29 April 2008

Prachanda: “The people’s mandate is for all parties to work together”

If the Nepali Congress and the UML run away from the task of building the new Nepal, the people will never forgive them, says Maoist leader Prachanda in the second and final part of his exclusive interview to The Hindu.

29 April 2008
The Hindu

“The people’s mandate is for all parties to work together”

If the Nepali Congress and UML run away from the task of building the new Nepal, the people will never forgive them, says Maoist leader Prachanda

Siddharth Varadarajan

In the final part of his interview to The Hindu, Maoist leader Prachanda discusses the future of the monarchy and Army in Nepal, and the need for the country's new constitution to escape the trap of formal democracy and actually empower its citizens.

The Maoists and other parties are committed to abolishing the monarchy in the first sitting of the Constituent Assembly. But once again people have started speculating about what might happen.

There is no ambiguity. The mandate for a republic is clear. We want the end of the monarchy to be done in an orderly, peaceful way. Since the institution of the monarchy is going to be dissolved, it is better that Gyanendra goes of his own accord. This way, a good atmosphere will be created for him to continue living in Nepal as a common citizen and run his businesses. The people will forgive him and it will be better for him and his family. So I told [the royalist politician] Kamal Thapa the people's verdict has come and in the first sitting we are going to implement it. There is no room for any confusion about this. And since you have good relations with [Gyanendra], you should tell him it is better he goes before this. Thapa said he would convey my message but I never received an answer.

One issue the new government must tackle is integration of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) with the Nepal Army. What is the nature of, and timeline for, the integration you envisage?

We want the question of integration to be resolved as quickly as possible. My expectation is that this process will proceed in tandem with the writing of the constitution. And there is no need for us to take two years to do this. It can be completed in a year and integration too should be solved within a year. Secondly, the problem is not so difficult as it was earlier because when the government is formed with our leadership, the integration process will also be easier. Integration is not so complicated as people outside think. The comprehensive peace agreement created the basis for integration, as does the way in which the interim constitution and other agreements speak of the PLA and Nepal Army (NA). Also, there has been continuous dialogue in the JMCC [Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee] for the past one-and-a-half years between the representatives of the NA and PLA, and this has also created an atmosphere.

In our view, the Nepal Army needs to be further democratized and the People Army needs to be further professionalised. In this way, only those who are professionally fit will be integrated and those who are unfit will go to other jobs. This is already clear. And the democratization process of the NA has already started. The Army says it will follow the orders of whichever elected government is formed. This is a positive statement. Immediately after the new government is formed, we will set up a special committee for integration under the government and with the participation of other parties. There will be comprehensive debate and discussion in that committee so that the process of integration is completed as soon as possible.

You have said Nepal does not need a large army. [PLA commander] Badal has spoken of 30,000 being the optimum size of the Nepal Army, which is much less than the current strength of 90,000.

In a small country like Nepal, there is no need to have a large army. The size of the army should come down. Broadly speaking, we are thinking of a size of 30,000 to 50,000. But we are not speaking of an immediate reduction. We don't wish to disturb the institution of the army too much. But on the basis of a plan, over 5 to 7 years, we would like to have a smaller army.

Is there a need for the UN to supervise this process of integration?

I feel there is no role for the UN in integration. Now that we have a CA, and a basis has come into being for political stability and integration too, I do not see a role for the UN.

The Young Communist League (YCL) has come in for a lot of criticism during the election campaign with the other parties accusing them of using strong-arm tactics. Why can't the YCL be converted into a development-oriented movement?

We want its role to change. We are thinking of the YCL being mobilized as a working force, a creative, construction force, and are debating this in the party and will take a decision in the Central Committee soon. Not only about YCL but for all the youth of Nepal -- how to mobilise them for the building of new Nepal. We are developing a plan for the state to mobile the strength of youth, and so the YCL's role will not be as it was before.

One of the challenges a Maoist-led government will face is working with the Madhesi parties, particularly the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum. Given the bad blood between you and the experience of the Gaur massacre, where more than 30 of your cadres were killed, how do you plan to address this issue?

During the Madhesi andolan earlier this year, I tried very hard on behalf of our party to address some of the issues. In the process, some relations with the Forum were built. You are right that last year there was a very bitter struggle and this bitterness increased especially after the Gaur massacre. We believe action should be taken there against the guilty and wherever we have made mistakes, there should be legal action too. In this way, we will solve this problem at the level of law and order, while at the political level we will interact with them, build a front and go forward. I see no problem in this. And it is not as if we don't know the Forum and its leader, Upendra Yadav. He was in the district committee of our party for seven years. I don't think it will be difficult for me to talk with him and work together in the writing of the constitution.

And you want the Forum in the coalition government?

It is necessary to include them. We need their assistance to build the constitution. Only if they are also in government can we unify the whole country and move forward.

But the Maoists' map of a federal Nepal is quite different from the Forum's. Can you bridge that gap?

There is some difference, not in theory but in practical terms. And this can be resolved through debate and discussion. We have a common understanding on autonomy and federalism but on the question of what kind of autonomy, they say 'ek madhes, ek prades', i.e. that there should be one Madhes province in the Tarai from west to east. Our party has said we are not against this. But the ground reality should also be seen. For example, the Tharus in the west and elsewhere do not see themselves as Madhesis. So we cannot force them, we have to convince them. Pushing a policy from the top cannot solve contradictions that exist in the people. If the Forum can convince everyone, we have no objection. So even here I do not see a big difference. But given the Tharus' historical background, they want a separate autonomous province. And in Mithila, the Maithili speakers have their own tradition and culture, and in Bhojpura and Awadh you have Bhojpuri and Awadhi speakers, and in the east you have Rajbanshis. All these aspirations have to be addressed. You cannot impose anything.

What kind of political system do you envisage for Nepal? In India, Britain or the U.S, people are dissatisfied with the purely formal nature of their democracy. Money power dominates and there is a disconnect between voting rights and actual empowerment. How can the CA avoid this trap and build a system that genuinely empowers the people?

I think this is a very important question. The reason we speak of a new system – of inclusiveness, federalism and restructuring the whole state -- is because we are fully aware of the problems with the theory of formal democracy and parliamentary systems in which the majority is in government and the minority is in opposition. In this formal democracy, parties spend money, there is corruption, and people are never empowered. We want Nepal to escape from this trap and have effective democracy. This is the change we want. The tradition of formal democracy does not address the aspirations of the people. So though we are committed to multiparty competition and democracy, parliamentary democracy is not the only system. We want the people to be involved and empowered to run the state within the context of multiparty competition. Our concern is to bring women, Dalits, janajatis, Madhesis, workers and peasants forward and have an effective democracy for them. Side by side with the struggle against feudalism, we want a real democracy that can address people's aspirations and build in the control, supervision and intervention of the masses over the state. We believe the CA election has seen one exercise of inclusiveness and democracy, but we have to now seriously look at what kind of democracy we are going to have.

Though this election was about constitution writing, the people also have a lot of expectations from the government you will lead. How will the Maoists deal with this pressure?

There is a contradiction between people's expectations and the political reality we find ourselves in. We will have to tell the people that we are going to write a constitution and are committed and obliged to work together with all the parties. We have to explain what we can and cannot do. And I think if we are open about this, given the political consciousness of the Nepali people – they will wait and see whether the government is sincerely working for them or not. If they see that, then I think the Nepali people will be ready to make sacrifices. What will provoke them and make them angry is if they see people in government earning crores through corruption and their sons and daughters are studying in good schools abroad, and their buildings are coming up in Kathmandu, while ordinary people are mired in poverty.

Are you confident the NC and UML will eventually join the Maoist-led government?

I am fully confident. If they don't come, the loss will be theirs because the mandate from the 12-point understanding to the election results is for all of us to work together for drafting the constitution and taking the peace process to its logical end. In elections, you always have one party gaining or losing but this does not mean the mission we started has ended. If the NC and UML run away from this mission before it is completed, the Nepali people will not forgive them. It will not be an act of responsibility. From our side, we will spare no effort to ensure we all move forward together.

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