Former Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba lauds India’s major role in supporting democracy

Lauding India’s major role in “supporting democracy” in Nepal, Nepali Congress (NC) senior leader and the former Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, has appealed to Delhi for “goodwill and logistical support” in conducting fresh Constituent Assembly (CA) elections by the end of 2013. He also expressed optimism that the country would soon frame a “federal democratic republican constitution.”

In an exclusive conversation with The Hindu, right after his arrival here for a five-day official visit, Mr. Deuba spoke about Nepal’s domestic politics and bilateral relations.

He said that the 12-point understanding — signed between the parliamentary parties and Maoists in New Delhi in 2005 — had two objectives. “One was institutionalising peace. We have almost successfully completed the peace process and Maoist combatants are managed. Violence has reduced and there is relative progress.”

While Nepal was also declared a republic, the other aim, of drafting a constitution through an elected CA, hit a roadblock as parties remained sharply divided on federalism.

“We have always been under a unitary system. We don’t really know about federalism and have never experienced it. So it is taking some time. In India, there has been a degree of federalism since before 1947.”

But Mr. Deuba expressed confidence that the next CA would be able to resolve the issue, “taking into account regional and ethnic aspirations, economic sustainability and geographic considerations.” He rejected the widespread perception of the NC as “anti federal.”

“We, in fact, accepted 11 states in the last CA, and said names of provinces should be decided by provincial assembly. That is more democratic.”

Election dates have not been announced in Nepal, with parties divided on the details about the election system.

Maoists and Madhesi forces do not want any threshold level for any party to be eligible to obtain CA seats, while the NC and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) want to disqualify any party obtaining less than one per cent of the vote share under the proportional representation system.

Mr. Deuba said he had advised his party president, Sushil Koirala, to be flexible on the issue.

“Let us compromise for the sake of elections. NC should not get the blame,” he said. Regarding his factional differences with Mr. Koirala, the former PM said they would reconcile internal differences on their own.

Mr. Deuba claimed that an NC victory in elections would make the task of writing the constitution easier. “On one hand, you have a force from the extreme left like the Maoists; then you have a half-transformed force like UML. Others are regional parties. Only we are committed to democracy, liberty and individual rights.”

He also urged the radical Maoist faction led by Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran’ to participate in polls, and “join the mainstream.”

When asked about sections of NC accusing India of “interventionism,” Mr. Deuba warmly recalled the “natural friendship” between India as a “democratic country” and NC as a “democratic party.”

“There are no complaints. Nepali parties take decisions and India only plays a supportive role.”

Regarding bilateral ties, Mr. Deuba said, “We are deeply sensitive to India’s security concerns, and are committed to addressing it.”

He would also discuss the development agenda with Indian interlocutors, including ways to harness Nepal’s hydropower potential; operationalising the Mahakali Agreement that was signed when he was PM in 1996; and strengthening road links and infrastructural connectivity between the two countries.

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Deuba is scheduled to meet External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid while he will meet UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in the evening.

He will call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday morning. Last month, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ had visited India, as Delhi reaches out to leaders across the spectrum in the run-up to the elections.