South Asia

Modi critics in Nepal are hypocrites: Bhattarai

Here's the transcript of the interview:

Mr. Bhattarai, you are here at a time when Nepal seems to be in the middle of yet another crisis over Constitution-building. What are your hopes from the Indian leadership?

It isn’t another crisis, it’s a continuation of the crisis, until the peace process is finished. Political transitions create hiccups here and there, but we are moving in the right direction, but of late, some of the political forces in Nepal seem to have forgotten some of their promises on the peace process. During my visit to Delhi, since the peace process is a matter of concern for all, so I wanted to update the leadership here on what is happening in Nepal, to seek the views of our friends in India.

You have said that India has a role to play in the process, where does one draw the line between “assistance” and “interference”?

I am not inviting India’s interference. Nepal is a sovereign country, and its political leaders are capable of deciding what is good for us. But I am speaking of the peace process, and constitution making through the constituent assembly is a part of the peace process. And if there is no peace process, or a reversal to conflict, then that will affect all our neighbours, not just India but China and others as well. But India will be most affected, as we are more closely connected to India. In that sense, India should be aware of the situation, and I am hoping for it to play a positive role, not inviting interference, but a positive role as a good neighbour, to promote a conclusion of the peace process.

The reason I ask that is because when PM Modi went to Kathmandu in 2014, and he said that the peace process should be driven by ‘consensus’ not by a ‘majority vote’, he was criticised across the political spectrum. Is there a danger that India could face similar criticism if it was to help with the process at this point?

The people who made noises (against Mr. Modi’s speech) are just hypocrites. Because these are the same people who come to India and ask for help when it comes to personal favours. That is not the voice of the Nepali people. The people just want to conclude the peace process according to the earlier understanding especially the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA). And neighbours should and do have an interest in the peace process and they can have a positive role in it without directly interfering with it. In that sense, Mr. Modi’s statements on both his visits was taken positively by Nepal.

You’re saying those who criticise India’s role are hypocrites. Many say they don’t understand why the Maoists continue to play a difficult opposition. Since 2006 we have seen this process get stuck, seemingly because of opposition led by the UCPN (Maoists) . Why is it the Maoists are seen as the trouble-makers?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify. I think the people who feel this way don’t know that the whole political change, the constitution, the peace process, was brought about by the Maoists themselves. Our ten year war against the autocratic rule of the monarchy, was so as to have a constituent assembly. Earlier our five constitutions were given by our Kings, and the Nepali Congress and UML accepted them. We were the only ones who questioned the monarchy. It is not because of the Maoists that the constituent process has stalled, it is because of the Maoists that there is even a process today.

At present there are several issues: over federalism, over the government system, Westminster or otherwise, and over the electoral system. But it seems as if the real whether these would be decided by consensus or by a majority vote. Is there a danger that the constitution is being held hostage to the process rather than the content here?

Both the content and the process. Ultimately it is the content that is important. The Congress and UML were happy with the King-given constitution and system in 1990, without federalism, secularism or inclusive democracy. They were forced by circumstances to accept that because of the pressure from the Maoists, Madheshis and Janjatis. In the name of process, these people are basically against the content of a progressive, democractic new constitution. We wanted to improve on the electoral system of “first past the post” practised by the UK and India, by introducing proportional representation that would include Dalits, women and other oppressed identities into the system. Federalism and inclusive democracy are the two issues the old parties don’t want change in, whereas the Maoists and new parties do.

Do you see a solution? Over the weekend you held massive street protests in Kathmandu, and more unrest is feared.

Yes. The constituent assembly is only a mechanism to put into place the CPA. The Congress has gone back on its promises, and want to push through a majoritarian principle, which is why we are mounting pressure from the streets, so they will understand the need to keep their old commitments. We hope after the demonstration in Kathmandu they see the need to sit down with all stakeholders and talk about a resolution.

Is there a suspicion that one party is being preferred over another by India as well? During elections in 2008, the Indian NSA had been heard saying they preferred the Nepali Congress to win….has that suspicion gone now?

I don’t know if he said that…and I don’t want to comment on that. For both the common interests of India and Nepal we need a durable peace. And for that the Maoists have to be taken long on any solution. In that sense the Indian leadership does realise that all forces have to go together. That’s why I ask my friends in Nepal to choose who they want, the same old forces that have produced instability all these years, or the new forces of the Maoists that can offer durable peace? Without durable peace Indian security interests cannot be served, and that is why I have been very candid on this issue, both India and Nepal have the same interests when it comes to peace.

Finally, you spoke of the internal choice for Nepalis, what about the external choice? In India there is always the concern over Chinese development projects, but also that different parts of the political leadership is funded by China…is that worry justified?

I don’t think India needs to worry. It is an aspiring world power, and dominant regional power, and has legitimate interest in what happens in its neighbourhood. We are ready to cooperate with both India and China to ensure our territory is not used against the interests of any of our neighbours. We would like to assure our neighbours, especially India as it is our closer neighbour, whom we have to deal with much more, that Nepal wants peace and prosperity, which will be good for India as well.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 7:31:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/south-asia/interview-baburam-bhattarai/article6955528.ece

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