Key Nepali Maoist leader and former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai on Wednesday admitted to many mistakes - from the side of Nepali political leaders, including his party, and India - in the constitution drafting process in Nepal, which has triggered a political crisis and upset Nepal-India ties.
In an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, Bhattarai declared he too will join the movement of Madhesis, Tharus and other hill ethnic groups for justice and an amendment is necessary to address their concerns.
The Maoist leader slammed a section of his own party leadership - hinting at chairman Prachanda without naming him - for not standing strongly by the agenda of rights for the oppressed they had raised in the ‘People’s War’.
India’s management weakness
Bhattarai, who was also the chair of the key Constituent Assembly committee on political dialogue which resolved disputes, said, “Both internal and external players should have anticipated the problems in time, and communicated and coordinated better.”
Bhattarai’s assessment of India’s role was mixed. Appreciating Delhi for its support to the peace process, he said there was a ‘management problem’ and that India did not ‘convey and manage its concerns in time’. He also spoke of ‘mixed signals, probably because of multiple channels’. India has made its displeasure at the constitution known.
The Maoist leader seemed to share India’s views on need for a broad-based constitution, of taking into account Madhesi and Tharu concerns, and the need for an amendment but cautioned that the perception there could be a blockade would be ‘counter productive.’ Delhi has indicated that the security situation at the border could disrupt supplies.
Bhattarai said the demands of the socially marginalised and excluded groups like Tarai’s Madhesis and Tharus are legitimate. The groups have asked for political representation and constituency delimitation according to population, commitment to proportionate inclusion in state organs and revision in federal boundaries to have largely plains-only provinces.
He emphasised that this should not be viewed as a hill-plains divide. “Nepal has three main social groups - hill Arya Khas or upper castes; hill Janjatis and Madhesis - in almost equal numbers. “Hill Arya khas elite is showing arrogance and chauvinism and is trying to bypass other two social groups,” he said.
Critical of Maoist leadership
Listing out the mistakes from the domestic side, the Maoist ideologue said, “As chairman of the CA political dialogue committee and the coordinator of a special committee which included four party chairmen, I said we should meet the Madhesi and Tharu demands unilaterally without waiting for talks. This was before the vote began in the CA on the draft. The other leaders did not accept it and it precipitated the situation.” The other leaders included his chairman, Prachanda.
Admitting that the Maoist leadership made a mistake he said: “We registered a note of dissent on many of these issues but we should have insisted on it more strongly. Our party did not play the role it should have. A section of the leadership went back on the agenda.”
The Maoist decision to break ranks with excluded groups and join conservative ruling parties was the game-changer, which led to the rapid constitution promulgation.
Bhattarai himself participated in the process on grounds that this institutionalised a federal democratic republic and his belief in a constitution through a CA but expressed his reservations and did not celebrate the promulgation.
On the future of the Maoists, he said that now that one phase of the struggle was over, a section of the leadership wanted to ‘get coopted into the system, practice ultranationalist politics’. This appeared like a direct attack on Prachanda, who has raised the rhetoric against India recently.
Federal map and future
Bhattarai said the core dispute on federalism was around three districts in the Far East Tarai and two districts in the far west Tarai. And even on that, Madhesis may have accepted only parts of two districts in the east and Tharus would have accepted if parts of one district in the west were added to a Tharu-dominated province.
“But vested interests of a few leaders prevailed”, hinting at UML chairman KP Oli and NC’s Krishna Prasad Sitaula in the east and Former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba in the west.
For the future, Bhattarai said there was no alternative to a sustained movement, to force an amendment of the constitution to correct these issues. “Madhesi and Tharu comrades of the party are in the movement in the Tarai already. The Magars have also been unfairly treated as their cluster has been divided. I plan to visit these regions to express solidarity.”