Either FSF-N has to leave the govt or RJP-N has to join it for the two parties to unite

Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal Presidium member Sharat Singh Bhandari is among a few leaders in Madhes who became popular for their commitment to the cause of Madhesis and marginalised communities. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times caught up with him to know his views on contemporary political issues. Excerpts:

Your party served an ultimatum to the government telling it to address its demands, including the issue of statute amendment by Chhath festival, but your party did not do anything after the festival. Why?

We supported KP Sharma Oli’s bid for premiership in the House because his party (the erstwhile CPN-UML) which was dead against constitution amendment, said it was ready to address our concerns as the constitution had already been implemented. We took a reconciliatory approach vis-a-vis the new government expecting flexibility with regard to our issues, but the government did not reciprocate our gesture. Although we have reservation on the provisions of the constitution, we are committed to democratic norms because we also got elected under this constitution.

This government, which had a very good opportunity to make the constitution acceptable to all by taking all stakeholders into confidence, has not only missed the opportunity but also antagonised forces like us.

The next session of the Parliament will begin soon. We will raise our demands again. We will probably hold our party’s meeting this week and discuss our strategies.

Will your party launch a street movement again?

We will raise the issues in the Parliament first. If the government does not address our demands the natural course of action will be to raise our issues on the street.

Change of party presidium coordinator has created ripples within RJP-N. Will your party be able to pacify dissidents?

When Rajendra Mahato replaced Mahantha Thakur as coordinator of the presidium, some leaders had expressed dissatisfaction but that was not as serious as media outlets reported it to be. Our decision to change the presidium coordinator was taken with the consent of all presidium members, including Thakur. As per our statute, the coordinator of the presidium will rotate every two months and decisions will be taken collectively. We will soon hold our party meeting.

Critics say the presidium will be retained even after the party’s General Convention. What is your say on this?

The principle behind our unification is that the party should be run on the basis of collective leadership. Effective adjustment of cadres at all levels can take place only after the General Convention. We have seen other parties disintegrate when they failed to run their outfits on the basis of collective decisions. We need to ensure access to indigenous nationalities, Dalits, and even Khas Arya to the party’s leadership on the basis of inclusion policy. There is a misconception that Madhesis steered movements only for their empowerment, but the reality is they fought for all the excluded groups.

Do you think the left force, which commands almost two-thirds majority, will address RJP-N’s demands?

Our struggle is genuine. We should not forget that there was a time when some people thought republicanism was unachievable, but we achieved a republican order. If you leave a wound untreated, it will only get worse. All the issues raised during past movements, including movements launched by Madhesis, Janajatis, Dalits, women and the Maoist war, should be addressed because they had to do with genuine issues. As long as issues raised by these movements remain unaddressed, they will continue. Though at some point such movements may appear very strong and at other points weak, the movements will continue. Let me give you an example. In the Panchayat system, 100 per cent lawmakers were Panchas. There was no room for dissent but could the Panchayat system stem the tide of multi-party democracy? Numbers cannot prevent people from raising genuine demands. Now the ruling NCP (NCP) commands two-thirds majority in the Parliament but they cannot prevent people from raising the issues of identity, social recognition and respect. These are issues that take firm root with time as people’s views mature. Some may think that spurring economic development may help divert people’s attention from issues of identity, social recognition and respect, but that is not true. We can see that prosperity in Iraq, the Gulf and European countries did not prevent their people from raising the issues of their identity, social recognition and respect.

If people’s genuine demands are not addressed, that can lead to anarchy, sometimes to revolution and sometimes to disintegration of the country. Global examples show that repressive and coercive measures do not help resolve problems. Therefore, the most prudent thing will be to address people’s genuine demands.

The Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal has recently formed a task force to hold unity talks with other parties. Is there a possibility of merger with the FSF-N?

We fought elections jointly in Province 2 and even formed a coalition government there. They have joined the federal government, but we have not. That’s because we have different perspective on some issues. Even on constitution amendment, the FSF-N has its own views and we have ours. We have made constitution amendment, swearing-in of Resham Chaudhary and withdrawal of false cases against our cadres our minimum conditions. Two like-minded parties can collaborate but only if they share similar views on major things. If the FSF-N wants to hold unity talks with us, then either it should quit the government or we should join the government. There is no possibility of us joining the government till the constitution is amended.

How do you assess the government’s nine months in office?

The government has failed in all sectors. Its failure to arrest those responsible for the rape and murder of Nirmala Panta is enough to highlight its failure in the law and order front. The ruling party’s leaders are themselves raising the issue of corruption. The PM centralised all powers in himself, but failed to deliver services to the public. The most bizarre thing about this government is it wants to award big projects without calling tender. Competition is a simple norm of transparency that the PM has sacrificed. I am also disappointed that the Nepali Congress, which calls itself a guardian of democracy, is not doing anything to make the government accountable. When the main opposition fails to play its role in democracy, there is danger of the government becoming dictatorial.