Ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is facing tough times these days. While India’s claim on Nepal’s Kalapani area in its political map has triggered public outrage and pressure on the government to resolve the issue, the performance of the government has always been under question. How is the ruling NCP and the government thinking about it? What will it do? Republica’s Subhash Ghimire and Mahabir Paudyal sat down with NCP General Secretary Bishnu Poudel to discuss various political and governance issues.
India has included Nepal’s Kalapani area in its political map and there have been public protests against this move. What are your party and the government doing to solve it?
As you may already know, all historical evidences and available maps show Kalapani, Limpiadhura and Lipukeh are parts of Nepali territory. There is nothing to question who these lands belong to. They belong to Nepal. As for the question of what is the government and the ruling party doing, the government has clearly stated that they are our lands and any issues regarding the border will be resolved through diplomatic and political means. We have made our position clear on this.
No doubt this is an old issue and we have not been able to resolve this. But this time it is different. First, the whole of Nepal has stood united on this issue. Political parties, civil society and media are all clear that Kalapani area belongs to Nepal. By organizing an all-party meeting over this matter, the government has given the message that Nepal is united and that there will be no compromise in safeguarding Nepali territory. The situation is also different in the sense that we have a strong, stable government at the moment. Thus the government has a greater leverage for negotiating the issue with India. Most importantly, there is a national consensus that Kalapani area belongs to Nepal. The government is working to resolve this matter through diplomatic and political channels. It must have communicated this message to the higher political level in India. The government is collecting all facts and evidences. I am hopeful that the government will take initiatives to resolve this issue through meaningful dialogue with India.
Prime Minister took the decision to change the members of his secretariat and is apparently considering reshuffling the cabinet. How do you see this?
Secretariat is something that the PM manages according to his convenience. Regarding the government, if you evaluate its performance of the last two years, you see that the government has done well. It may not have performed up to the expectations of the general public but on the whole it has done well. I have found that Prime Minister Oli is really concerned about how to deliver to the best of his capacity and he is working accordingly. On the whole, the government’s performance is satisfactory but we won’t remain complacent. We will do even better in the days to come. This government has been elected for five years. In the last two years, it has laid the foundation for realizing the promises made in our election manifesto. By the end of the tenure, the government will be able to deliver as per the commitments made in its election manifesto.
But the overall state of the economy does not seem to be satisfactory. As a former finance minister, how do you evaluate the performance of the current finance minister?
I would say appointing Dr Yubaraj Khatiwada as the finance minister was one of the best decisions taken by the prime minister. He is the right man for the job and he has done the best from his capacity. Yes, he did not bring in populist programs but whatever policy decisions he has taken are going to benefit the people and the country in the long run. He has tried to bring the state of economy back on the right track. He has laid the foundation for stable and sustainable development for the country. Results have been coming out. Yes, there have been criticisms against him but I also see that those criticisms are also slowly turning into appreciations.
You say the economic situation is not satisfactory but look at some of the things the government did in the last couple of years. The government organized the Investment Summit. The Summit was not a mere event. It created conducive environment for foreign investment and has given the message that Nepal is the right destination for foreign investment. You do not see the results of these overnight but positive things are happening. Our economic indicators are satisfying. Let facts speak for themselves. The economy is growing at 7.1 percent. That’s no small achievement. In Doing Business Index, Nepal has enhanced its position significantly. The finance minister has taken effective initiatives for ensuring fiscal discipline as well. I see the economy going in the right direction.
You say so but the rumors are going around that Dr Khatiwada will soon be replaced. At the same time, the talks of cabinet reshuffle are also going on and you have been projected as a possible candidate.
Cabinet reshuffle is the prime minister’s jurisdiction and he has the right to change the ministers if he wishes so. As for me, my focus is on how to play effective role inside the party in the capacity of General Secretary. Current responsibility is enough for me. I have no other ambitions at the moment.
Regarding Dr Khatiwada, he is still the parliament member and his tenure has not come to an end yet. Thus the question of his replacement does not make much sense now. Besides, he is performing well. There is no need to seek for his alternative. Even when his tenure ends, the government has two options to continue him as the finance minister, if the party and the PM so wish. One option is to re-elect him in the National Assembly. The other option is to extend his position for the next six months after his tenure ends. We have constitutional and legal provisions in place for this.
Though the two communist parties merged into one two years ago, there seems to be a lot of rough patches between the two chairmen. What is the truth?
I wonder how this impression is being created outside but the truth of the matter is that chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and another chairman and Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli have had the best of the relations. Their relation is lively, deep, close and free of conflict. All the efforts to create rift between the two leaders have proved futile.
Their relation is close and lively because they are open with each other. They discuss the differences, if any, openly and resolve them. Detractors kept saying their relation is fraught but truth disproves such claims. They kept saying the relation is fraught, yet the two leaders finally came together to establish NCP, which is leading the government. Yes, they sometimes have different perspectives on certain issues but they sit together and resolve them all and reach a common ground.
The question of gentlemen’s agreement regarding who will lead the government after 2020 often surfaces. How will the party settle this issue?
Chairman Dahal has made it publicly clear that this government is going to remain for full five years and that his co-chair Oli will lead the government for the remaining three years too. There is nothing more to discuss about it.
Do you suggest that PM Oli will continue as the PM and Dahal will lead the party?
Dahal is the chairman of the party. Actually, he, together with chairman Oli, is leading the party. He has been holding meetings in that capacity. We introduced the system of two chairmen. And they are working according to this spirit.
In that case, should we understand that the government leadership will continue according to the current arrangement?
I see two kinds of concerns regarding this. There are some people who want to see the dispute and differences emerge in the party so that they can play in this dispute and put the government in difficult situation. They need to know that this is never going to happen. Another concern comes from within the party. Party cadres are concerned what will happen if this government cannot last. I would say, we do not need to worry about this too. Both the leaders are aware of the sensitivity of the matter and are capable of handling the situation wisely.
You are accused of being involved in Baluwatar land scam. What is the truth?
About Baluwatar land issue, I have spoken several times in the media and made my position clear. I do not need to speak on this subject any further.
In recent times, transitional justice has become a major concern among the international community. Why is this issue not being resolved?
Nepal’s peace process is unique and has been exemplary for the rest of the world. The government is holding dialogues with the stakeholders, including the major parties, to resolve the remaining tasks of peace process. We need to settle all the outstanding issues, including that of setting up news institutions for this, and set yet another exemplary precedence for the world. The government is sincerely working for this.
What about the outfit led by Netra Bikram Chand? What is the government doing to bring it into the negotiation table?
Now the country is run under federal republic democratic system. I wonder what Biplav’s group actually wants. Does he want to change the system? If so, what does he have in mind? Our constitutional and democratic framework allow the people to organize, register parties, take their agendas to the people and get them endorsed by the people through elections. Violence has no space in our system. Time and circumstances will ultimately bring Biplav outfit under the current constitutional and democratic framework.
The 500 million dollar MCC grants seem to be in limbo. Why did the government put the MCC process on hold?
Prime Minister himself has said that MCC will be endorsed. The coming session of the parliament will endorse it and Nepal will be able to utilize MCC grants for its development. Sometimes MCC is interpreted as the West versus China issue. This is a flawed understanding. Nepal has no enmity with any nations. Our dealings with the neighbors and friendly countries are guided by the principle of ‘amity with all, enmity with none.’ At the core of our dealings is the national interest.
In recent times, government seems to be illiberal toward freedom of expression and civil liberty. Even singers are being arrested.
The government move should be judged on the basis of whether it is legitimate or illegitimate. It should be seen through the lens of law. The government believes in the supremacy of law and democracy. The government abides by these principles.
The government may not have performed up to the expectations of general public but on the whole it has done well. But we won’t remain complacent. We will do even better in the days to come.
Dr Khatiwada is still the parliament member and his tenure has not come to an end yet. Thus the question of his replacement does not make much sense now.
Dahal and Oli have had the best of the relations. Their relation is lively, deep, close and free of conflict. All the efforts to create rift between the two have proved futile.
Chairman Dahal has made it publicly clear that this government is going to remain for full five years and that his co-chair Oli will lead the government.
Time and circumstances will ultimately bring Biplav outfit under the current constitutional and democratic framework.