The announcement of electoral alliance, and an eventual merger, between CPN-UML, CPN (Maoist Center) and Naya Shakti Nepal promises to bring a sea change to Nepali politics. How did this sudden alliance become possible? How will it impact national politics? And what will be its major agendas? Former Prime Minister and coordinator of Naya Shakti Party Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai, shared his insights with Subhash Ghimire, Gunaraj Luitel and Mahabir Paudyal on Wednesday morning.
The alliance and the proposed left unity came as a complete surprise. How did this become possible?
First of all, the alliance that we declared on Tuesday evening as well as the proposed unity among left parties, was not sudden. We had been doing homework for it for a long time. After we promulgated the constitution in September, 2015 the national agenda changed. Our national agenda today is peace, prosperity and equality for which political stability is a prerequisite. But the kind of system of government we have does not help us with this goal. So a kind of polarization, unity or alliance among like-minded forces was inevitable. Personally, I was in favor of this kind of alliance right after constitution promulgation. Tuesday’s declaration is the result of the same.
The election of provincial assemblies and national parliament are going to guide national politics for years to come. This is also going to be crucial in ensuring political stability and economic development that we have been aspiring for. Top leaders of three parties had identified this need much earlier. Like I said I had been pushing for this kind of polarization since constitution promulgation but this did not materialize for various reasons. It was possible now because we all realized it was high time.
Your rejoining the communist bandwagon was rather unexpected. Didn’t you sever your ties with communism when you left the Maoist party and formed Naya Shakti? What brought you back into the communist fold?
We have differences over party name. I have always argued for a strong left-leaning socialist democratic party as an alternative force. The document we issued on Tuesday was drafted in a hurry. So many may think this is the alliance only among communist forces. This is not true. Other like-minded forces can also join. On behalf of my party I had proposed that we should name it a socialist party. For the moment, we have agreed to forge alliance among like-minded forces for the upcoming elections and then to form a new political force after the election, based on this new alliance.
Some say your party faced an existential crisis without joining such a broad alliance.
We didn’t sense a danger to our existence. The real danger was that of political instability given the kind of governance system we have adopted. With the current system, no political party will be able to gather a majority to form a government that serves out its full term. So alliance between like-minded forces was necessary. That said, I am aware that many in Nepal heed conspiracy theories whenever there is a major political event. Given our geopolitical situation we tend to point to north and south to justify and explain the political development. But in this case, there was no pressure from any foreign force.
Leftist parties used to talk about unity and alliance on election eve in the past as well but this had never materialized. How do you ensure that this unity will last?
It is normal for political parties to have internal differences. But we can move forward only when we resolve those differences and establish a common meeting point. Politics is all about differences. But there is a realization among all forces in this alliance that we need to stand together to reorient politics towards development and prosperity, national independence, good governance and rule of law. We made this clear on Tuesday as well. I am sure that with our collective commitment, we will be able to achieve this goal. Challenges could emerge but we will and should be able to overcome them all.
With proposed merger of three communist forces, are we to assume that the politics of ideology has come to an end?
Not really. Political ideologies and principles will remain so long as humans are around. So it would not be right to say our merger marks the end of political ideology. But I would also say that Nepali society has come past the phase of political revolution. The achievements of this revolution need to be preserved and nurtured. For this we need to make development, prosperity, poverty alleviation and job creation our top priorities. Our main agenda should be to make Nepal a prosperous economy through economic and industrial revolution. For this, unity among all regions and diverse ethnic communities is a prerequisite. Equally pressing is the need to uproot corruption and ensure good governance and to properly handle our geopolitical relations. Actually, these will be the ideologies to guide our unified party.
You say the new party will be socialist. How will it be fundamentally different from Nepali Congress, which also calls itself a socialist democratic party?
After the industrial revolution, capitalism and neo-liberalism became guiding principles of political parties. This was followed by the socialist school as a means to eliminate all kinds of inequality. But in the 21st century, you cannot compartmentalize political philosophy to these two blocs. In Nepal, you will see differences between leftist forces and rightist forces. But this polarization has taken a shift now. The communists are not what they used to be. Thus you can define this new force as a leftist, progressive and forward-looking socialist force with participatory democracy and prosperous democracy as its major focus.
You were an advocate of a new alternative force. Are we to understand that this idea has become irrelevant?
By coming together, we are actually trying to form an alternative political force. This is not returning to old forces nor is it a merger among the old forces. We have risen above what we were in the past to give new alternative to people. Actually, this is the continuation of the process of creation of an alternative force. You should not see it otherwise.
Earlier you talked about changing governance system. Do you suggest that top leaders have agreed on directly elected executive?
We stand together on directly elected executive. CPN-UML has been rooting for directly elected prime minister. My party and Maoist Center are for directly elected presidential system. We will finalize this while drafting common manifesto for election. Our common stand will be directly elected executive, with main focus on development and stability.
Nepali Congress calls it an ‘unnatural alliance’ and a threat to fundamental values of democracy. How do you respond?
This is reflective of cold war era mindset. We are for prosperous, participatory and inclusive democracy. We are for a system in which people will be decisive in decision making. We are against the system which relegates people to the role of mere voters. The reaction of Nepali Congress is surprising. The NC is itself facing a deficit of internal democracy. Prosperous and inclusive democracy is not its focus. So Congress should first mend its way before labeling us a threat to democracy.
With the merger among leftist forces, what kind of changes can people expect in the days to come?
We have come together precisely to enact the changes people aspire for. The forces that believe in participatory democracy and economic wellbeing are now together for the same. If we can maintain unity, the kind of socialist democratic state that we envisioned in the constitution can be realized. Together, we can get two-thirds majority in the election, which will ensure political stability, which in turn will ensure development and prosperity. Thus this merger will be of historic import for Nepal. At the people’s level, I see excitement. They see this alliance as a precursor to stability. At the same time, there are also some misgivings among power centers. But I am confident that they too will soon understand the rationale for this alliance.
Some link this alliance with India and some do it with China. How influential were India and China in the formation of this alliance?
My 40 years of experience in Nepali politics says that domestic forces have always been decisive in triggering major political changes. But given our complex geopolitical situation, foreign forces invariably enter the scene in the last minute. This was the case in 1950, 1990 and even 2006. This gives the impression that foreign forces are decisive in our political changes. But this is an illusion. Behind every change there are domestic actors. Nepalis themselves were behind the changes of 1950, 1990 and 2006. Because foreign forces enter the scene to safeguard their interests, we tend to believe they are the ones behind the change. In case of our merger also there is no involvement of a foreign force.
With as many as five former prime ministers represented in this alliance, don’t you foresee power-sharing conflicts?
Such concerns are perfectly valid given the bad political culture that we have set. We need to develop a new system. From my side, I want to assure you that I have no ambition for any political post. My lifelong focus will be on making this campaign a success. We have to develop a system to give chance to the new generation in politics. Yes, there is this feeling among top leaders that once they have reached the post of prime minister they should not accept portfolios below that. This is feudalistic thinking. We should be ready to take up any role. At least I will not hesitate to take up any role below the prime minister even though I am a former prime minister.
Big parties often maintain silence over anti-corruption protests such as the one led by Dr Govinda KC. What will be new party’s role in corruption control?
Our economy and state system itself promotes corruption. This needs to end. As for Dr KC’s crusade against corruption, I have always sided with him. But an individual alone won’t be able to win this fight. Political parties need to stand united against corruption.
But how will it be possible when we make the president, the vice president and even the chief minister immune to prosecution?
Such provisions need to be amended. Nobody should be above the law. Transparency, rule of law and good governance should be our guiding principles.
Constitution amendment does not seem to be your priority at the moment. Has it become irrelevant now?
Not at all. We have made it clear that the constitutional issues need to be sorted along with the process of institutionalization of inclusive democracy. Amendment is necessary to bring disgruntled forces on board and to address the aspirations of Madhesis, Janajatis and women. We should not be prejudiced against anyone. To say the constitution should not be amended would be anti-democratic.
Where will Nepali people see Baburam Bhattarai in the next ten years?
I will be working to materialize the dream of national prosperity. My dream of turning Nepal into a federal democratic republic has come true. I want to see Nepal evolve into a ‘corruption, poverty and unemployment free’ country. If we can ensure political stability, this can be achieved in next 10 years.