‘We need to be cautious of clash of big powers’ interests in Nepal’

Former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai is preparing to launch his new party — Naya Shakti Nepal — on June 12. He spoke to Ram Kumar Kamat on how he wanted to develop his party as an alternative force that can truly unify the country and take it to the level of developed nations in 25 years. He said his party would strive to achieve enhanced democracy and socialism with indigenous features and change the country’s formal democracy into a participatory democracy.  Excerpts:

When are you going to launch your party?

We are going to launch Naya Shakti Nepal on June 12 and we are planning to gather around 100,000 cadres and leaders at the Dasharath Stadium. Our politics and the process of forming a new party are different from other political parties as we are gathering a large number of supporters and leaders on its inception day.  All other political parties were created out of a limited number of supporters and leaders on the inception day. We have prepared three documents — political document, economic development and prosperity report and organisational party statute report — which we plan to send to the lowest levels of our party structures for public debate on those documents. We will not finalise those reports now. Once the debate on these documents is over, we will incorporate valuable inputs from the ground level and present it at the national convention, which will probably be held within a year, for endorsement.

We are creating a new political party to fulfill historical necessity of political change. All other political parties that were formed till now, were designed to cater to the needs of political democracy in the country. Now that phase is over with the promulgation of the new constitution, although there are some shortcomings in the constitution  as the issues of federalism, rights of minorities, women and Dalits have yet to be addressed.

What issues will your party mainly focus on?

We will mainly focus on economic revolution. We need to implement the new constitution to achieve the goal of new economic revolution. Unless we overcome the problems of poverty and lessen foreign dependency, we cannot prevent the dangers of conflict and neither can we ward off the threat to our sovereignty. We need to focus on economic revolution for some decades. We will basically focus on economic prosperity, inclusion, participatory democracy, good governance and protection of our independence and sovereignty.

We need to be able to become a bridge between two vibrant economies — India and China. We cannot just remain as a yam between the two boulders. We need to achieve the goals of social justice and enriched socialism.

How do you look at your own political transformation?

I do not want to engage in reactive politics. Had we not fought people’s war, we would not have succeeded in abolishing monarchy and doing away with unitary state structures.   All the past constitutions were granted by the King. It was me who played the role in incorporating the demand for Constituent Assembly in the 40- point demand that I had submitted on behalf of the party to then prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. I fought within my party to establish the agenda of Constituent Assembly.

What would your party’s ideology be?

If we look at the parties that pursue democratic socialism, you will find that although they give the slogan of democratic socialism, in practice they just follow neo-liberalism. There are other forces who are supporters of state controlled socialism, but in practice they follow liberalism. I am for enhanced democracy and enhanced socialism with our own features. I want to make our formal democracy a participatory democracy.

How do you plan to achieve participatory democracy?

We need to have political stability to ensure participatory democracy for which we need to have directly elected president and inclusive parliament. In order to ensure inclusive parliament, we need to have  fully proportional electoral system which can ensure proportional representation of women, Dalits, Khas Aryas, Janajatis, Madhesis and Tharus. It is only then we can have political stability in the country.

You believed in communism all your life and now you trying to form a non-communist party. How was this possible?

Communism is a utopia. I am not against communism.  It’s a future goal. For now we have to take the benefits of democracy to the grassroots level. We have to accelerate the pace of economic development. When a country follows the path of liberalism, there is a risk of country witnessing fascist characters. Rise of Donald Trump is an example of it and we have seen that state controlled socialism too did not succeed. We want to give value to individual freedom and at the same time we want to keep in mind the welfare of society.

How will your party be different from others in terms of working style?

We will promote voluntarism. In other parties we see unemployed youths trying to use their clout to gain economic benefits through corrupt practices. We are against such practices. We will suspend our leaders or cadres if they face any corruption charge and we will remove them from the party if they are convicted of corruption by the court.

We will come up with policies that would help us remove poverty in seven years and help graduate the country from LDC status. In 15 years, we will try to take our country to middle level. In 25 years we will try to take our country to the level of developed countries. We can do this by commercialising our agriculture sector, promoting small and medium size industries and completing big infrastructure projects.

How do you evaluate other political parties?

All these political parties have the same old mentality. The Nepali Congress and the CPN- UML reluctantly accepted the new political agendas. Within the erstwhile CPN-Maoist party, it was me who made them accept the agenda of the Constituent Assembly. Mohan Baidhya still advocates for traditional socialism. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has joined the old forces. This government is a kind of Panchayat government without the King. This government is following regressive policies and therefore we want to create a new force immediately to give the country an alternative force.

Do you think you will succeed in your mission?

When I was with the UCPN-M now the CPN-M Centre, I advocated for republicanism and Constituent Assembly but they did not accept them initially. It was after a long persuasion that party leaders accepted my agenda. I am confident that my party will be the number one force in the new election because the youth generation wants change, which only our party can herald. None of the current political forces — the NC, the UML and the CPM-MC — have the agendas of truly unifying the country. The UML is just a Khas Arya male dominated party.

As far as Madhesi parties are concerned, they too are just a regional force which has sectarian agendas. We have the agenda of unifying three main groups of the country — Khas Arya, Madhesi/Tharu and Janajatis. Then we need to look at our geopolitical situation. We need to have balanced policies vis-à-vis our neighbours and external players. If we fail to have a balanced foreign policy, we will be trapped in the vortex of international politics.

China is a world power and India is also a rising power. United States of America is a waning world power which is trying to maintain its supremacy. We need to maintain a perfect balance between them.

How do you evaluate PM Oli-led government’s performance?

PM Oli-led government is a repetition of Panchayt government. PM Oli has been raising the slogan of ultra nationalism to divert people’s mind from the real issues and to mask his failures. The NC is a rudderless party.

You opposed the major parties for not addressing the demands of Madhesis and other minorities. But why did you not lend active support to the agitation launched by Madhesis and Janajatis?

I was the only Pahadi leader who went to Janakpur twice. I travelled through Postal Road from Saptari to Kapilvastu. The main objective of my tour was to ensure that they do not feel alienated. Madhesi political parties are pursuing sectarian politics. They are more concerned about their own share of power rather than raising the issues genuinely. Madhesi people want autonomy. Pahadi rulers from the hills still act as if we are not a federal country.

What are your views on Federal Alliance’s Kathmandu centric movement?

I have been saying that the marginalised communities should focus on Kathmandu centric agitation. It is good that the Madhesi parties have now joined hands with the Janajati forces but they also need to bind Khas Arya group and people from the hills  in their agitation. Unless that happens their movement will not be effective.  It is one step forward that the Madhesi forces have started their movement around Singha Durbar. If we cannot implement the new constitution, the country’s scenario could be bleak. My view is that we should focus on economic development and implementation of the constitution. We want to be a new force which can truly unify Khas Arya, Madhesi/Tharu and Janajati groups. If one community keeps maintaining its hegemony in state structures, then there will be a danger of our country facing Afghanistan like situation.

How do you view the current rift between the UML and the CPN-MC over the so called gentlemen’s agreement?

These parties are merely concerned about power. They are indulging in power game.

You seem to be emulating the  style  of Aam Admi Party of India. Do you think that this approach will help you succeed in Nepal?

AAP is basically a Delhi centric party where the party’s main agenda of governance received overwhelming support from conscious urban voters as it often happens in metropolitan cities. Urban middle class understands the issues of corruption well. We have several other issues that the voters want to be addressed. We have ethnic and gender issues to be addressed. Our youths are mainly concerned about the agenda of economic development.

How do you view Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s views about Madhes problems?

He does not seem interested in solving the Madhes problem. Our relations with India dipped due to Oli’s policies vis-à-vis the southern neighbour. I see dangers of Nepal slipping into conflict. We need to correct these deviations as soon as possible. We need to be cautious against collision of big powers’  interests in Nepal. If we cannot check collision of interests of big powers, we will face danger. Instability can invite interference from big powers. As far as China is concerned, Tibet lies on our northern border and instability in Nepal might give reason to China to be active in Nepal. Similarly, our Madhes lies on the southern border. Instability in Madhes might give India a reason the same way to be active in Nepal. We, therefore, need to ensure stability.

How do you view the current unification of Maoist parties?

Maoists were divided in small groups and now they have united but their unity does not mean anything. They are the same old people with the same old policies.

How do you view Maoists’ concerns about transitional mechanism issues?

All conflict era cases should come under the jurisdiction of Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Even the NC and the UML leaders were involved in the armed struggle. Late Girija Prasad Koirala faced plane hijacking case. At that time there was no TRC. BP too faced criminal charges. If their cases were tried under regular court, they would also have faced jail terms.