Baburam Bhattarai, Nepal's former Prime Minister and key Maoist ideologue, has been closely involved in the peace process underway in his country. Nepal is struggling to write a constitution, particularly due to differences on federal restructuring of the state. In India on a short visit, Bhattarai spoke exclusively to HT soon after arriving on Saturday night.
Your party-led opposition held a big rally in Kathmandu on Saturday. Instead of working together with ruling parties, why this polarisation at the moment? What is at the root of Nepal's constitutional deadlock?
The root of the problem is that at a certain stage after our People's War developed, there was a triangular power contention in our country with monarchical, feudal, traditional forces on one side; parliamentary democratic forces in between and we radical democrats, communists on other side. When King Gyanendra took over (in 2005) and cracked down on parliamentary forces, these forces and we Maoists joined hands and made a historic compromise to do away with monarchy, and create a new federal democratic republic, a new state structure. With that started the peace process. And we abolished the monarchy. But after that, the other side breached that contract. They think that after monarchy has gone, they can occupy the old state structure and marginalise the Maoists, Madhesis, Janjatis and continue with the old state intact. That is the central contradiction at the moment. The other problem is that leaders who were not active in the initial stages of the peace process, who were in some ways against the peace process, have now taken over the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) Both Sushil Koirala (NC president and PM) and K P Oli (UML chairman) do not have a sense of ownership of the process and its nuances.
The core issue is federalism. Why does Nepal need federalism? There is a perception Nepal is too small to be carved into states, and it will invite ethnic discord.
Federalism is an issue not because of the size of the country but because of the composition of the population. If there is ethnic, linguistic diversity in the country, or in Marxist language, there is the nationality question, then only through federalism can we address the regional, ethnic, linguistic diversity. Whether the country is big or small is immaterial. A small country like Switzerland or Belgium is federal while a big country like China is unitary. Nepal has tremendous diversity on all these counts, and it is only through federalism that we can complete the democratic revolution, bring various nationalities into the mainstream and bring in stability to Nepal which will be conducive both for the economic prosperity of the country and security of our neighbours.
The democratic procedure to resolve disputes when there is a conflict is through a vote. Why are you opposing the ruling parties' push to decide the contentious issues through a vote in the Constituent Assembly?
The agenda of any CA is settled by the preceding revolution or people's movement. The CA is just a formal mechanism to institutionalise those issues settled by the revolution or movement. In Nepal's case, the CA came up during the peace agreement signed with us Maoists. It was later supplement by agreement with Madhesi forces, who emerged after a people's revolt in Madhes (the country's southern plains) and later with other ethnic forces. The issue of federalism and the content of the constitution have already been decided in those agreements. The CA has to formalise it, with consensus among constituents of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and later pacts with Madhesis and Janjatis.
How do you see India's role at the moment? Do you think Delhi has a role at all?
Generally, India has played a positive role in the democratic movement in Nepal and in the peace process. On the issue of constitution making and federalism, since there is a dispute among parties within the country, India is not seen to be as proactive as it used to be seen earlier on other issues. Of course, with Nepal being a sovereign, independent country, Nepali parties and people should decide the issue amongst themselves. But India is one of the stakeholders of the peace process, and a prominent, important neighbour. If the peace process is not completed in a proper manner in Nepal, there will be a fallout effect on India. And in that sense, it is expected that India would play a positive role in the conclusion of the peace process which was initiated in 2006.
You have met PM Modi during his two visits to Nepal last year. What do you think about his approach to bilateral ties and the peace process?
He has generally followed the earlier process started by the previous government and the spirit of the CPA. When he visited Nepal, we had an opportunity to talk with him on these issues. We found him positive, he was in favour of continuing the peace process and settling the major issues through consensus among major stakeholders. And I think this policy still holds with the government of India.