Samajwadi Party-Nepal recently quit the Nepal Communist Party (NCP)-led government after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli refused to form a committee comprising experts to work on the constitution amendment issues proposed by SP-N Chair Upendra Yadav, who was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs when he presented the proposal. Yadav says the Oli government has failed in all aspects of governance. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times caught up with him to know his views on his experience in the NCP-led government, prospects of unity with Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal and possible impact of the RJP-N’s National Assembly poll alliance with the NCP. Excerpts:
Your party enjoyed good relations with the ruling Nepal Communist Party all these months. What went wrong with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli that you had to quit the government?
I quit the government not because our relations with the ruling NCP soured, but because the prime minister did not act fairly.
PM Oli’s actions are being criticised within his own party. NCP leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal and Bhim Rawal have been complaining that the PM has not adhered to the party’s rules and policies.
I had differences with the PM over the rules and methods of a coalition government. The PM did not show the culture of coalition government that requires the prime minister to consult the coalition partner on key political issues. The PM did not give the impression that there were two parties in the government. He took unilateral decisions without consulting us.
The government is failing in all aspects of governance. We are fighting for an inclusive democracy to enable all the marginalised and deprived communities to get their fair share in the state. The PM does not care about inclusive democracy. Building physical infrastructure in one district or one area cannot be called development of the entire nation, but the PM thinks development in some areas is development of the entire nation. There has been decrease in foreign direct investment. Investors are not investing in the country due to the PM’s flawed policy. What is more worrisome is that domestic investors also do not have confidence in the PM. As a result, they are sending millions of rupees everyday to foreign countries. All this indicates there is no environment for investment in Nepal.
As far as inclusion is concerned, even today, the government cannot get rid of the ‘one language, one costume’ ideology. Efforts are still being made to ignore the demands and grievances of Madhesi, Janajati, Muslims and women. The PM, who should try to strengthen federalism and democratic institutions and uphold the rule is acting against these norms. He is trying to infiltrate party loyalists in government institutions. Holding elections is not enough for democracy because elections are held even in autocracy.
The PM brought a bill to weaken press freedom. He also brought a bill to arbitrarily mobilise the Nepali Army. Recently, the PM brought a new bill to spy against citizens, which is against the citizens’ right to privacy. He is also indulging in a game plan to weaken federalism. The government neither enacted umbrella laws for provinces nor allowed the provincial governments to work independently.
Neighbours are suspicious of Nepal’s foreign policy. Nepal cannot play cards against any of its neighbours. This shows that the government has failed in all sectors. Our partnership could not go further for all these reasons. As we are a force that fought for democracy, change and inclusion,
we cannot remain a coalition partner when we see all the things that we fought for under threat.
We had joined the government on the condition that the constitution would be amended to address the demands of Madhesis, Tharus, Janajatis and other marginalised communities and groups. The PM, who signed a two-point agreement with us pledging to amend the constitution, backtracked on his promise and his actions indicate his desire to establish one-party rule in the country with authoritarian tendency.
What will be your role now that you have joined the opposition force?
We will play the role of a constructive opposition. The PM often gives the slogan of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’, but his actions go against his slogan. All big corruption scams whether the wide-body purchase scam, or Nepal trust land scam took place during Prime Minister Oli’s rule. Instead of controlling corruption, the PM appears to have encouraged corrupt practices.
Why did you not speak up against scams when you were in the government?
We raised these issues when we were the coalition partner, but the PM did not heed our voice.
The ruling NCP signed a two-point agreement recently to share seats in the National Assembly. Was that a trigger for your decision to exit the government?
No that deal has nothing to do with our decision to quit the government because we had been raising this issue for long. We had repeatedly said that we wouldn’t remain in the government if the constitution was not amended.
RJP-N has said that your party must quit the government if you want unity with the RJP-N. Will your party unite with the RJP-N?
We are ready to unite with the RJP-N and now that my party has quit the government, the ball is in the RJP-N’s court. Since we have exited the government, we have met the RJP-N’s precondition. Now I have to see whether or not the RJP-N leaders stick to their stance.
Media reports said in the past that most of the unity issues had already been resolved. What stopped your party from merging with the RJP-N?
Yes, most of the issues had already been resolved. Only the issue of what should be the position of some RJP-N leaders in the unified party remained. I think the issue can be easily resolved.
RJP-N has said that unity between your party and the RJP-N is a must to create an alternative democratic force. What do you have to say?
It was because of our realisation of the need to create an alternative political force that we first merged our party with Ashok Rai’s party and recently with Baburam Bhattarai’s party. We have marched ahead in that direction. Now we will see how sincere the RJP-N is about creating an alternative force.
What was your experience in Oli’s government?
We had made it very clear that we would struggle both in the government, the Parliament and the street for our cause, but we did not take the issue to the street when we were in the government. Having quit the government, we will fight for our rights from both the Parliament and the street because we need to save democracy, strengthen federalism, protect inclusion and improve the national economy.
Is your party going to talk to the RJP-N and the Nepali Congress on sharing NA seats?
We have not decided anything about it.
Is there any possibility of alliance with these two parties for NA seats?
Nothing is impossible in politics.
An RJP-N leader told me that his party decided to enter the NA poll alliance with the ruling NCP because your party was not interested in a seat sharing deal. Is that true?
No, that’s not true because we have not discussed this issue with the RJP-N yet. If the RJP-N is interested, a deal is possible. Day before yesterday, Baburam Bhattarai and I had gone to an RJP-N leader’s home to discuss party unity, but on that occasion, we did not discuss NA poll issues. It is wrong to propagate wrong message about our talks.
Will the politics in Kathmandu affect the coalition government in Province 2 where your party has formed a coalition government with the RJP-N?
We are not going to do anything to adversely affect our coalition government in Province 2. Even when we were a coalition partner in the NCP government in the past, we saved the coalition government in Province 2 and the RJP-N continues to be a partner in the provincial government. PM Oli had told me to remove RJP-N from Province 2 coalition government and to form a coalition government comprising my party and the NCP, but I rejected his proposal to save our coalition government in Province 2. I believe that the mandate of Madhes is not to form a government with the NCP. I did not go against the mandate of Madhes. Now we will have to see what the RJP-N does.
You were in the forefront of the first Madhes movement. Are you frustrated that many of the Madhes agendas that you raised remain unaddressed?
No, I am not frustrated at all. The movement has just begun. What has hitherto happened is a kind of rehearsal. The real political drama is yet to come. A political storm is yet to come.
Are you ready for street protests?
Yes, of course. We are ready to pay any price to win rights for our people. There is no alternative to constitution amendment. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether this government will amend the constitution or the next government. If this constitution is not amended, then it will impede the development of the nation because there are many issues that need to be addressed. The current judicial system is very weak and the current model of federalism is also flawed. There can be no future for federalism if provincial governments are not given the required resources and autonomy and if local governments are not brought under the jurisdiction of provincial governments. The current electoral system is very expensive and it must be changed or else no ordinary citizen can dream of contesting elections. In a multilingual country like ours, it is discrimination if only one language is made the official language. Apart from this, federalism should be linked with identity because if people’s identity is not recognised, they will be deprived of their rights and ultimately they will be stateless. For all these reasons, the constitution must be amended.
How do you view this government’s handling of foreign affairs?
The way the government is handling foreign policy undermines the country’s prestige. Recent controversy over the United States’ MCC programme is also a failure of the government. The government’s actions are making both our neighbours suspicious about our intentions. Our foreign policy should be based on non-alignment, panchasheel and the UN charter.
Will your party unite with the RJP-N?
RJP-N was ready to unite with our party, but PM Oli played a game to spoil the environment. Some leaders of the RJP-N are being misled by the prime minister.
Do you think the PM is creating rift between the SP-N and the RJP-N?
As far as our party is concerned, we were moving ahead to unite with the RJP-N even when we were a partner in the NCP-led government. The PM has been playing a game to mislead RJP-N leaders and I think RJP-N leaders should realise this and foil the PM’s game plan by uniting with the SP-N. Madhesi people want the SP-N and RJP-N to unite and both parties should respect the people’s feelings. If RJP-N leaders are sincere about unity, the two parties can merge in two days.
A version of this article appears in print on December 30, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.