Nepal’s newly elected Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” has said his priority would be to “build the foundation of trust” with India during his upcoming visit to New Delhi from September 15, his first foreign trip after taking office.
Admitting that the past year has not been good for Nepal-India ties, the veteran Maoist leader said the Nepali people and he personally trust Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and he will seek to build on that.
In an exclusive interview to Hindustan, HT’s sister publication — his first after taking office — Prachanda opened up about his evolution as a leader, constitutional grievances of Madhesis and plans to address them, hopes and expectations from the India visit, and the role of China.
You are among those who brought democracy to Nepal. But in the last 25 years, Nepal saw 18 governments. There have been eight Prime Ministers in nine years after end of monarchy. Is your democracy on the right track?
Nepal is going through a political transition. We embarked on a major political transformation after the peace agreement. To stabilise this change requires a lot of work. The most important issue in the peace process was the integration of those who participated in the war, the management of the weapons. This was a major task, and we have completed it successfully. After this, it is not a big issue if we have had eight or nine governments. We also declared a constitution in the midst of many challenges. A lot remains to be done, but the situation is not as disappointing as your question reflects.
After the revolution, some people thought you will be the Mandela of this region, but this did not happen. What went wrong?
Our peace process is unique. There are both similarities and differences in our movement, and Mandela’s struggle. There is also a difference in time, in fundamental principles. When we moved ahead with the peace process, it was a big thing in the international communist movement. To bring the Maoist movement to power was filled with risks.
There seems to be a fragmentation in the Communist Party today. What should be done to keep it united?
This is a big experiment, so it is natural that there are debates within. It was necessary to keep it united, but we were not successful. There is a fragmentation in the party. We have seen a series of splits. We have now brought back some of the splinter groups and created a party called the Maoist-Centre, and this was possible because of a convergence in thinking. The People’s War started under my leadership. This continued for ten years. Then the peace process was also concluded under my leadership. In the first Constituent Assembly election, our party emerged as the single largest force and I got an opportunity to work as the Prime Minister. The splits also happened under my leadership – and now, there is a process of unification underway, and I am back as prime minister. It is rare to see such major political changes, ups and downs, in a period of 20-25 years.
You are visiting India soon. What are your expectations?
There is a need to create a strong foundation of trust with India. The past year has not been good from the perspective of Nepal-India ties. Mutual suspicion and doubts increased in this period. People had to face major difficulties because of the blockade during the constitution promulgation. Now I think that relations are headed back to normal. The primary aim of my India visit is to build new trust, and so it will be in the nature of a goodwill visit. I went earlier as Prime Minister (in 2008), but there is a big difference in the national situation as well as the dynamics of my party then and now. At that point, the impact of the revolution and war was very strong on my mind. I needed more time to understand the nuances of politics. After the ups and downs of the past decade, I think I will be able to strengthen relations between the two countries with more maturity.
How do you assess Prime Minister Modi as a leader?
A. Modiji and I think in similar ways, and we have chemistry. There is a difference in circumstances and our ideology, but that is a different issue. He is a strong Prime Minister, elected with a majority, of a country as big as India. We spoke when Modiji came for the first time and addressed our Constituent Assembly. It was a rare moment in Nepali history when the visit of the leader of a neighbouring country generated so much enthusiasm. Our first meeting was very good. In the second meeting too, we spoke at length. Both Nepali people and I trust Modiji. Now we have to pay attention and strengthen this trust.
You understand both countries well. What do you think is the primary reason for the diplomatic difficulties that crop up periodically?
We should both have tried to sustain the hopes and enthusiasm generated by Modiji’s visit here. What happened later was unfortunate. We all have to learn lessons from it. We were in the middle of the constitution-writing process; we were trying to take everyone along. Modiji had also said this repeatedly. But it is not easy to get 100% agreement on the Constitution. When the constitution was final, some parties – particularly the Madhesi forces – did not agree. The programme for the promulgation of the constitution by the President was already decided. Then India advised us to stop the process. That is when the problems started. When Indian advice to stop the announcement came, I said that the timing is wrong. You should have come earlier. It is not possible now.
Madhesis are not satisfied. Do you think some provisions of the constitution can be amended?
A movement took place, many people died. This was a matter of great sadness for me. Very few people know that I have registered a note of dissent in the Constitution. I have a natural sympathy for the Madhes movement. Earlier, I was the coordinator of this very movement. So I believe that the demands of the Madhesis, Tharus, Janjatis must be fulfilled. I want to register a constitutional amendment before my India visit. We are trying, let us see if we can finalise it till then.
We read in the newspapers that you have clearly told your diplomats and other that there must be no suspicion about your India visit. Why do doubts crop up?
Whenever a prime minister is planning to visit India, it generates a lot of interest, hopes and suspicions. We are very close – this leads to both trust and doubts. That is why I told people there is no reason for any doubts. I am going with full confidence. The results will be positive.
Ideologically, Modi and you are different. Your principles are more similar to China. Is China a factor in India-Nepal ties?
A. I don’t think so. Ideology will not be an obstacle in the way we are working. We have to strengthen ties between both countries. There can be no second opinion about the fact that neighbours should have good ties. Modiji also wants to take some risks, depart from tradition, and so do I. I am apprehensive that some forces in both countries do not understand this outlook. When we will try to move ahead, they may try to pull us back. As far as China is concerned, I don’t think it is carrying any ideology. For them, business and economy are important. It is all a question of one’s national interest.
There are reports that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has a major presence here, especially in the Terai. We have an open border. Do you have any plan to control anti-India activities?
We will not allow any anti-Indian activity here. It was not there in the past either. We should not allow Nepal’s territory to be used for activities against any country. On this issue, ordinary Nepalis, political parties and the government are all very clear.
Nepal’s growth rate is very low. What are your plans to make people feel that their livelihoods will improve?
It is important to utilise our natural resources well. Everyone knows there are possibilities for hydropower in Nepal. Our biggest priority is using water well to produce energy. I will speak about this in India too. There are also possibilities for tourism. Janakpur, Lumbini, Pashupati, and Muktinath – we have it all here. Modiji also has enormous faith in them. I will invite him to come to Janakpur, Lumbini and Muktinath. If Modiji comes here for his pilgrimage, it will help both Nepal-India ties and our tourism. We also have to work for agriculture and infrastructure.
Indian businesses may have a role in this. Will you meet them?
I will meet them, and appeal to them to invest here. I will tell them that the situation is now conducive, come and invest freely. India is the biggest market for the electricity we produce. We already have an agreement on power trade. We have to remove the difficulties in implementing it.
Beyond Prachanda the politician:
How do you keep fit?
Exercise every morning.
Do you go to the gym or walk?
I do some yoga, and then play table-tennis.
I like Nepali dal-bhaat, rice-lentils.
Vegetarian or non-vegetarian?
Your favoured outfit?
What I am wearing now. (Shirt, pant, and Nepali topi)
How do you take time out for your family?
I get very little time.
Favourite mode of entertainment?
Watched movies during student life.
Who is your favourite actor?
And favourite actress?
Never paid attention to it.