In a scathing criticism of the ‘narrow and blind’ nationalism that afflicts sections of Nepal’s political class, including his own party, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), former Nepali Prime Minister and senior leader, Madhav Kumar Nepal has said it is time for his country to shed its ‘suspicion’ of Indian actions while India should empathise with insecurities of its smaller neighbour.
Mr. Nepal was speaking exclusively to The Hindu , immediately after arriving in New Delhi on a five-day official visit. He is in India on the invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and is scheduled to meet him, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, National Democratic Alliance chairperson L K Advani, and leaders from across the political spectrum. He will also visit Bihar and meet Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
India has been engaging with political leaders across the spectrum in Nepal to encourage them to hold elections. Mr. Nepal follows Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, and senior Congress leader, Sher Bahadur Deuba, who visited New Delhi in the past two months.
The former Nepal PM said he would discuss ‘bilateral relations’, and Nepal’s ‘political transition’ — including the approaching Constituent Assembly elections scheduled for November and constitution writing process — with India’s leadership. “The major issue in front of the Nepali people is to have CA polls, write a democratic and progressive constitution through the CA which institutionalises the gains of the 2006 People’s Movement, and wrap up the political transition.”
This would be Nepal’s second elections to a CA, after the previous one failed to write a constitution owing to differences on the question of federalism. There is uncertainty about whether polls would be held, and if they are, whether a constitution would be written.
Mr. Nepal spoke of the ‘difficult demands’ put forward by a radical splinter Maoist faction, which has vowed to boycott and obstruct the polls. He, however, said they are in the process of convincing the ultra-left to participate in the process.
Smaller ethnic and regional outfits have also demanded a revision in the electoral system, to increase the share of the Proportional Representation category. Mr. Nepal however said no further possible revision of the system was possible, ‘since it would mean amending the constitution, which will open a Pandora’s box’. “There is already 50 per cent PR, and parties are free to give, and should be encouraged to give, tickets and seats to marginalised groups. But ideology and principles, rather than faces on the basis of ethnicity and race, should be prioritised.”
Mr. Nepal said, “CA polls are a historic necessity. We must own previous agreements of the last CA, and narrow down differences on federalism and form of government. But this is the second and last CA. If we fail, it is time to put contentious issues to vote in a referendum.”
In the past two weeks, voices of a royalist revival have picked up in Nepal, with a senior Nepali Congress leader Shashank Koirala saying this was a possibility.
There have been suggestions that India imposed the republic though the 2006 movement was not for it. The radical left too has spoken of an understanding with former monarch, Gyanendra Shah.
Mr. Nepal however said a return of monarchy was ‘impossible’. “The cycle of history will not turn. We will not allow it to turn. The Nepali people are democratically aware, and have seen the autocratic, arrogant, selfish rule of Gyanendra.” He said the ‘lack of self-confidence, lack of self-esteem’, and a suspicious mindset born out of being from a smaller country had led to unfounded allegations about India’s role.
“The Nepali people decided in favour of a republic and we took others into confidence. I came to Delhi to lobby for support. This does not mean India imposed the republic.”