Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health and Population Upendra Yadav sprung a surprise recently when he decided to unify his party Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal with the Baburam Bhattarai-led Naya Shakti Party-Nepal against the popular expectation that such a unification would happen first with the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal. The FSF-N’s merger with NSP-N created a new party – Samajwadi Party-Nepal. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times caught up with Yadav to know his views about unification and other issues. Excerpts:
Interview with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health and Population Upendra Yadav, in Pulchowk, Lalitpur, on Saturday, May 11, 2o19. Photo: Balkrishna Thapa Chhetri/THT
Your party Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal signed a unification agreement with the Baburam Bhattarai-led Naya Shakti Party-Nepal only two days after unification talks were held between four parties, including NSP-N, Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal and Rastriya Janamukti Party. Why did you not include the RJP-N? A day before the four parties held unification talks, the FSF-N and the NSP-N had already reached tentative agreement on unification. The RJP-N could not be included in this unification process mainly because RJP-N leaders could not agree on the terms of unification on May 2 when talks were held between the four parties, and therefore, two of our parties decided to merge. You had held talks with Bhattarai two years ago, but unification was not possible then. What factor led to unification of the two parties this time? Both FSF-N and the NSP-N have identical policies as they both champion similar causes such as socialist policies and protection of identity. Besides, they are committed to the federal democratic political system. Unification between the FSF-N and NSP-N will strengthen forces pursuing the cause of inclusive democracy. The unification deal accords Bhattarai first rank in the seniority list of the unified party Samajwadi Party-Nepal and you fall in the second seniority list, What will happen to this protocol after the party’s general convention? Our unified party’s general convention will take a call on this, but I think the GC will also retain this structure on the basis of consensus. Will your party’s unification be possible with RJP-N now? Yes, that’s possible because we champion the same cause and we have similar policies. As far as minor differences are concerned, I think we can sit together and remove them. How hopeful are you about the political strength NSP-N can add to your party? There’s now no NSP-N after the merger with FSF-N. The potential for emerging as a strong force is strong. Our unification has strengthened the movement for identity, federal democratic order and fight against discrimination. How will you conduct your party’s activities to expand its base across the country in the days ahead? We will move ahead on the basis of understanding as demanded by the country’s situation. We will intensify our activities across the country. We have already decided to hold major programmes in eight places in the country. Will you reschedule the party’s general convention? Yes, we have decided to change the date of the party’s GC. We will hold GC on September 24 and 25. How will you move ahead on unification with RJP-N now? We have formed a unification team which will move ahead the dialogue process with the RJP-N. But, it takes two to tango. Do you think unification with RJP-N will happen or are there any problems that hinder unification? RJP-N has six chairpersons. When you have these many leaders in a party, they take time to forge consensus. How easy will it be for you to move ahead with your party’s politics given the fact that Bhattarai was among the leaders who signed the constitution and your party was with the Madhesi, Janajati forces that refused to sign the constitution? That phase is over now. We have entered a new phase where we need to struggle to get the constitution amended to address the concerns of Madhesis, Janajatis and other marginalised communities. I think Baburam Bhattarai’s role will be important for amending the constitution. Your party leaders had said they would serve an ultimatum to the government to amend the constitution. What is happening with regard to constitution amendment? We decided to join this government on the condition that Nepal Communist Party (NCP)-led government would amend the constitution to address the concerns of Madhesis, Janajatis and other marginalised communities. Constitution amendment is an important issue for us. This is why we requested the PM to move ahead with the process of amending the constitution and we plan to make the same request again. Will you serve an ultimatum to the PM? Our party will take a call on this. What issues do you want addressed through constitution amendment? We have the same demands that we raised when the constitution was being framed. On issues of federalism, we want 10 territorial and one non-territorial province to be carved out on the lines of the report submitted by the erstwhile State Restructuring Commission. Dalits comprise 14 per cent of the country’s population. It will be an injustice if we do not carve out a non-territorial province for them.  We want issues of forms of government, citizenship and inclusion to be addressed through constitution amendment. What are the chances of your party’s demand that Madhes areas remain with Madhes provinces being fulfilled? We will continue to raise this issue till it is resolved. We want to prepare people’s opinion in favour of this demand. Given the changed political scenario, do you think your party will be able to achieve these things? The forces that championed the cause of change have succeeded thus far in bringing the desired results through political movements. We overthrew the partyless Panchayat system and restored democracy. We established republican order and federal system and we achieved all these things through political movements. All the changes in Nepal were brought about through political movements till now. When do you think the parties that championed these issues will be able to achieve these goals? I think a party that champions the cause of change should not follow any timeline. It depends on the situation. Sometimes when the situation is adverse, change-seeking forces will have to wait longer to achieve their goals. But I don’t think any society can remain stagnant. We will definitely achieve the goals of change even if we have to fight a long battle. But if you look at the political character of our country, major changes have been brought every decade or so in the country. The future belongs to the people, particularly Madhesis, Janajatis and other marginalised communities, not feudal forces. When people are on the street, society moves ahead as it creates momentum for change. How do you evaluate your partnership in the NCP-led government? We are in the government to assist. The major responsibilities lie with the NCP (NCP). Its leader KP Sharma Oli is the main driver of the vehicle. We are assisting him with his decision to negotiate the curve on the road. One of the major criticisms this government faces is that it wants to curtail press freedom and it is not tolerant towards opposition parties. What do you say? The government has no intention to curtail press freedom. When I say this, I also want to highlight the fact that we should also make the press accountable to the nation and people. We want to enhance the dignity of the press as we try to uphold press freedom. The press plays an important role in democracy. There is no harm if the government makes efforts to render the press’ role more effective and dignified The government registered a new Media Council Bill in the Upper House which stakeholders, including the Federation of Nepali Journalists, are opposing. What do you say on this? In democracy, it is natural that some will support some initiatives while others oppose them. That’s the beauty of democracy. Differences should be removed after holding talks with stakeholders. I am confident that a negotiated settlement will be reached. No resentment should be ignored. Both you and Bhattarai support the presidential form of government. Do you think you will be able to make this a reality given the fact that forces opposed to this provision have overwhelming majority in the Parliament? There is no alternative to the presidential form of government because basically we have practised Parliamentary form of government post-1950 till this hour. Upon careful analysis we find that this system of governance has failed to yield desired results. Neither has the parliamentary form ensured political stability in the country, nor has it helped the government achieve the goals of development and prosperity. Not only that, this system also failed to reflect the diversity of the country. Thus this system has failed in our country. There are countries that have adopted presidential system of government after the parliamentary form failed to bring the desired results. When the president is directly elected by the people and Parliament has representatives elected through the PR system, political stability will be ensured and the government will be able to bring development and prosperity. An inclusive Parliament can also address the question of diversity. Therefore, a change in the system of governance is a must. Recently, NCP Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal warned the government in Province 2 saying his party could change the government there anytime. Dahal also spoke of problems of corruption in Province 2. How do you react to this? If he wants to change the government there, he is free to do so. What is he waiting for? Is there a problem of misrule in Province 2? If there is any problem in Province 2, the federal government is responsible for it because provinces have neither the required resources nor the full authority to govern. What problems do you think impede development in Province 2? The federal government ties the legs of the provinces and tells them to run. How can you run when your legs are tied? Province 2 government does not have enough financial and human resources to carry out its activities. Province 2 is no different from other provinces. All the provinces are facing similar problems.