Rubbishing the perception that he shares a difficult relationship with the Indian government, Nepali Congress president Sushil Koirala – widely expected to be the country’s next Prime Minister – has said Nepal will be “sensitive” to India’s legitimate interests.
In his first interview to a foreign media outlet after the Constituent Assembly (CA) polls of November 19, which saw NC emerge as the single-largest party, Koirala told HT, “Given the open border, we must view India’s security perception with sensitivity. Our two countries are also closely associated socially, culturally, religiously, and even politically.” NC, he said, is synonymous with democracy, and with India being a democratic country, ties between the two were “naturally close”.
While asserting Nepal had to remain sensitive to China’s security perceptions as well, Koirala countered the perception of Nepal being a battleground.
“China and India’s relationship is gradually developing. Both countries want peace, stability, democracy and development here.”
When asked if his past statements indicating Nepali nationalism was at its weakest were targeted at “Indian interference”, Koirala replied, “No. It was not to blame anyone but to point out our own weakness and disunity.” He added that Nepal’s communist outfits usually adopted an anti-India stance.
“Recently, when Mohan Vaidya (radical Maoist leader) protested against cars with Indian number plates entering Nepal, I told him this is not good. If there is an issue, we can raise it through diplomatic channels.”
Koirala said for Nepal, with is enormous hydro-power potential, the natural market was India. Referring to his own family’s intimate ties with India, he recalled, “BP Koirala (former PM and NC founder) participated in the Quit India Movement and called India his second home. After the 1960 royal coup, I spent time in India – including three years in prison.”
Koirala said his national priority would be the constitution, which the previous CA failed to write due to differences on state restructuring. “I will leave no stone unturned for the constitution.” He rejected allegations that he was too ‘rigid’.
"I will carry forward GP Koirala’s legacy of unity and co-operation. He brought the Maoists to the mainstream. Please remember the peace process moved after I had taken charge, but there will be no compromise on democratic principles.” Koirala added that he was “proud” that Maoists had accepted elections and democracy.
Koirala also said there was no question of back-tracking from existing political achievements, but admitted there were differences on specifics.
“On form of government, there should be checks and balances and PM should be responsible to Parliament. Maoists want a directly elected president, but this will give birth to an autocrat.”
On federalism, Koirala said it was “financially impossible” to sustain more than four-five-six provinces.
“There is no infrastructure for more. Will the chief minister travel on horse-back?”
Provinces must also be multi-ethnic as no community had a majority in any territory, he argued.
In the wake of demands for a return to a Hindu state, Koirala added that all major parties had accepted secularism.
”There must be freedom of religion. But in the name of secularism, there cannot be forced conversion.” Koirala said his aim was to promulgate a constitution in a year.
“Parties agree contentious issues will be resolved from inside the CA, through a vote if necessary. Referendum can be a last resort.”
Koirala is the only declared PM candidate in the fray till now. Voting in parliament is scheduled for February 10. The NC is engaged in power-sharing negotiations with the second largest party, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist-Leninist). Koirala rejected their demand for elections for a new president till the constitution is promulgated, but expressed confidence that the two parties would strike a deal soon.