Bibeksheel Sajha Party, which is seeking to establish itself as an alternative political force in Nepal, completes one year of its formation this week. In the past year, it took part in local, provincial and parliamentary elections and won three Provincial Assembly seats. Roshan S Nepal of The Himalayan Times caught up with BSP Coordinator Rabindra Mishra to talk about the party’s journey in the past year and its future plans. Excerpts:
Bibeksheel Sajha Party will be completing one year of its formation this week. How has your journey been so far?
It has been tremendous. Our experience in the past year is something politicians experience in 10 years. We established the party, and then we went to local-level elections. Subsequently, the two parties – Sajha Party and Bibeeksheel Nepali Dal – united. We then went for national elections. We did pretty well despite the fact that we had been in existence just for a few months. We have created an environment wherein people have started talking about just three parties – Nepal Congress, Nepal Communist Party and Bibeksheel Sajha Party. People are talking about us, they are writing about us.
How can you say you did well in the elections?
Expectation from the general public was high. But since we were just three to four months old, we did not have strong organisational and membership base. The election results were just a result of people’s goodwill. That’s why, from our perspective, what we achieved was pretty good. Our aim was to become a national party. We could not achieve the goal, but we were very close. Five parties became national-level parties, and we became the sixth largest party. We garnered 212,000 popular votes. In my case, I was running against a strong Nepali Congress candidate Prakash Man Singh, who had won the previous election with a margin of 13,000 votes. But this election, he won with a margin of just 800 votes.
What were the lessons from elections?
Not only from the elections, but over the past one year, we’ve learned a few lessons. We have to be persistent and determined to run a political party and make it big. We need a strong organisational and membership base. Without these things, we might exist, but can’t build a party. Our aim is not just to come into existence but to rule this country as soon as possible and transform it within a generation. At the same time, we have to raise issues that are of concern to the general public.
As you said a party needs strong organisational base, which you lack. What initiatives have you taken to boost your organisational base?
We want to build this party in a ‘pyramid structure’ which will give it a strong foundation. We have come up with an outline of our organisational expansion plan. We have identified competent and committed coordinators in five provinces – 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7- and we are looking for coordinators in provinces 2 and 4. We have also brought out our political document, which makes the direction in which we are heading clear. We are also looking for young people with political experience who want to get involved in politics and are determined to change this country.
What is your party’s political ideology?
Our political ideology is ‘welfare democracy’. It is a terminology not been used by Nepal’s political parties. Parties in Nepal either call themselves democratic socialists or just socialists, or just democratic. The idea behind welfare democracy is that unless you incorporate the idea of a welfare state in a democracy, that democracy does not deliver to all segments of society. Prosperity can mean prosperity in the US, Japan, Scandinavian countries or in China. In the case of the US, a small section of society controls over 80 to 90 percent of the wealth. That is not good for any society, especially for a society like Nepal where there’s poverty and distress. Prosperity should be equitable.
Can the idea of a welfare state be a political plank?
What you practice and establish becomes a philosophy or ‘ism’ over time. Welfare state is an accepted terminology in international politics. Scandinavian countries are the best examples of welfare state. What they have achieved by practising the idea of welfare-ism is exemplary. It is not just about prosperity, but about making the population happy and confident. If they are financially weak or unable to earn or disabled, there’s a state that will support them so that they can get treatment when they grow old and they can send their kids to good schools even if they are poor.
How is welfare democracy different from democratic socialism espoused by the Nepali Congress?
Socialism has become a loose, and in a way, clichéd term. The Communist Party of China call itself socialist. The Nepali Congress calls itself socialist, but they have left the market so unregulated even to the extent of privatising education and health sectors. This is a crime for a party that espouses the ideal of socialism. Education and health have to be the responsibility of the state for parties that call themselves socialists. There are communist parties who also call themselves socialists.
Dr Govinda KC is raising issues which this government should have raised, but is going against Dr KC. Which means the ruling party is going against the fundamental principles of socialism. And then we have European states which practise democratic socialism. So socialism has become very vague and confusing. When you talk about welfare democracy, the principles are very clear. We very categorically believe education and health, which are the two strong foundations for a nation’s prosperity, should lie in the hands of the state. That will be our primary political plank.
You claimed that people are talking about only three parties — the NC, NCP and BSP. Are you talking about the people of Kathmandu and a few urban centres? It is said that you are too urban-centric.
People from across the country are talking about us. Recently, I visited six or seven districts and remote villages of Province 7. The kind of reception we experienced there was tremendous, given how politically coloured our society is. In Darchula, one of the participants expressed surprise seeing the participation in our event. According to him, it is a society where if there is a death in a family loyal to the congress, those who are loyal to communists do not go to the funeral, and vice versa. So terming us urban-centric is wrong. We have been visiting various parts of Nepal and interacting with people. We are penetrating all the nooks and corners of Nepal. But yes, since we have been in existence just for a year, it will take some time.
How do you see yourself in the next election?
We have so far been known as an alternative political force. In the next four years, we have to create an environment where people think there’s no alternative to Bibeksheel Sajha Party. Becoming the Number One party is our target. That’s how we have to build our strategy and convince people.
Do you think people are going to be convinced just because you are advocating a welfare state?
There are two aspects to this. One, this society is politically coloured, and people vote on the basis of their political association. What we have to argue is if you vote just on the basis of political association, it is your family that will suffer, your children will not get good education, your old parents will not get good health services, you will be the one whose income will not rise. But political parties and politicians that you vote for are not going to suffer. They send their children to good schools, they lead luxurious life and if they fall sick, they visit Delhi, Singapore or Bangkok for treatment. We have to spread this message.
Another aspect is just accusing old parties won’t be enough. We need to build credibility and prove we are strong enough to rule this country. To do so, we need people with integrity and competence in the party. At the same time, we have to come up with ideologies and policies that are convincing to the people.
How do you evaluate the performance of this government?
In the beginning we gave them benefit of doubt. But in the last six to seven months, they showed their old character. They are focusing on petty things and not things that could transform this country. They have tried to sell dreams, but they have not taken significant steps. They are going against Dr Govinda KC. They should have eulogised Dr KC and said this was what we wanted to do as a socialist party. Is it necessary to ban public protest in Maitighar and the whole of Kathmandu except in the seven designated spots? So I say they know politics too much, but do not know what statecraft is. Unless politicians know the difference between politics and statecraft, the country will not transform.
A version of this article appears in print on July 23, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.