Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health Upendra Yadav, also the chairperson of the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal, who joined the KP Sharma Oli-led government faces the challenge of fulfilling the party’s poll pledge of securing amendment to the constitution to address the issues of Madhesis and other marginalised communities. The Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal with which the FSF-N has formed a coalition government in Province 2 has withdrawn support to the government at the centre accusing the federal government of not doing anything to amend the constitution. Ram Kumar Kamat and Anita Shrestha of The Himalayan Times caught up with Yadav to know his views on contemporary political issues and reforms he has initiated at the Ministry of Health and Population: Excerpts:
What have you achieved thus far in the government?
The fiscal budget and government’s policy and programmes had already been passed when we joined the government. We focused on ensuring passage of 16 laws related to enjoyment of fundamental rights. The government also brought new bills to amend laws that contradicted the constitution. We have drafted a new health policy to introduce reforms in the health sector. We have initiated efforts to establish primary health centres in all rural municipalities, health posts in all the wards and five new hospitals with specialised services. The government has also initiated efforts to establish a health academy in Province 2 and upgrade the services of existing health facilities. The health sector is badly affected by budgetary and staff crunch. Hospitals do not have adequate number of doctors and nurses and equipment to deliver services. Besides, delay in adjustment of civil servants is also a problem we are coping with.
We joined the government with the main objective of ensuring amendment to the constitution. We want to empower Madhesi, Janajati, Dalits, Women and all marginalised communities, apart from strengthening federalism and the republican system. We want to institutionalise the political gains and make efforts to achieve the remaining goals. Our participation in the government has helped the country protect the federal republican order. As far as constitution amendment is concerned, our party has held talks with the prime minister on multiple occasions. He has assured amendment to the constitution, so I believe the process of amending the constitution is going on, but I cannot tell you the exact date when the constitution will be amended.
The government did not honour some of the agreements signed with the Madhesi forces in the past. Are you confident that the agreement you reached before joining the government will be honoured and the constitution will be amended?
For us, there is no option but to trust the PM and his party. We have always trusted the government, but if the government betrays us, it’s the government’s fault, not ours. The government has lost its standing nationally and internationally for failing to honour the agreements it signed with us in the past. At least, history will not blame us for not showing our willingness to seek negotiated settlement of issues. We are on the right track because we want the country to move ahead on the basis of understanding and consensus. If anybody spoils this momentum, then that party should be held responsible.
The federal government has incurred the wrath of provincial governments, including that of Province 2, for bringing a bill that proposes to curtail the powers of provinces. Why did your party not oppose the bill?
It is because of our participation in the government that the federal republican order has not been threatened. Otherwise, they might have been reversed. The forces that had not wanted republican order, federalism and inclusion emerged as a strong political force after elections. These forces have decisive powers, and therefore, they will certainly not do things to our liking. We knew the forces that did not want federal republican order in Nepal would not make honest efforts to protect these. But we should all try our best to prevent the government from reversing these things. There is no alternative to federalism. Provinces should be given all the resources and means to enable them to carry out their administration. Provinces have not been able to function properly due to lack of economic and human resources. Chief ministers have been raising these issues. What is more worrying is that a convoluted model of federalism was introduced in our constitution by creating three layers of government. Federalism means dual government with the provision of federal and provincial governments. In the true sense of federalism, local governments are under provincial governments, but we have three tiers of government now. If local governments are under the federal government, then how can provincial governments work? The thing I want to highlight here is that this convoluted model of federalism was introduced in our constitution with the motive of derailing federalism.
If provinces are to function properly, they should be given adequate economic and human resources. Local governments should also be under their jurisdiction. Inclusion is another important aspect. I believe Nepal’s future will be brighter if we make adequate provisions to ensure inclusion. In today’s context, more representation and more inclusion pave the way for better democracy. Without inclusion, there can be no democracy. In a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like ours, inclusion is a must. If there is no inclusion, the country can be called a country ruled by one community. Democracy does not just mean political freedom but also guarantee of inclusion and social justice. We will continue our struggle to achieve these goals.
At times, this government sounds arrogant about its two-thirds majority in the Parliament. Will you support the Oli-led government if it attempts to use its two-thirds majority for its partisan interest?
We have extended our support to the NCP-led government for the betterment of people and the country and we will continue to do so as long as it uses the two-thirds majority for the interest of the people and the country. We are free to take our decision if we think the government’s decision will not serve the interests of the public and the country. We cannot act like slaves by allowing the government to use our strength as it pleases.
People of Madhes had high hopes in you, but after you joined the government, they fear you will be co-opted by the government. What do you say?
I am in favour of using the government to empower marginalised communities. We are trying to formulate government policies that take into account the interests of marginalised communities. But since we do not have significant numbers in the Parliament, it is not easy for us to get these things done.
Your party, the FSF-N, and the RJP-N champion the same cause of empowerment of Madhesi and other marginalised communities. Why can’t your party unite with the RJP-N?
We have sent our invite to the RJP-N both verbally and in written form for unity talks. We are of the view that our two parties should merge and if possible other like-minded parties should also merge with us to create an alternative political force. Old political forces have failed to take the country on the new path of development and prosperity. There is need of new ideology and new thinking. Both FSF-N and RJP-N must unite to create an alternative force.
The RJP-N withdrew support to the government. Any comment on this decision?
The RJP-N is free to take this decision. It will not affect our coalition in Province 2 where we run a coalition government with the RJP-N.
How do you look at CK Raut’s 11-point agreement with the government and his decision to join mainstream politics?
I had told him several times not to give wrong slogan of a separate Madhes which he has realised after eight or nine years. It’s a kind of surrender and I give credit to Prime Minister Oli for making Raut surrender. It’s a big victory for the PM that he forced CK Raut to choose a different path. It’s a proven fact all over the world that those who harbour extreme views do not have a future. CK’s surrender shows that our party’s political line is the right path. The methods we want to use to achieve our political goals include legitimate means and people’s uprising. We want to achieve our goals in a manner that contributes to maintaining national unity and communal harmony and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Marginalised communities fear that this government with two-thirds majority in Parliament may not pay heed to their grievances. What do you say?
This government with two-thirds majority in the Parliament should use its strength to empower marginalised communities. I believe that the two–thirds majority could play a supportive role in empowering marginalised communities.
You had once said RJP-N was not a party. Do you still hold that view?
What I wanted to say was that the RJP-N was a political party that does not follow accepted norms.
Are you hopeful that merger between your party and the RJP-N will be possible?
Ninety per cent of RJP-N cadres and leaders want their party to merge with the FSF-N. They are of the view that they could move ahead only after merging with the FSF-N. RJP-N cadres and leaders often tell me that I should make efforts to unify our two parties. RJP-N leaders and cadres often remind me to make efforts to realise the goal of unity between our two parties.
RJP-N leaders often express the suspicion that you may drop RJP-N from Province 2 coalition.
No, that’s not true. For now, our coalition will continue. Status quo will be maintained in Province 2.
Will your party’s coalition last for five years in Province 2?
I am not an astrologer, but I can say we are committed to move ahead by maintaining our coalition in Province 2, but we expect the RJP-N to assist the Province 2 government in a manner that could help the government live up to the people’s expectation.
Why has your government not been able to name the province?
We have majority in Province 2, but not two-thirds majority. As per the constitutional provision, the name can be decided by the Province Assembly with two-thirds majority, which we do not have. The Nepali Congress and the NCP (NCP) whose vote could help settle the issue, have their own views on the issue. The NC says one thing and the NCP (NCP) says a totally different thing on the nomenclature issue.
Is your party doing anything to get the citizenship bill passed soon?
This bill should have been passed in the last session of the Parliament, but it could not be passed in the budget session as an attempt was made to delay enactment of the bill. Some people have discriminatory attitude on issues of citizenship. They do not want to ensure equal rights for women in matters of citizenship. These people view Madhesis with suspicion and therefore, they do not want to give Nepali citizenship to children of citizens by birth. No argument can justify denial of citizenship to children of citizens by birth. Where should the children of those parents who were born in Nepal and who have obtained Nepali citizenship go to obtain their citizenship?
What are the changes in health policy that you are trying to come up with?
The new policy deals mainly with aspects of health service, medical education and medical research and affordable care. We are also thinking of private-public partnership in the health sector. We will launch this policy soon. Health sector has currently got 4.4 per cent of the fiscal budget which is abysmally low. My effort will be to increase it to at least 10 per cent as recommended by the World Health Organisation. Only then can we meet the challenges in the health sector. Hospitals in the country face shortage of staff, doctors and equipment.
A version of this article appears in print on March 11, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.