The main opposition Nepali Congress’ long overdue 14th General Convention is slated for 2021. However, it seems election fever has already gripped the top leaders. When our team reached his house around 8:00 am, senior NC leader Ramchandra Paudel was wrapping up his meeting with party workers. “Please ensure representation of one-third women, Dalits and marginalised communities at all levels,” he told party workers as the group was leaving. He then spent another 45 minutes with Prakash Rimal and Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times responding to questions on Congress politics, the delayed 14th Convention, government and democratic socialism — issues very close to his heart. Excerpts:
You recently issued a press release saying there was a tendency among political parties to dominate situations. What do you mean by that?
We heralded democracy after fighting a long battle, but ordinary citizens have not been able to enjoy their democratic rights because political leaders are resorting to unfair means to gain control of power. People and cadres, who should have the say in selection of the party leadership, are not in a position to make this happen. This is what I wanted to say in my press release.
Our politics is still not free from feudal culture. There is a tendency among party leaders to amass wealth and buy the loyalty of party cadres so as to remain in the party’s leadership. A political leader should remain in power only till the time people and cadres support him or her. There are two challenges before Nepali Congress: one is to rid our country of corruption; and the other is to rid our party of anomalies.
The establishment faction of your party says your faction should not create obstacles against the party’s leadership as it has the mandate to run the party.
When Sher Bahadur Deuba was elected party president, he had already served as prime minister thrice. I went to his house, congratulated him and requested him to treat all party cadres equally and give the message that he was the leader of all the party cadres and not just a leader of his loyal supporters. But that was not to be. He only protected the party’s men and women behind him.
Congress has a large number of cadres who have made sacrifices for the greater political cause, but they have been left out without any role or recognition in the party. That’s why we had to stand up in protest.
What is your assessment of the Congress president’s performance?
Instead of serving the public and winning people’s confidence by doing some good work, Deuba appears only to be concerned about consolidating his power in the party through wrong means. As the party president, Deuba had the responsibility of increasing the party’s popularity, but he failed. He must know that honesty is the most important thing and eligibility comes from honesty.
A person becomes great when one makes sacrifices. Take for example, Ganesh Man Singh. He refused to become prime minister. Girija Prasad Koirala failed to ensure the party’s majority in the mid-term election in 1994, he realised his mistakes and stepped aside and did not contest for the party’s parliamentary party leader. In the run-up to the general election in 1999, he projected Krishna Prasad Bhattarai as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. Deuba has never said such a thing. When I was the House speaker, I advised Deuba, who was the prime minister then, to deal with political parties in an institutional manner and not with any individual member of the parties’ lawmakers to lengthen his premiership.
I told him to forge alliance with either the Rastriya Prajatantra Party or the former CPN-UML for formation of a coalition government. My view was that those parties could be held responsible for keeping their members intact in their parties. I told him we should strengthen democracy by recognising the role of parties. But he ignored my advice. In an attempt to win support of individual lawmakers of various political parties, Deuba formed a jumbo Cabinet of 63 members. Not only that, he sent some lawmakers to Bangkok on luxury trips. It was because of his follies that anti-democratic forces found grounds to blast his actions for bringing anomalies in the political system. My resentment is against Deuba’s style of functioning. I have no personal grudge against him. One should own up responsibility if things go wrong.
In India, Rahul Gandhi resigned as Indian National Congress party chairperson on moral grounds after his party faced a debacle in the last general elections. Deuba is not at all ready to accept his mistakes. I do not demand that Deuba should resign from the party presidency. What I want him to do is own up responsibility and weaknesses.
You’re an advocate of democratic socialism. Can you explain?
I favour socialism that takes care of poor people. I think our party should champion the cause of justice along with the cause of freedom and democracy. We cannot merely focus on individuals in the absence of legal, economic and social justice. Socialism should ensure justice for voiceless people and it should bring economic relief to the poor.
I have had pronounced differences with my party colleagues and those who led the party’s economic policies. I am of the view that the government cannot leave everything to the private sector. I stood against privatisation of Dairy Development Corporation and Agriculture Inputs Corporation and argued that the government should run the Food Corporation. The government should always intervene in the market when there is need for it, or else there will be anarchy in the market.
Will you fight for the party’s presidency in the upcoming National Convention?
I want to see democracy realised in every aspect of our life. Democracy does not only mean conducting routine elections. It entails democratic conduct, democratic system and democratic culture. I have been in prison a number of times for a total length of 15 years for the cause of democracy. I was a prisoner of conscience. I would have been set free had I signed some document saying I would not challenge the political system of the day.
Our party is in sorry state now and we need to rescue it. If there is any party that is truly committed to democracy, it is the Nepali Congress. I am ready to do my bit to lift the party from the current morass. We fought for democracy for 70 years but our struggle to institutionalise democracy is not over yet.
In India, democracy has taken roots as a result of which India has prospered. Democracy should be stable. My effort will be to strengthen the party and if any other leader of the party can do better on this front, then I will be happy, but unless I see that, I will tell my party colleagues that I have a role to play in the party. I have been consulting party colleagues about my role in the party.
We are unhappy with the establishment faction and Deuba’s style of work. There is need for unity among us who want reform in the party. There will be one candidate for the party’s president from among us, who want reform. A large number of leaders fighting anomalies in the party should find a meeting point, and they will in the run-up to the General Convention. There will be one consensus candidate from among those who are standing up to the party leadership. Party leaders will make a concerted effort to push for reforms within the party.
How do you evaluate the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) government’s performance?
People overwhelmingly voted for the NCP, but the ruling party failed to live up to people’s expectations. Our party, which should have given people the hope that their interests would be protected, failed to do so. I am worried about making our party the centre of people’s hope. My effort will be to make people confident so that the NC will be the alternative force protecting their interests. For this, the NC leadership should be accepted by all the people and cadres. NC should emerge as an alternative force that can realise people’s dream.
What is your take on the government’s handling of foreign policy?
Communist leaders are prejudiced against the southern neighbour and are positively biased towards the northern neighbour. Communist leaders tend to support the northern neighbour without looking into the merits of issues. They cannot dissociate themselves from the northern neighbour even when there is reason for it. This means communist leaders face a conflicting situation with both the neighbours, albeit for different
reasons. Prejudiced thinking cannot build an independent foreign policy.
NC leadership has been criticised for failing to play the role of the main opposition. Is it so?
My view is that our party should challenge the government both politically and morally for failing to improve governance. We all see that the NC could not do anything from the Parliament to make the government accountable.
In the past, when I was the main opposition leader in the Parliament, I played an important role in forcing then prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to withdraw his government’s edicts related to the Pashupatinath temple. On the issue of the army chief, it was me who forced Dahal to resign from the post of prime minister.
People should evaluate whether or not a leader has fulfilled his/her responsibility properly.
You have said that Deuba has some give-and-take deal with the government. What does that mean?
I have told party leaders that Deuba might not support Pushpa Kamal Dahal and KP Sharma Oli for the post of prime minister, but on other issues, Deuba appears to have forged a give-and-take deal with Oli and Dahal and this might have weakened the party’s role. It is because of this give-and-take deal that Deuba has failed to openly criticise the government.
The former UML strongly raised the Lauda Air scandal when our party was in power, but now when the NCP is in power, we have failed to raise the issue of wide body aircraft scandal. Even in the Nepal Trust land scam case, we could not strongly raise the issues. We need to show strong moral power to criticise corruption scandals.
Doctors who were involved in Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s kidney transplant have said that the PM might be able to work as a normal healthy person only after six months. What do you have to say?
It is a pre-requisite for one to remain healthy to perform his/her duty. Our religious books say if a person is ill, he/she should not be burdened with the responsibility of performing a religious function. How can a person, who is not healthy, shoulder the responsibility of the serious tasks of the government? How can a sick person run the government from a hospital bed? The PM may require rest for six months or one year, but can the state wait that long? The functions of the state should not be halted due to the ill-health of the prime minister. The state should always be active in delivering services to citizens.
This is a question for the ruling party to decide. I personally wish the PM a quick recovery, but the ruling party must think of the impacts if the PM fails to work as a normal person for a few months. The PM may rejoin office once he fully recuperates from the medical procedure, but at present, the ruling party must think if there should be an Acting PM till the time the PM fully recuperates from surgery.
How do you rate the government’s overall performance?
This government has failed miserably on all fronts. The government has failed to identify development priorities and corruption has spurred. The government acts as if the entire country belongs to the ruling party. The government acts with partisan interests and it is misusing state resources and means in an attempt to prolong its power.
A version of this article appears in print on March 16, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.
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