‘Our allegation of totalitarianism is being proved by the government’s actions’

The main opposition party Nepali Congress has pledged to play the role of a constructive opposition, and as things stand, people wary of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP)-led government’s ‘high-handedness’ want the NC to censure the government for its ‘wrong moves.’ The NC has accused the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) government of totalitarian tilt and high-handedness in the bureaucracy drawing Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s sharp rebuke on public platform. The PM even went on to say that NC had been emaciated to such a level that its supporters would not be able to fill a larger space than Maitighar Mandala. Roshan S Nepal of The Himalayan Times caught up with NC Vice-president Bimalendra Nidhi to know how his party plans to play its role of the principal opposition in the days ahead.  Excerpts:

It is said the NC’s role as a responsible opposition has not been as effective as expected. What do you have to say?

The major role of the press as the fourth estate is to keep an eye on the government and those in power and bring to the public their weaknesses and caution them. But I see the media in Nepal is more focused on the opposition. I find this strange.

We staged protests in Kathmandu on June 19, July 21 and July 24, and nationwide protests on July 31. These protests were successful in galvanising party members. The party has also been effectively raising issues in the Parliament about the speaker and deputy speaker belonging to the same party, National Medical Education Bill, the government’s intervention in the appointment and hearing of the chief justice, deteriorating law and order situation and skyrocketing prices.

As we are active in both the Parliament and the streets in a democratic way over real issues, how can anyone say we have become weak and ineffective? On the other hand, the same commentators say the NC has lost patience and is resorting to agitation in just five to six months of government formation.

This is a flawed argument. The NC has been making people aware and cautioning the government as a responsible opposition. I would like to tell the nation and the world that whatever role the NC is currently playing is democratic and in line with parliamentary norms, peace and non-violence.

The government recently made public its five-month report card claiming that it had done some wonderful work. How do you evaluate it?

The report card has been made a laughing stock. It has nothing to do with self-evaluation because most of the projects mentioned were not started and undertaken by this government. They just completed them now. For example, some of the roads and bridges mentioned in the report card were initiated and implemented by me when I was the minister for physical infrastructure and transport in the late Sushil Koirala-led government. I had laid the foundation stone of Bardibas-Simara railway. For the Kalanki-Nagdhunga road project, I had visited Japan. None of the projects mentioned in the report card was initiated during their tenure. In fact, projects are getting delayed. The government has even failed to address project delays.

People are alleging that the NC is impatient to evaluate the government’s performance in just five to six months. But here the government itself has evaluated its works. Clearly, it’s the government that is impatient to evaluate its work, not us.

The NC accuses the government of resorting to totalitarianism, which Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli rejects, stating that he served 14 years in jail fighting for democracy. Has the NC made a mistake levelling this charge?

We have not made a mistake, rather our allegation is being proved. Totalitarianism means influencing others or institutions by abusing power with a monopolistic attitude. Totalitarianism also means centralisation of power. Totalitarianism and authoritarianism are similar. There are three autonomous and independent state organs — executive, legislature and judiciary. In a democracy, these three state organs and bodies under them operate independently and autonomously.

The Cabinet cannot take decisions related to bodies that are autonomous as per the constitution and laws. For example, the prime minister is the chancellor of Tribhuvan University, but the PM cannot take the administrative decision of the TU, he can only issue policy direction. Policy direction and executive direction are two different things.

What the government and the prime minister are doing is directing these state organs and bodies to do or not to do something, and even threatening authorities with dismissal. This is a totalitarian attitude.

The PM as chairman of the constitutional council proposed the chief justice nominee and got his own nominee rejected by the Parliamentary Hearing Committee on the basis of majority, but not facts, procedure, justification and rationale. He just wanted to prove that the government had numbers and could do whatever it wanted. In the democracy, rationale, justification and process are all important.

Similarly, the constitution has provisioned that speakers and deputy speakers of the Federal Parliament, as well as provincial assemblies, should be from different parties. But they argue they were from different parties when the elections took place and now they have already resigned from the party. This way, they are trying to interpret the constitution to suit their convenience. We saw the signs of totalitarianism from Day 1 of this government. They demanded the appointment of the prime minister before the Parliament got full shape. Elections of 165 first-past-the-post seats were completed then, not the proportional representation system. How can one predict which party will get the majority before the Parliament gets full shape?

When Sher Bahadur Deuba was prime minister he had nominated three National Assembly members as part of the election process, which the present ruling party opposed and even scrapped.

The speaker issued a ruling that the sub-judice matter of speaker and deputy speaker not be discussed in the House. This was wrong and guided by ill-intentions. If this sub-judice issue cannot be discussed in the Parliament, then how could three NA members be nominated and one of them appointed minister when there was a court case going on?

The PM orders that Sanskrit University Vice-chancellor Kul Prasad Koirala be brought to his official residence directly from the airport when he was on his way to Canada. Is this the PM’s duty? There’s a process, even if Koirala was a criminal.

So whatever the ruling parties have been doing from the Day-1 is anti-constitution, anti-democratic and totalitarian. If this is not totalitarianism, please tell us what it is. Does only the direct rule of Gyanendra qualify to be called totalitarianism? If it is so there’s no totalitarianism anywhere in this world and we should remove the word totalitarianism from the dictionary.

They have the majority does not mean they can do anything they want. They should utilise the majority they enjoy to implement good works for the people as per the priority and need of the hour. The government should now focus on formulating laws to strengthen federalism. We will always extend our support. There are provincial chief ministers and ministers. But they do not have any authority or implementing apparatus. They have just been allocated a certain budget.

Provinces should have their own security agencies, civil service, education service and health service, among others. The most important among all is security agency. If anything goes wrong or any crime is committed, the provincial government is first responsible for addressing them. But neither the provincial government has police nor intelligence agency. Why is the government not giving power to the provincial government? When we were in the government, we swiftly formulated laws to conduct elections. Why can’t this government do so even in six months? Elections alone won’t make federalism complete. So this government should now work to immediately formulate laws and hand over institutions concerned to provincial governments. The provinces should also be facilitated to formulate laws and set up institutions as per the constitutional provisions.

This ruling party has a two-thirds majority in the centre and has governments in all seven provinces, and they say the opposition is not facilitating them.

What about the issues being raised by the Madhesis and Janajatis regarding the constitution?

We will continue to raise the issue. Yes, the issues were left out at the time of constitution promulgation. At that time, if we had not promulgated the constitution after the failure of the first Constituent Assembly, the country risked being branded a failed state nationally and internationally, which could give rise to international intervention and result in serious political crisis. So the NC had assured that all the issues would be accommodated through constitution amendments. And we also amended the constitution as well. But still there are many issues yet to be incorporated, which we need to address, and we are firm about our stand.

The interesting thing is, those who were more vocal about constitution amendment and had even threatened to boycott elections, are now either supporting this government or are a part of it. They should also speak. We are ready to extend our support on this issue.

There’s a perception that this government with the two-thirds majority could last a few more terms if it did some good work and the NC could be relegated to the opposition bench for a long time. What’s your reading?

As it is said ‘morning shows the day’, there are no signs of this government going good work in the next five years. So let’s not worry.

How will the NC regain its lost ground, especially in the Madhes and hills?

We will go to the people. If a party has lost people’s support, it has to go to the people to regain lost ground. So the NC will remain with people for the next five years. The party will raise its voice in the Parliament for the people. If the government works to strengthen democracy and federalism, it will facilitate it. If the government goes against democracy and federalism, the NC will oppose in the Parliament as well as in the streets. Right now, we should not be so concerned about not being in power. This is not the first time we’ve lost. The Maoists emerged victorious in the first Constituent Assembly elections. There was a craze about Maoists who had just emerged from a ‘revolution’. After the 1990 movement, the NC garnered huge votes as it had just come from a movement after years of political struggle. Even if good work is done, people get bored and want change. This is how democracy functions.

After the second Constituent Assembly, the NC’s complete focus, time and power went to promulgation and implementation of the constitution. The NC ensured that the constitution was based on democracy, federalism, free press, socialism, open market, human rights and independent judiciary, among others. So the NC was preoccupied with forging consensus among parties on these issues and could not go to the people and address their day-to-day concerns to ensure votes for itself. The other reasons why we lost was internal betrayals and alliance between the two big communist parties. It is not that everything is lost with just one election defeat, but to win next time, we need do get out of pain, frustration and hopelessness. So the NC will go to the people for the next five years, make them aware about the government’s weaknesses and establish that the NC as the only reliable party in the country by doing things that matter most to the people.

Any comments on the government’s foreign policy?

The present rulers established themselves as nationalist leaders by opposing the southern neighbour. All of a sudden, they have forged a mysterious friendship with the south. But what is apparent is this government has realised the necessity of friendship with those against whom the ruling party had rallied previously. Now, it has concentrated all its efforts on maintaining the friendship with the south. I think this explains all.

Let’s come to the party’s internal matters. What’s happening in relation to the Maha Samiti meeting followed by general convention?

The formation of the statute drafting committee has been delayed as finalisation of members of the committee took some time. As per the statute, party President Deuba can form the committee on the basis of majority. But if he does that, the leaders will cry foul. Forging consensus obviously takes time. On top of that, instead of forging consensus on the statute drafting committee, leaders want ‘agreement in a package’, including on other issues as well. So convincing them is taking time. Yes, they have forwarded the names to be represented in the committee, but they did not make the list inclusive. So it is our duty to make the committee inclusive, which is again time-consuming. After President Deuba returns from Singapore, the committee will be formed soon.

The Maha Samiti was planned for this month, but I don’t think it’s possible. So it will probably take place next month. People might say we are trying to defer the Maha Samiti. It’s not like that. We all need it. Without Maha Samiti, the statute cannot be amended in line with the new federal set-up and new electoral constituencies. And if the statute is not amended, we cannot hold a general convention. But yes, things are getting delayed. We are trying to hold the Maha Samiti as soon as possible.

As far as the general convention is concerned, let me make it clear, the Maha Samiti is being held just to amend the party statute and nothing else. So the general convention will be held as per the amended party statute.