The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is going through a tumultuous period due to friction between two chairpersons — Pushpa Kamal Dahal and KP Sharma Oli who is also the country’s prime minister. At the same time, there are also concerns that the government has not been able to deliver with a number of corruption scandals coming to the fore. In this context, Ram Kumar Kamat and Roshan S Nepal of The Himalayan Times caught up with NCP Spokesperson and Secretariat Member Narayan Kaji Shrestha to talk about the party’s internal issues and the government’s performance. Excerpts:
Nepal Communist Party has lately been grappling with a serious factional feud. What’s your take on this?
In a communist party, discussions get intense sometimes. Second, the transitional period for party unification is not yet over, so issues crop up every now and then.
If you want my personal view, permanent equation and factionalism will only harm a communist party. There might be some equation among leaders based on issues. Those types of equations will definitely support unification.
However, permanent factionalism will hamper unification and the overall party. Therefore, in this transitional phase, we should not organised along the lines of former CPN-UML or former CPN-MC. Or, create a new equation and move in an unhealthy way. Therefore, I do not see this as a huge issue. Consultations have, of course, intensified. We can resolve this positively. Any act that could weaken party unity will be
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli recently said a plot was being hatched to topple his government. Has the party discussed this issue?
We have discussed boosting relations between the party and the government. This means, besides following the fundamental principles and manifesto of the party, the government has to consult the party before taking any decision of national interest. On the other hand, the party should not intervene in day-to-day functioning of the government. This norm is being established.
People have given us huge mandate to institutionalise the political transformation and stability. Therefore, there will be no effort from within the party to go against the people’s mandate and topple the government or create a situation of political instability. As far as the prime minister’s statement is concerned, we have yet to discuss what he is implying.
Do you mean the relations between the government and the party is not harmonious at present?
We need to make some corrections. There’s general understanding that the party did not consult the government or the government did not consult the party on the way things should have been on certain issues. Also, the party has sensed some leaders are unnecessarily making negative comments about the government’s work. Therefore, we are trying to bring these issues under a system. We want to establish the norm that the party runs the government and the government does not run the party. This means the party will guide the government only while taking fundamental and important decisions, and will not intervene in day-to-day functioning of the government.
The party drew heavy criticism for its decision to amend the constitution to serve the personal interest of senior leader Bam Dev Gautam. What’s your take?
Gautam is a senior and experienced leader of Nepal’s communist movement. Gautam becoming the prime minister should not be a bad thing. However, I was absent in the secretariat meeting that decided to nominate Gautam to the National Assembly and form a taskforce to amend the constitution. But I have always expressed my disapproval of such decision.
It’s a mistake on Gautam’s part to publicly present constitution amendment as precondition for his nomination to the NA. The move created an opportunity for propaganda that the NCP wanted to amend the constitution to serve the interest of an individual. This actually overshadowed the larger agenda of constitution amendment. Therefore, my belief is that these two issues — Gautam’s nomination to the NA and constitution amendment — should not be taken ahead simultaneously. Nonetheless, the party has corrected the decision and scrapped the taskforce. Gautam too accepted it. However, all of us are also on the same page on the larger issue of constitution amendment.
The party has agreed that Oli will run the government for full five-year term, while Dahal will run the party. However, Dahal is apparently unhappy about the fact that he does not have full control over the party. Will this affect the government’s stability?
The party has two chairpersons, but Dahal has been made executive chairperson with the responsibility of running the party. That does not mean that Dahal will run the party alone, but the party will be run in consultation between the two chairpersons. Also, the party will be run as per collective leadership based on a system. As far as the government’s stability is concerned, we’ve decided that the Oli-led government will be in place for its full five-year term. No agreement has been reached to supersede it.
How does the party plan to go ahead with its first general convention after unification?
We have planned to conclude our general convention by mid-April 2021. We’ve focused on five aspects in the action plan for the general convention. First aspect is completing the remaining tasks of organisational unification of the party, running the party based on a system, running a campaign for cultural transformation in the party, ending factionalism, ending corruption, and ending indiscipline. Second is running a training campaign to ensure all members are clear about the party’s ideological and political line. Third is making this government successful at any cost. Fourth, we will run a drive for people’s mobilisation, and strengthen the party’s relationship with the people. Fifth, concluding the remaining tasks of the peace process, or transitional justice, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons. Therefore, we will head towards the general convention by completing these tasks. The general convention will do two major things. First is streamlining the party’s ideological and political line. Second is taking the process of restructuring and transformation of the party as a historical event in Nepal’s communist movement since 1949. As per the understanding, the general convention will be held on the basis of consensus.
Talking about the party’s ideological line, the central committee meeting recently endorsed the document that says the party will ultimately head towards communism. What does that mean?
I would like to make it clear that we do not mean we plan to establish a conventional communist political system. It is just our role model for society that the party envisions. Second, both the former CPN-UML and the CPN-MC have concluded that wherever a communist party has concluded revolution and run the government in the name of people’s democracy or socialism, the parties had weaknesses. We’ve concluded that we need to correct such weaknesses in the practice of people’s democracy. Mainly, we need to correct three aspects. First, we need to ensure people’s democracy within the party. Second, we need to guarantee freedom of speech and press. Third, people’s representation should be ensured in running the government. The communist party should only provide guidance, but the people should run the government. So the conclusion we’ve drawn is that a communist party should not be superior to everything and run the government. Therefore, the socialism we envisage will incorporate this conclusion and will be implemented. And we term this scientific socialism.
There’s general feeling among the people, and voices are also being raised from within the party that the government has not been able to perform as expected. Has the party discussed the matter?
We have determined two things as our central responsibility. First is strengthening party unity and transforming it into a unified powerful revolutionary and party. Second, is making the government successful at any cost. This means, boosting coordination between central, provincial and local governments, protecting national independence, effecting social and economic transformation, achieving prosperity with social justice, and creating a base for socialism. Therefore, all our discussions will now focus on how to make the government’s work result-oriented. It’s just been two years since the government was formed after promulgation of the constitution. We must understand and make others understand that the people’s aspirations cannot be addressed within such a short period of time. We must look at whether the government is headed towards development. That again does not mean that we are satisfied with what the government has done so far. What we need to look at is whether the government has made things possible at this point of time.
From that perspective we see some positive aspects. For example, the government has adopted right policy in terms of nationalism and has adopted independent foreign policy. The government has rejected foreign intervention. For the first time, the Nepal government has officially said all territories towards the eastern side of Limpiyadhura, including Kalapani and Lipulekh, will be reclaimed and Indian security forces stationed in the region will be sent back. For the first time in the history of Nepal, this government officially wrote to India claiming the territories. As far as development is concerned, the government has internalised the fact that development cannot head towards the right direction if we cannot take our decisions ourselves.
Second, the government has completed enacting laws to implement fundamental rights to education, health, employment, food sovereignty and shelter guaranteed by the constitution. After the full implementation of the laws, Nepali people will see qualitative change in their living standard. Third, Nepal is practising federalism for the first time. Federalism is not a simple system like centralised unitary system. There are inherent complexities in
federalism. Even in countries practising federalism for 40 to 50 years, reforms are being carried out to address contradictions cropping up. However, we have implemented federalism and there’s no looking back. The government completed financial, legal and bureaucratic management, and implemented federalism. However, there’s need to reform and further develop the system.
Fourth, the government has moved ahead setting short, mid, and long-term development goals. However, the people are concerned that the government has not done enough to address their immediate concerns. The government has completed the year of laying foundations for development. It completed another year of beginning development works. Now, it will focus on works that yield positive results.
If you ask me whether the government has any weakness, I would say the government must introspect seriously. If we introspect, we see two weaknesses. First, the government still has a lot to do to ensure good governance by effectively controlling corruption. Second and the most visible issue is dismal capital expenditure. Therefore, the government must boost its capital expenditure capacity. If these two issues are addressed, this government will be successful.
How will the party move ahead with the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact Programme after the taskforce’s recommendation that it has some provisions that would hamper the country’s independence and sovereignty?
We have not yet reached a conclusion on the MCC. The taskforce has recently submitted its report. The secretariat will soon discuss the matter and make necessary recommendation to the government. Therefore, we need to consider this as cautious consultations keeping in mind national interest and independence, and nothing else.
No matter what decision we take tomorrow, this debate definitely gives the message that Nepal is a country that keeps at centre-stage its national interest and sovereignty, and there’s awareness among politically parties, civil society and the general public of Nepal. This also sends the message that Nepal does not take decisions on anything just because a powerful country is involved or just because it is beneficial from a certain perspective.
As far as the decision on the MCC is concerned, we will take an informed and objective decision keeping at centre national interest.
As the secretariat has not discussed the matter, I cannot disclose what recommendation the taskforce has made. However, there’s general concern whether the MCC’s link with the United States-led Indo-Pacific Strategy affects Nepal’s sovereignty, or makes Nepal a playground for powerful countries’ strategic competition. Second, whether some of the MCC clauses affect Nepal’s sovereignty and dignity. Or, whether Nepal did not pay attention to such provisions while signing the MCC agreement, and that’s why such provisions should be amended. How serious these issues are will be discussed in the secretariat and a decision will be taken.
The taskforce’s coordinator Jhalanath Khanal has gone on record saying they have recommended amending the MCC pact. On the other hand, the US side, including visiting high-level officials, have conveyed amendment is not possible. How will the party move ahead?
If the secretariat, after discussing the taskforce’s report, concludes that certain MCC provisions need to be amended keeping in mind Nepal’s independence and sovereignty, we will request the US for the same. However, we are clear about one thing. We do not have any prejudice. The US is one of our friendly countries. The US has always supported Nepal’s economic development. We are thankful for that. We expect more assistance from the US.
Therefore, if the agreement has small weaknesses, we might move ahead and accept it. However, if we find that the agreement, if implemented in its present form, harms our national interest and sovereignty, our discussion aim to amend it. Therefore, we feel the US side cannot just say the agreement cannot be amended if they genuinely want to support Nepal’s development endeavours. Will saying ‘the agreement cannot be amended and Nepal should either implement the MCC in its present form or reject it’ suggest ill intention? We do not think a friendly country like the US will do such a thing. If the secretariat finds, on the basis of logic, that certain clauses in the agreement should be amended, we expect the US, from which Nepal has always enjoyed goodwill, to address our concerns. If the US side is still not ready to amend the agreement, we need to think why they are not willing.
Moreover, why should they say the agreement cannot be amendment when the matter is still under discussion? Doesn’t it suggest a move to influence the discussion? Isn’t it that they should have instead said they genuinely wanted to help Nepal, so they were ready adopt flexibility to ensure implementation of the agreement without affecting Nepal’s sovereignty and independence?
How does the party plan to take the delayed transitional justice process to its logical conclusion?
There are some challenges and complexities in taking the transitional justice process to its logical conclusion. I agree that the process has been delayed. Successive governments and political parties have to engage in self-criticism and take responsibility for the delay. I also criticise myself. Second, we will keep at centre-stage Nepal’s home-grown and unique peace process while concluding the transitional justice process. Justice will be ensured to conflict victims. The peace process will be concluded addressing concerns of the victims. The TRC and the CIEDP will work towards that end. The government and parties will work to create environment conducive for the two commissions to conduct investigations independently and fairly. The Transitional Justice Act needs to be amended as per the ruling of the Supreme Court. The amendment is under nation-wide consultation and almost completed. After the amendment, the TRC and CIEDP will complete their investigations rapidly. What we need to understand is that the major responsibility of the TRC and the CIEDP is to establish truth and forge reconciliation.
This, however, does not mean there will be blanket amnesty. It will, of course, encompass punishing those involved in grave human rights violations.
A version of this article appears in print on March 09, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.
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