Once a strong and important leader of the Nepali Congress and a confidante of late Girija Prasad Koirala, former home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula has not been that visible in terms of his role in the party lately. Together with Koirala, Sitaula played an important role in bringing Maoist rebels to peaceful politics. Today, Sitaula leads a ‘third front’ in the party after the establishment faction led by NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba and the rival faction led by senior NC leader Ramchandra Paudel. Sitaula was lately in the news after Deuba and Paudel agreed on membership sharing in the party’s Central Work Execution Committee and other bodies ‘sidelining’ Sitaula. This was followed by Sitaula’s strong criticism of the leadership. Roshan S Nepal of The Himalayan Times caught up with Sitaula to talk about his role in the party, factionalism in the NC, the party’s failure to play an effective role as opposition and the government’s performance. Excerpts:
How do you evaluate the government’s performance?
The government is working in a conventional way. The constitution brought a new federal structure. But there’s no coordination between federal and provincial governments. Provincial governments have expressed displeasure at the centre’s reluctance to share powers even though both the federal and provincial governments are led or supported by the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). If you evaluate the performance of provincial governments, it’s zero. Local governments, very important bodies in terms of financial resource mobilisation, too have not been able to work as expected.
The government has flouted the constitution. Both the speaker and deputy speaker are from the same party against the constitutional provision. The Constitutional Council decides on appointment of members of constitutional bodies in the absence of leader of the opposition, which again violates the constitution. The government has been making moves, including enactment of laws, aimed at curtailing press freedom guaranteed by the constitution. It is making indirect interventions in the judiciary. The police administration and bureaucracy have been completely politicised. In terms of development, thousands of central projects implemented before formation of this government are in limbo.
The constitution guarantees fundamental rights such as right to housing, right to education, right to medical treatment and right to employment and so on, but there has been no improvement in the lives of people. Farmers and labourers are facing more hardships because of exorbitant taxes levied by the federal, provincial and local governments. Inflation has shot up drastically.
In terms of law and order situation, the government has failed to ensure peace and security even though there’s no major political conflict in the country. In terms of foreign relations, there’s unpredictability. The government and ruling party is in deep confusion. In a nutshell, the government is headed towards failure.
As you just said the government is flouting the constitution and not working for the people. But it is also true that the NC has also failed to play the role of a responsible opposition. As a result of the NC’s lacklustre performance as opposition and internal feuds, there’s a general understanding that the NCP will rule the country for more than a few terms. What’s your take on this?
The government is losing people’s support because of things I’ve mentioned above. The government is not on track to winning the next election. Since the government still has four years, it can make corrections and work for the people to win back their faith. But this is yet to be seen.
As far as the NC’s role as opposition is concerned, it’s true we have not been able to play our role effectively. In the Parliament for example, the NC has accepted both speaker and deputy speaker from the ruling NCP, which is against the constitutional provision. The NC’s leader in the Parliament Sher Bahadur Deuba has not been able to raise and oppose the issue of appointments in constitutional bodies strongly due to his absence. Direct violation of the constitution is not a small issue. The NC should have taken to the streets with these issues. The NC should have strongly opposed politicisation of the police and bureaucracy. Lives of people, including labourers and farmers, have become miserable, but the NC has failed to mobilise its organisations and run a campaign.
The NC has failed to get out of that defeated mentality after the election rout and work for the people to ensure victory next time.
So why has the NC failed to play the role of a responsible opposition?
The party president and office bearers should accept this reality. They should also realise their mistakes. But they have not been able to do so. I have raised all these issues in the central working committee as well as with top leaders.
The party president’s absence in Constitutional Council meetings while making crucial appointments has fuelled speculation that the NC leadership is bargaining with the government on political appointments. Also, the party president’s unpredictable statements, especially on the government’s agreement with CK Raut, have further fuelled this speculation. What’s your take?
I agree such speculations are being made. But they are not true. The NC will play its role in the Constitutional Council. The party’s leader should compulsorily attend the meetings. The NC does not bargain with the ruling NCP on any power sharing deal. But what’s also true is activities and comments of the party president have resulted in some ups and downs. We do not have any option but to bear the brunt of those ups and downs.
The NC CWC recently decided against the mandate of the party’s lawmaking body Maha Samiti — central leaders should be elected from the booth and PR candidates should not be repeated — despite commitments from Deuba and Paudel. Observers say this was a result of factionalism. How do you see this?
It was an absolutely wrong decision, all the more so because the leadership had made commitment. The CWC is under the Maha Samiti, which is the party’s second highest body after the General Convention. We should have respected the Maha Samiti’s conclusion, but it was rejected on the basis of majority. This set a wrong precedent.
How can the NC come out of this mess resulting from factionalism?
The solutions are strengthening of sister and well-wisher organisations and developing internal democratic practice. If the NC fails to maintain internal democracy, it cannot protect democracy.
What is true is that the leadership, or the party president, should make efforts to address all these concerns. If the president realises this, the party will be strengthened. We’ve been repeatedly telling the president to take all the leaders into confidence and not become leader of a faction. But he has failed to do so. In fact, the prime minister is only working for his party, not for the people. This has resulted in the country heading towards misery. The leader of the opposition working only for his faction has also thrown the NC into this mess.
You played a crucial role in bringing Maoist rebels to peaceful politics. But your role is not that visible lately. Why?
A leader’s role in the party depends on their post or assigned responsibilities. Presently, I neither hold any post nor have I been assigned any responsibility, except those that I feel are my responsibility in my personal capacity. So it is natural that my role is not visible.
Initially you represented the Koirala camp. But in the 13th General Convention, you supported Deuba. You then got close to senior NC leader Ramchandra Paudel to gang up against Deuba, but that too did not work. Why this unpredictability?
Nobody should be a blind supporter in politics. I worked under the leadership of GP Koirala because I agreed on issues, including federalism and peace process that he took up. Even when Sushil Koirala was the party president, I agreed on the issue of constitution promulgation.
But reaching the 13th General Convention, I felt Deuba and Paudel lacked that ability to lead the party. So I filed candidacy for the post of party president just to disseminate that message. I did not have a big team then. After the first round of elections, I got out of the race. In the second round, Deuba got a huge chunk of votes that I would have got because he was winning. Even after that, Deuba had my support on many occasions such as elections in sister organisations.
But in the general elections last year, the way Deuba and Paudel worked, especially in distribution of tickets and finalisation of proportional representation candidates, I felt strongly that Deuba and Paudel would not be able to lead the party.
Recently, there were reports in the press speculating which camp Sitaula belonged to — Deuba or Paudel. I do not belong to any camp, but the NC. Leaders should be assigned responsibilities on the basis of necessity and rationale. In some areas, the youths are more capable than seniors.
I believe politics should be done on the basis of ideology, policy and programmes. If a person I supported yesterday commits a mistake today, I need to oppose that. Politics should be done for the nation and people, not for personal interests. All the anomalies in the country are result of politics driven by selfish motive.
With the next General Convention just over a year away, leaders eyeing top posts have intensified tours and rallies. However, you’ve not been that visible. Observers say the Sitaula camp can only make winners or losers, but is not strong enough to win itself. What’s your take on this?
Nobody has been touring for the upcoming General Convention because it is not the right time. One year of Deuba’s tenure still remains and he can extend it by one more year. The General Convention date is generally announced at least five months ahead. Only after the announcement, are strategies made as per the situation and equations of the time. As per my observation, competition in the upcoming General Convention will be no different than in the last General Convention. (There was a three-way race for party presidency between Deuba, Paudel and Sitaula) But the competition will certainly be much stronger. I do not see new players coming in.
Some responsible NC leaders like Shashank Koirala are openly advocating a Hindu state. Is it an indication that the NC is gradually drifting towards the right side of the political spectrum just for want of supporters as the communists have encroached upon the NC’s position of democratic socialism?
There’s a risk of national politics drifting towards extremism. Both ultra-leftists and ultra-rightists are trying to come up.
None of these leanings are going to strengthen Nepal or provide stability. We’ve reached here adopting nationalism, democracy and socialism. The country can be taken forward through federal democratic republic and parliamentary system of governance, which are the main features of the constitution. We need to take the country ahead by remaining within these boundaries.
As far as Shashank Koirala’s comments are concerned, he has not brought up such issues in the CWC or Maha Samiti. I do not know what he says in the public. The NC will never adopt any rightist or extremist ideology.
A version of this article appears in print on April 15, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.