All should respect agreement

The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has not finalised the names of the heads of its departments due to prolonged dispute over the School Department, a crucial department associated with indoctrination of cadres. Co-chairs Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal are adamant on appointing their own close aides to the department. Oli wants to appoint Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokharel and Dahal favours Narayan Kaji Shrestha. The former Maoist Centre doesn’t want Pokharel to lead the department because he has been advocating people’s multi-party democracy, the ideology of the former CPN-UML. The Oli-led government has faced much criticism over the government’s performance. There has recently been talk among the party’s top leaders about a Cabinet reshuffle.  As per the agreement signed between the two former parties — CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre — during their unification, the two co-chairs were to head the government in turns: two-and-a-half years each. Will Oli easily hand over power to Dahal when the time comes? Jagdishor Panday of The Himalayan Times talked to the NCP’s central committee member Devendra Poudel, a close aide to Dahal, to know his views on these questions. Excerpts:

Why has the NCP not come up with the names of department heads yet, thus delaying completion of the remaining tasks of the merger process?

There is no such dispute over the issue. Discussions are under way to finalise the names of department heads. The party’s co-chairs want more discussion on department allocation. Both want to allocate departments on the basis of leaders’ capacity and interest. So, the co-chairs are taking time to finalise the issue.

Isn’t it true that the former Maoist Centre is against assigning Ishwar Pokharel the post of School Department head because he advocates ‘people’s multi-party democracy’ as the party’s ideology?

There is no such dispute within the party as perceived from outside. As I said earlier, discussions are under way to send the right man to the right place. Pokharel was the general secretary of the party previously and now he is a member of the NCP central secretariat. So, he clearly understands the circumstances of the party and its system. He knows the spirit of the merger. He is deputy prime minister and defence minister of the country. So, it’s not true that former Maoist leaders in the party are against Pokharel. They never said the School Department should not be allocated to Pokharel. During democratic discussion, he put forth his thoughts regarding the party’s ideology. These kinds of thoughts have been put forth by other friends too. So, we cannot say that he should not lead the School Department because he has expressed his thought. No one is against him.

After the merger in May 2018, the Madhav Nepal-led committee was assigned the job of resolving the ideological debate in the party to finalise the political document. The panel’s political document doesn’t mention any ideology — people’s multi-party democracy or people’s democracy of 21st century — but Pokharel has been advocating people’s multi-party democracy. His view is creating ripples in the party, isn’t it?

Yes, the debate on the party’s political ideology has peaked. I don’t want to name leaders who have expressed their views in public as these are their personal thoughts.  Pokharel is also free to put forth his views. It’s also true he has emotional attachment with the former party’s ideology.

The main thing is what the party has decided. We communists believe in democratic centralism. Every member of the party can express personal thoughts, but  certain place, system and criteria must be followed. According to Lenin’s ideological line, ‘the communist shall implement thought after thorough intellectual discussion. So, in the party’s merger process, we have welcomed both thoughts — people’s multi-party democracy and people’s democracy of 21st century. But, after long discussion, we have considered ‘people’s democracy’ as our party’s line for now.

People’s democracy is the fundamental of the party’s merger process. We are neither against people’s multi-party democracy, nor we are against people’s democracy of 21st century.

After eliminating the royal regime and introducing the republic of Nepal with proportional inclusion, we have brought homegrown people’s democracy to run the communist party. If you see the time period of Madan Bhandari, he brought people’s multi-party democracy at the right time. At that time, there were rumours that communists were anarchists, they only believed in one-party system. They didn’t respect freedom of people, human rights and competitive politics. Those rumours were widespread. So, Bhandari had explained that communists wanted competitive politics and democracy through people’s multi-party democracy.

People’s democracy of 21st century came after our party formed the government. The upcoming general assembly of the NCP(NCP) will decide whether it will be people’s multi-party democracy or people’s democracy of 21st century. The set of practices can also create a new ideology. We should not stick to those things we did yesterday.

We should move ahead with more creative ideas. We have written socialism in the constitution. To achieve the goals of socialism, our party should take the lead and bring the revolution to a logical end. To reach the destination, we should go through people’s democracy. This should be our party’s main ideology.

People have been criticising the government for its poor performance. Will the Cabinet be reshuffled soon?

In a democratic system, there is place for criticism. This is the beauty of our system. It will help us correct ourselves. Yes, there is a serious question regarding the government’s performance. It has failed to deliver as expected. The government must take this seriously. People have the right to alert the two-thirds majority government by putting forth their grievances on different issues such as development, good governance, and diplomatic relations, among others. The government has been taking this very seriously. After completing the remaining merger process of the party, the only agenda will be to strengthen and enhance the performance of the government.

As per the agreement signed during the unification, the two co-chairs are expected to head the government in turns. Will PM Oli hand over the reins of government to Dahal? And, is Dahal also confident that Oli will abide by the pact?

The government has been performing very slowly. Mainly, there is criticism with regard to good governance. The government should closely look at this issue.

Especially in relation to the development sector, the three tiers of government have already presented their policies and programmes. Construction of the fast-track is moving forward. Many airports are being built. Four East-West highways and North-South corridors are under construction. There has also been discussion on ending the culture of massive spending in the last month of every fiscal and laws are being amended for the same. The only bad thing for us is the trade deficit. If we compare it with other countries in Asia, our economic growth is not so bad.

The people have given mandate to NCP (NCP) and the Nepali Congress will remain in the opposition. In this regard, we have taken part in the election by forging alliance and later merging the two parties. During this period, there has been agreement regarding party unification. Before the party takes a new decision, the political document, the organisation document, merger process of the organisations must be considered and the agreement must fully apply to all the leaders. The two leaders of the former parties have reached agreement on running the government and the unified party. These provisions in the agreement are the foundations of the party merger. On the basis of the same agreement we have created two co-chairs, central secretariat, standing committee, and also other structures of the party. I believe those agreements should be respected by all party leaders.

Active leaders like Lekh Nath Neupane (former Maoist) and Thakur Gaire (former UML) were not assigned any portfolio. Why is it that only those nearest and dearest to powerful leaders get the responsibilities?

This is an important question. In Nepali politics, grooming and transferring of responsibility are important. In a country where there are mainly two parties — NCP (NCP) and Nepali Congress — these questions have been raised time and again. Gaire and Neupane are active leaders of the party. They have played crucial roles before and during the revolution and movements. They should be awarded responsibilities in the party. If you see, the same person is minister, head of a department and head or in-charge of the district too. The responsibility of the party should be spread to all leaders.

Do you mean the concept of ‘one responsibility, one person’ should be implemented in the party?

For me, each and every party leader should get responsibility. While drafting the organisational procedure, we wrote that all the leaders should be awarded equal responsibility. We have said that from the PM to the party’s chair there should be ‘one responsibility, one person’. But it has not been implemented. Now, some leaders have lots of responsibilities whereas some do not have any responsibility. This should not be done by the party leadership. Those who have ability to work in the party and can contribute for the party should be given responsibility. Senior leaders should believe in young leaders and transfer the responsibility to them.