Interview with Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.
As head of Nepal's most powerful party, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda's position holds the key to the political developments in the republic. On April 26 (Tuesday night), Mr. Prachanda spoke exclusively to Prashant Jha to discuss the state of transitional politics in Nepal, internal party divisions, and relations with India. Excerpts:
Will Nepal have a new constitution by May 28?
We should have been able to conclude the peace process and promulgate the statute by May 28. But the absence of an agreement between political parties has limited that possibility. I won't say it is impossible, because we have often made historic decisions at the last minute. As the largest party in the CA, and as the force that pushed the agenda of the Constituent Assembly, republic, federalism, secularism, social justice, inclusion, proportional representation, we are committed to taking the peace process forward and creating a unified draft of the constitution before May 28 so that the Nepali people believe these tasks will be completed. They themselves would happily give us time after that.
Why did the parties fail to come to an agreement?
The first reason is that we were in a movement against the last government, since they were trying to isolate the biggest party in the CA. Our claim was that Maoists should lead the government, but others did not accept our legitimate claim. Then we went in for elections in parliament, but could not elect a PM for seven months. The disagreement between parties was one reason for this, but we also felt that various other forces tried to create obstacles in government formation. We then sacrificed our claim, but it was too late to take the process forward.
In the earlier stages, it was agreed that parties would move ahead together, in consensus. But after the Maoists emerged as the strongest party in the CA, other parties developed suspicions that Maoists would be in power forever — they had not anticipated the widespread popular support for the Maoists, and got terrorised at this prospect. They broke the agreement to move ahead consensually, creating difficulties.
Internal party dynamics
Can you tell us the exact nature of the debates within the party?
There are three kinds of thought in the party. One school believes that instead of emphasising peace and constitution, we should go in for a people's revolt to get power. The second school believes that we should focus on peace and constitution at whatever cost. And the third school, which I lead, is that we should focus on peace and constitution, but if there are conspiracies, then there may be a need to get people on the streets to revolt. At the end, the party adopted a line that we should focus on peace and constitution, but also make people aware to make these conspiracies unsuccessful.
But it is precisely this dual line — of both peace and constitution and revolt — that makes other parties suspicious of your intentions.
Some people are calling this a dual line. But we don't see it that way. Our aim is to take the peace process forward, according to the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Interim Constitution, and write the constitution according to the desire for change among Nepali people. But when the Maoist-led government tried to address this aspiration, especially during the army chief episode, there was an effort not to allow change, and not to allow the conclusion of the peace process on respectable terms. Status quo-ists and reactionaries have tried to make this process unsuccessful — we only wanted to appeal to the people that if such conspiracies continue, there may be a need to come on to the streets again.
Yet, as the force that made the most sacrifices for the new agenda, the Maoists have to take the lead. Now, I have proposed in the party's central committee that we need to focus on the peace and constitution process, without turning left or right. Maoists must not give space to others to allege that the process is not moving because of us. Now, it is absolutely clear, in black and white, that we must focus fully on peace and constitution.
In agreements with other parties, you have signed up for a federal democratic republic. But in party documents, your stated aim is a people's federal republic. What is the difference between the two?
It is true that we have agreed to institutionalise a federal democratic republic with other parties. That is the bottom line. But we are communists — we believe in people's democracy, socialism, and communism. Like the NC insists there should only be parliamentary democracy, we want the federal republic to be as pro people and as anti imperialist and anti feudal as possible and are pushing this in the constitution.
Is your model compatible with liberal democracy?
It is not contradictory. We have already accepted notions like freedom of press, independence of judiciary, and human rights.
Your colleagues accuse you of vacillating and not taking a stand. Others outside the party also say that you don't deliver on promises and behave inconsistently. Have you introspected on this criticism?
I cannot accept this. Those who think from a right or left perspective, from only one side, and who do not change according to changed circumstances see me in that light. But as someone who believes in Marxist principles, I am more dialectical, materialistic and realistic. In fact, my problem is that whatever I feel inside emerges outside.
If I am angry today, I show it; if I am happy, I show it. Perhaps a leader of this stature should not do that. Prachanda has his own ideology, culture, politics, working style, and way of thinking — otherwise he won't be Prachanda. My nature is emotional and sensitive, and some people call this unstable. I have been in the communist party for the last 40 years. If I was not consistent, it would have been impossible to lead such a big movement, a decade long people's war with ups and downs, and then get it here towards a resolution. I have weaknesses, but politically, in my beliefs and commitment to nation and class, I am consistent.
The Nepal Army has proposed the creation of a mixed force under a directorate as a modality of integrating Maoist combatants. Is that acceptable to you?
We have taken it positively, and are encouraged. That proposal emerged after the government asked the army for a suggestion. In that sense, it is fine but finally, political parties have to arrive at a decision on modality. We are very close to an agreement on a mixed force that includes the Nepal Army and Nepal Police personnel and Maoist combatants. Once there is agreement, we can move for regrouping of combatants immediately.
What can be the possible compromise on the number of combatants to be integrated, standard norms, and rank harmonisation?
Our priority would be to create a separate force of the Maoist combatants who can be given separate responsibility but that may not be possible right now. On the basis of discussions in the party, we have agreed to go ahead with a mixed force. This is now decided.
On numbers, we are very close to an agreement — 1,000 or 2,000 people plus or minus is not a problem. On standard norms, each security force has its own criteria — of physical fitness, international norms which we will follow. But we are in the process of integration as a component of the peace process, and this is different from recruitment of an individual citizen into a security force — so some special norms can be created. Those who fit into the norms can be integrated as a group. On rank, once we create a force, then on the basis of ratio, numbers, and considering the fact that the People's Liberation Army has its own ranking, we should move ahead. The best alternative would be to give the Maoists the command of such a mixed force.
While other parties say finish the peace process first, constitution writing comes later, there are voices in your party which say it should be the other way round. What's the meeting point?
In my current proposal, I have suggested we should find an agreement on the timeline and process of integration and rehabilitation and agree on a unified draft of the constitution before May 28. Instead of focussing on what comes first and second, we should take it simultaneously and see them as inter-linked. But we agree that the constitution should be promulgated after the process of integration is over.
Your party proposes a directly elected president. The NC wants a parliamentary democratic system. What can be the compromise on the form of government?
On issues like the form of government and electoral system, parties are just entering into serious discussion. We feel that in a country like ours, which is in acute need of stability and development, a directly elected president for four or five years is the best option. The second factor is that we are moving to a federal system where there could be a tendency of separating from the centre. A directly elected president, voted by different castes, classes, regions, can be a unifying figure.
We feel that the parliamentary system in third world countries has not been very successful.
It has really been harrowing, with changes in government every few months and horse-trading. UML has talked about a directly elected PM and ceremonial president. But here, there is a danger of a dual power centre. Our model is also within the multi-party democratic system, and we hope others will accept it.
How do you propose to reach a deal on federalism?
Our own proposal for 14 states is already in the report of the CA's State Restructuring Committee. But we can think again about names and boundaries. The main thing is that oppressed nationalities, languages, regions must get rights. But it is not to say that there has to be a state for every group, and instead local autonomy can be given. Economic viability and culture have to be considered. We are firm on guaranteeing autonomous rights to the oppressed, but on the number of states there can be new thinking.
How is the party's relationship with the Government of India?
There are two-three things here. One, we are not anti-Indian. Relations between India and Nepal are unique on the basis of history, culture, geography, and economy. No one can think of weakening this. Our party also believes in strengthening these links.
Through the 12-point agreement, peace process, and CA elections, India played a supporting role. The 12-point agreement was signed in Delhi and without India's direct and indirect support, it would not have been possible. But once the Maoists became the largest party and led the government, we tried to address the popular aspiration for change. When I went to India as PM, I raised the issue of building the relationship in a new way, and dealing with older issues like treaties, trade problems, and border issues. In Nepal too, as PM, my focus was on addressing this aspiration for change — either in terms of dealing with security sector, foreign policy, or economy.
When I tried to do this, at some level, I did not get the kind of support I expected from India — instead I began feeling there was non-cooperation and in the Katawal case, this became clear. So our relationship, which was warm during the 12-point agreement and CA elections, chilled. What we want is that existing confusion, misunderstandings and differences must be resolved and build and strengthen the relationship.
When Foreign Minister [S.M.] Krishna was here last week, and during the Foreign Secretary's visit earlier, we had a frank conversation. I raised the issue of who is more responsible. Being a bigger country, with a rising economy, and an international power player, now that there is a chill in our relationship, whose responsibility is to improve these ties? The Foreign Minister asked why Maoists were stoking anti-Indianism, defacing Indian flags, and attacking the Indian Ambassador. I told him that we respect the Indian flag and can't even think of insulting the emotions of Indian people. Obstructing the Indian Ambassador is also not party policy. But India must also introspect whether they have created difficulties for Maoists, who are the biggest party in the country, and an agent of change. We are also very sensitive to India's security and economic interests. India should also think creatively about how to generate trust in a country which is passing through historic transition. We want that both sides to understand each other's concerns.