic behind that ceasefire and when might you declare another one?

We called our ceasefire basing ourselves on the whole political situation because on our side too some mistakes were increasing, from below, in the implementation of our policy and plan. Mistakes were happening such as the Madi bomb blast. Our relationship was getting worse with the middle class. We were saying things from the top but still this was not being implemented. So we wanted the middle classes to be with us, and put out our political message to the broad masses in a new way. We also wanted to tell the international community that Gyanendra is not a monarch, these are autocratic elements more keen on bloodshed than anybody else. For these reasons we decided to go for a ceasefire. As for the specific timing, the U.N. General Assembly was going to be held and the so-called king was going to go there and say he was for peace and democracy. We thought a ceasefire is one way politically to hit him. We also wanted to tell the international community we were different from the way we were being projected. When we ended the ceasefire, we clearly stated that if a forward-looking atmosphere for a political solution emerges, we can again announce a ceasefire. But now, that situation does not obtain.

Are you prepared to join together with the parliamentary parties, with Mr. Koirala and Madhav Nepal, and go and talk face-to-face with the king to discuss the future of Nepal?

If there is unanimous understanding with the parties that we should talk to the king, we will go. We are not prepared to meet the king alone, and we are requesting the parties that they also not go alone. Nothing will come of it. Only if we act collectively can we achieve anything.

Rather than the Maoists calling a seven-day bandh against the municipal elections, wouldn't it have been better for you and the parties to have given a joint call for boycott?

I agree. When the 12-point agreement was reached with the parties last year, there was a second understanding that within a week or two we would issue a joint statement appealing to the masses to boycott elections and stage mass demonstrations. But that has not proved possible.


Because the parties' leadership is a little hesitant. They are perhaps a little afraid that if they join with the Maoists and issue a joint statement for boycott, there could be greater repression on them.

Some feel the Maoists' military actions are reducing the political space for the parliamentary parties. For example, a few days before their big demonstration in Kathmandu, you attacked a police station in Thankot and the king imposed curfew. Can't you act in a way that increases your political space but does not squeeze the parties?

I agree a way has to be found. This is a serious and complicated question. When the 12-point agreement was reached, there was need for continuous interaction between us and them. Only then could we establish some synchronicity between their movement and ours. This did not happen. Despite this, we told the parties that whether we stage actions or not, the king is going to move against you. Even if we had done nothing in Thankot, curfew would have been imposed anyway.

Does the king control the Royal Nepal Army or does it control the King?

This is a very interesting question. Right now, in fact, this is precisely what we are discussing within our party and outside. Until now, it seemed the balance was 50-50. Sometimes the RNA controls the king, and sometimes the king controls the RNA. But it seems as if we are now going towards a situation where the RNA is in the driving seat. This seems to be the emerging situation but we cannot say this with facts. One thing is clear. Gyanendra became king after the royal massacre — and it is clear that without the RNA, that massacre could never have happened. So there is no question of his going beyond the script dictated by the RNA.

What kind of guarantees can you give in the run-up to any constitutional assembly election that your People's Liberation Army will not place obstacles in the way of the parties?

We understand the parties have reservations about us and our army. So we made a proposal to them that you rehabilitate parliament, we will support you. A two-thirds majority of MPs is with the Nepali Congress, UML, and smaller parties. Call a meeting and declare that parliament has been reinstated and that what Gyanendra is doing is illegitimate. Do this and then set up a multiparty government with the main aim of elections for a constitutional assembly. In this restoration of parliament, the king would be illegal, and we will come for negotiations with your leadership. Under your leadership, we will be in the interim government. As for the RNA, you should appeal to the democratic elements within it by saying the king has violated the constitution, you come over to this side, this is the legal government and it is your responsibility to support it. And then the king should be given an ultimatum of a week or two to agree to elections for a constitutional assembly. If he doesn't agree, we would then abolish the monarchy. And we would tell the international community this is the legitimate government. Please stop recognising or supporting him.

Under such a situation, the RNA's democratic elements will be there, and so will the PLA, so we will organise the army as a new Nepal army. At that point, the problem will not be our weapons. The problem of arms and weapons is with the RNA, which for 250 years has been loyal to the feudal lords. Our army has only been around for 10 years. This is not a problem. If there is a political solution, we are prepared to change that too. This is the first proposal that we have put forward. We will abolish the monarchy, there will be an insurrection, and then we will have the peaceful reorganisation of the army.

What you are proposing is that the parliamentary parties stage a revolution!

This is one way to deal with this problem and we are seriously putting it forward. It is revolutionary, it is viable, it is possible. This is our first proposal but you are right, the parties are not ready for this. The second way is also what we have been discussing, that the U.N. or some other credible body supervises things. The RNA will be in the barracks and the PLA will also be under supervision. Both armies and arms will be under international supervision and will not enter the fray. Then there will be elections for a constitutional assembly. Our army will not interfere in the process.

What form will this international supervision take? Will it include foreign troops?

No troops. There can be a militia or police, which we create only for election purposes.

Who will be part of this militia?

We have not gone into such details — perhaps cadres of the different parties, but all without firearms, to manage security for the elections. So there will be elections for the assembly and whatever verdict comes, it is on that basis that the army has to be reorganised. If the republic result comes, then the RNA's generals and commanders will have to go and the interim government would appoint as generals officers who are loyal to democratic values. If a constitutional monarchy wins, then there is the danger that the old generals will remain. So my point is that the army can be changed.

But you concede there is a history, which is why the parties are suspicious...

Yes there is, but we are talking about this too. There have been attacks by us on them, and we had seized property. Whatever had been taken from the Congress leadership has been returned — land and property — UML leadership too. So we are trying to build an understanding. If the parties' leaders say that in the past the Maoists attacked us, then we can also say that the RNA army was deployed against us when you were in government and so many of our comrades were killed.

Whatever we may have done, the other side did so much more and this also has to be accounted for. But if we start talking like this, we will not be able to solve the major problem. If we have to make a breakthrough, then we should both review our history. We have to review our mistakes but you have to as well, because we have a common enemy — feudal aristocracy. We have to defeat this enemy and in consonance with democratic values we have to reorganise the army and state.

(Tomorrow: Prachanda on the role of India, China, and the U.S., and on the Indian Maoists.)

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