Following health complications, Prime Minister and Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Co-chair KP Sharma Oli has intensified meetings with top leaders. He has also expedited decision-making, such as removal and appointment of governors, and reshuffling of his private secretariat. Observers see it as an indication of PM Oli’s determination to resolve internal issues and to complete remaining tasks of party unification. However, NCP senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal has written a series of notes of dissent, suggesting that everything is not hunky-dory in the party. There are also criticisms that the NCP-led government has failed to meet people’s expectations. Against this backdrop, Roshan S Nepal of The Himalayan Times caught up with the NCP Standing Committee Member Bhim Rawal to talk about the party and the government’s performance. Excerpts:
PM Oli has lately intensified meetings and expedited decision-making. Is it an indication that he wants to resolve internal issues and conclude remaining tasks of party unification? Why this rush?
I think such informal exchange of opinions is required to minimise, and sometimes resolve, differences within the party. However, formal meetings in line with provisions of the party statute are extremely necessary. Without formal meetings, only informal meetings cannot strengthen and consolidate the party. Therefore, I have time and again urged the party leadership to convene meetings of standing and the central committees. As far as the talks are concerned, I do not know what transpired at the meetings. Hence, I do not know how the leadership wants to move ahead with unification.
At the time of unification between former CPN-UML and former CPN-MC, top leaders had told us that the unification process would complete in three months. But besides taking some decisions related to unification of the district committees and some organisations, other works of unification process have not been completed yet. That may be one of the reasons the PM is, what you say, in a rush. Another reason might be that he wants to complete outstanding tasks before he enters another phase of his treatment.
You criticise the way the party’s central secretariat is functioning. How do you think the secretariat should have functioned?
I am not criticising the secretariat. I just want to make leaders and authorities concerned cautious. We are confronted by several challenges which can be faced only if we work collectively and apply collective wisdom. I have been asking the leadership to convene meetings, and impartially listen to party members. It is not a question of criticism, but duty of all central and standing committees to emphasise that the party and the government must be run according to the imperatives of the country, expectations of the people, the country’s constitution and the party’s statute.
As far as the roles of the central secretariat are concerned, its main job is to implement policies and programmes formulated by the central and standing committees. But it seems the leadership does not think the central and standing committees are required. If the decision-making process is limited within the central secretariat, even narrowed down to some personalities, the objective of the party might be jeopardised. If this trend continues, it may harm party unity and weaken the party itself.
You acknowledged that there are internal issues in the party. It is also evident from NCP senior leader Nepal’s series of notes of dissent. Amid this wrangling, will the unity convention take place on time?
It’s better to talk with leader Nepal at length about his notes of dissent. But when I read his notes, I found he stressed that the party should function in line with the statute, established norms, and collective decision making. So I do not see anything wrong and I have urged the leadership to resolve contradictions within the party acting fairly, and keeping in mind expectations of the rank and file.
I am not the only one to scrutinise the party, but the public at large is also closely scrutinising it. For example, issues related to citizenship, plans of military exercise associated with some big powers [BIMSTEC drill], and lab tests of imported vegetables, called for close attention from the public and party members. Therefore, it is quite natural to speak when these issues do not seem to be properly handled by the leadership who leads the country.
As far as the unity general convention is concerned, all of us, including our chairpersons, agreed to organise the congress within two years. I have to say the management of the party and the process of the unification are not being carried out keeping in mind that goal. The party has yet to renew or issue new memberships. That’s why I doubt the party will be able to convene the congress within the stipulated time mentioned in the party statute. The leadership is not serious about it.
Some top NCP leaders are talking about pre-merger agreement whereby the unity congress will select new leadership on the basis of consensus. What’s your take on this?
I do not see all the agreements and declarations, including announcements made by the chairmen duo signed during the unification being implemented in an impartial manner. That’s why I am not sure any agreement or decision taken by some leaders related to unity congress will be implemented. If the party does not head towards the direction set by the commitments and declarations at the time of merger, other leaders and members also have the right to decide on this matter. It is not that the right to decide rests only with a few leaders.
There are still some issues related to the party’s ideology, inviting criticisms that the country’s ruling party is still not sure about its ideology. What’s your take?
If you look at our political documents and declarations, the party is not confused about its ideology. Before the merger, the CPN-UML had the ‘People’s Multi-Party Democracy’ as its ideology. Now, the political document clearly states that the party follows ‘People’s Democracy’ as its ideology. As for ‘People’s Democracy’ mentioned in the political document of the party, it should strive to serve the people; to defend the principles of equality; to uplift backward communities of society; to defend national sovereignty, independence, dignity and territorial integrity; to refuse all types of outside interventions; and to consolidate and strengthen unity and harmony among different communities. ‘People’s Democracy’ also means respecting human rights, competitive politics, periodic elections and rule of law, among others. However, there might be problems in the implementation of these policies, programmes and principles. In principle, this party follows Marxism. If the party talks about Marxism, there should be no confusion at all. Before the merger, the CPN-MC talked about Maoism. But now, the NCP is not talking about Maoism.
Is the NCP a communist or a socialist party?
Things should not be looked at in a dogmatic way. In this competitive world, even big powers are more oriented towards their national interests rather than sticking to principles of their political documents. Even countries having diametrically opposite principles have good economic and political relations. Therefore, no one can say the NCP, when it talks about Marxism and People’s Democracy, is confused about its principles or cannot be a communist party. Therefore, the NCP follows principles of Marxism, and it believes in creative implementation of Marxism based on the objective reality of the country.
Observers say some developments, such as event on Xi Jinping Thought, Cuba and Venezuela issues, legislations aimed at curbing freedom of expression, arrests of bankers and businessmen and some NCP leaders’ close ties with North Korea hinted at ‘traditional communist authoritarian’ tendencies of the government led by the NCP. What’s your take?
Xi Jinping Thought belongs to China. It is not for implementation in Nepal by the NCP. As for diplomatic relations with communist parties of other countries you mentioned, every party can have diplomatic or friendly relations with parties of other countries which are considered fit to establish such relations. It does not mean that one party is ready to follow ideology or principles of the other party. Individual leaders having relations with certain parties or countries should also be seen as diplomatic relations. The NCP is running the government in line with the constitutional provisions, and is committed to implementing the constitution. As far as the legislations are concerned, the party is committed to the principles of freedom of press and expression. There might be some lacunas in legislations, and we can address these lacunas.
How do you evaluate the government’s performance?
The standing committee of the NCP had asked the government to appraise the committee about its performance almost a year ago. But the meeting has not been convened. So I am not in a position to give you specific answer. Generally speaking, the government has tried to achieve some positive results. However, despite the government’s efforts, people do not seem satisfied. It is reflected in both the press and people’s expression. Some of the government’s actions have drawn criticism from the public. For example, the sensitive issue of citizenship. No Nepali wants fellow Nepalis to be deprived of citizenship. But citizenship should not be given to aliens to overwhelm our population. The politics of demography might put the very existence of the country in danger.
Talking about foreign policy, the Asia Pacific Summit participated in by the PM himself was widely criticised. Some aspects of the event were not congenial to our national interest and the party’s principles. The constitution stipulates independent foreign policy based on the UN charters and principles of Panchasheel and non-alignment. Contrary to these principles, the government tried to join a multinational military exercise [BIMSTEC drill]. These are just a few examples.
In terms of governance too, the people’s long cherished dream for good governance, effective governance, effective national security, social security, mobilisation of human resource according to the need of the country, are yet to be materialised. Therefore, when we look at the government’s performance in terms of foreign policy, economic progress, social integrity, and driving the country with new spirit, further appraisal is required.
What are your views on the burning issue of Kalapani?
The constitution directs the state and the government to pursue independent foreign policy based on the principles of the UN charters, Panchasheel and non-alignment. The thundering mandate in general elections means we have to come out of all those unequal treaties signed by autocratic and feudal rulers in the past to serve their vested interests. Secondly, the government should strictly adhere to foreign policy based on sovereign equality. Third, the state or the government should come forward to defend its territorial integrity. It not only relates to the western Nepali territory of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani, but it is also related to territories encroached upon in other parts of the country. The Treaty of Sugauli and subsequent understandings and treaties and practices clearly state those territories, ipso facto, are Nepali territories.
The government should be diplomatically proactive to carry out dialogue with India both at political and diplomatic levels, including at the prime minister’s level. India might not be ready for talks because it has stationed its armed personnel at Kalapani, but Nepal must be proactive and furnish historical documents, agreements, facts and figures that prove Nepal’s ownership of that territory. The government has unprecedented support from the people, including from opposition parties. The NCP commands nearly two-thirds majority at the centre and leads six out of seven provincial governments. So it is an unprecedented historic opportunity for the party, the government and especially for the prime minister. This opportunity should be actively, meticulously and proactively utilised.
Also, historical documents, agreement and practice show that Lipulekh is not a tri-junction between Nepal, China and India. Lipulekh entirely belongs to Nepal. Therefore, the government’s stand to oppose the agreement between India and China is correct. Our friendly countries should recognise historical facts and respect Nepal’s territorial integrity.
A version of this article appears in print on November 18, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.