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Baburam Bhattarai: For a 'New Nepal'

Baburam Bhattarai is senior standing committee member of the politburo of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). In the April 2008 constituent assembly election, he was elected from the Gorkha constituency-2 by an overwhelming margin. In this interview, Bhattarai stresses the need for the people to exert pressure from below, articulates the CPN(M)'s vision of a "new Nepal" and the road to that goal, and foregrounds the need for "land to the tiller" and cooperatives in the transformation of Nepali agriculture. The interview, conducted in Nepal on May 3 by Stephen Mikesell and Mary Des Chene, was originally for WORT-FM community radio, Madison, Wisconsin, United States, portions of which were broadcast on May 4.

INTERVIEW

Baburam Bhattarai: For a ‘New Nepal’

Stephen Mikesell, Mary Des Chene

reactionary backlash. Practically, we appealed to them to get prepared. And secondly, after we form the government under our leadership, then we will have to provide some immediate relief to the working class and the poor people, those

Baburam Bhattarai is senior standing committee member of the politburo of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). In the April 2008 constituent assembly election, he was elected from the Gorkha constituency-2 by an overwhelming margin. In this interview, Bhattarai stresses the need for the people to exert pressure from below, articulates the CPN(M)’s vision of a “new Nepal” and the road to that goal, and foregrounds the need for “land to the tiller” and cooperatives in the transformation of Nepali agriculture. The interview, conducted in Nepal on May 3 by Stephen Mikesell and Mary Des Chene, was originally for WORT-FM community radio, Madison, Wisconsin, United States, portions of which were broadcast on May 4.

Stephen Mikesell and Mary Des Chene (mdeschene@gmail.com) are anthropologists who study Nepal’s economy and politics.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
may 10, 2008

S
tephen Mikesell and Mary Des Chene (SM-MDC): On May Day what was the message that the party was putting to the workers? Baburam Bhattarai (BB): On the historic May Day our message to the working class was, we are making revolution in Nepal in a very indigenous way, but we have a lot of challenges to face. The reactionaries will not leave the stage of history very easily. They will put up very strong resistance, so we have to take this challenge very seriously; we have to prepare for strong resistance from the overthrown feudal and reactionary classes. This is one message we gave to the working class. And the second message was, if we have to build a new Nepal, then we will have to concentrate on making a new national unity. We need peace, stability, and progress, and for that the working class will take the lead to do away with all remnants of feudalism – feudal production relations – and develop industrial relations oriented towards socialism, which will solve the long-term demands of the working class. Those are the two messages we conveyed during the May Day programmes.

Pressure from Below

SM-MDC: What is the practical approach that you are going to use to work in that direction? BB: The first step is, though we have won the election, the reactionary classes are hatching various conspiracies, especially the imperialists. They are trying to instigate the monarchist forces and the bureaucratic bourgeois class, which is strongly aligned with the imperialists. They are instigating them not to hand over power to the Maoists. So for that we may have to go through a process of struggle, for which the working class and all the oppressed masses should be prepared. If need be, we will have to go to the street to resist this who have suffered all along, they are suffering from poverty, unemployment, and also discrimination. Families of those martyred. They are poor people. Their sons and daughters were martyred so they will need immediate relief. And there are others who disappeared, and those who were injured. That is one aspect. The other aspect is the real basic poor people, working classes, who need economic relief, immediately. So we are thinking of providing a public distribution system, a network of cooperative stores whereby we can provide basic goods to the working class and the poor people. We want to provide some fund for that. And then, for education and health. Our position has been that education, health and employment – also shelter and food security – should be the fundamental right of the masses. This we have already promised in our manifesto. And partially it has been written in the interim constitution also. So we will try to put it into practice. And for that, we will have to prepare a new budget, and appropriate new policy of the new government. The working class and the mass of the poor people should contribute to this process. They should advise our party and the future government, and they should be very vigilant to keep the government in line. If the public and the working class and the poor masses do not put pressure, then the government may not be able to move in the right direction. There are very bad historical experiences in this regard, you see. So until and unless the working class is very vigilant and exercises its power to control the government from below, there are chances of the government deviating, not implementing what it has promised during the elections.

SM-MDC: What steps are you taking to give people the means to exert that pressure from below? BB: Firstly, our party recognises that even when we participate in the government,

INTERVIEW

this government is not a fully revolutionary government, it is a transitional government. So we will have to compromise with the other classes. But we would like to take the lead. We would like to transform the state from within. For that we have to create pressure from outside. Our party’s position is that the whole leadership of the party will not join the government. One section of the leadership will join the government, and the other section of the party leadership will remain outside and continue organising and mobilising the masses. So the party will take that route. Many of us will be [in the government]. The main form of struggle will be from within the government, to make the new constitution. But another section will remain outside the government. That is why all of our central leaders did not participate in the elections. We want to organise and mobilise the masses so that they can put pressure on the government. So this is one aspect.

And we want to develop certain institutions. Though we have not found the concrete form for them yet, we have made some policy decisions. When we put forth the concept of development of democracy in the 21st century, our slogan was that the government and the party should be constantly supervised by the masses, and the masses should intervene at times if need be. This is our policy. But we have not been able to find the concrete form. What will be the way of intervening in case the government deviates? What will be the form of putting pressure, apart from public demonstrations? How will they intervene in the state system? That mechanism we are trying to work out.

SM-MDC: What about means for the masses to supervise the constituent assembly? BB: The immediate task will be to make the new constitution with the full participation of the real masses of the people in making their constitution.

SM-MDC: But there are very practical issues of organisation. All the forms of relations between the people and the constituent assembly have yet to be determined, and there is no assurance that effective mechanisms will be established.

BB: We can formulate rules and regulations. The interim constitution is quite open on that issue. We can develop some modalities whereby the committees being formed within the constituent assembly will be required to go to different places and organise mass meetings, collect the opinion of the masses. That type of mechanism will have to be developed. At least our party will propose that. … If need be there could even be a referendum on certain articles. We will try to develop a consensus even within the political parties and then, if not, we will go for a two-thirds majority, and in case needed, for certain issues, we could go for a referendum. Our approach will be to involve the maximum number of the mass of the people in the decision-making process.

Mobilising Internal Resources

SM-MDC: How are you dealing with the challenge of bringing in international capital and retaining domestic capital within the country, in a way that is in keeping with your own economic policy? BB: Our main emphasis will be mobilising internal resources. Until and unless we can mobilise internal resources, at least for basic needs, we will then always be blackmailed by the international capital. So our first priority would be to mobilise our internal resources. But even then, in the immediate sense, we will need some foreign capital. At least for long-term economic development we have to make investment in basic infrastructure, and so on, using international capital. For that we are trying to renegotiate with the international agencies. Of course they will try to put pressure. But we are already in contact with some of them. And they also have their own compulsions, you see. If they do not cooperate, they will also face the resistance of the people. They all have their strategic interests. Nepal being located in a very strategic place between China and India, and these forces, I think they have their eyes on the big markets of India and China, and if there is not a favourable situation in Nepal, they will be hurt, you see – not immediately, but in the long-term strategic sense. In that way they also have their interests in Nepal. So that, if we negotiate very carefully, though they will try to bring pressure – we know it, this is the nature of international capital, to twist the arms of the poor countries and poor people – even then, I think if we move very carefully, we can take some liberties out of that.

Workers and Economic Policy

SM-MDC: Moving back to labour issues again, how are you involving the working class and in particular your unions in the economic policy of the country? BB: Our unions are the strongest in Nepal. We came into this [peace] process two years ago. In almost all the factories and workplaces, we have organised the workers, and our trade union is the strongest in the country. Wherever there have been [union] elections, we have won almost all of them. It may sound anachronistic, but just to give you an example, in the 5-star hotels where there were elections, we won all of them. Our trade unions got strong because they bargained with the management for the rights of the workers. To increase pay and provide benefits and facilities according to law. They were not paid earlier, and they were not provided with facilities. So the management were forced to pay. And there was a lot of attraction of workers to our trade unions. But on the other side, the reactionaries are instigating the management, saying that the Maoist trade unions are putting undue pressure, so there is no conducive environment for investment, and in this way they are encouraging capital flight. Some capital has fled also, so we have to make that […].

Just the other day we were at a gathering of nationalist [capitalists] and traders and we tried to show them that our main focus right now is to do away with feudalism and do away with the feudal relations of production, and the very dependent capitalism, not national and international capitalism. So we try to distinguish between these. Firstly, we want to do away with feudalism. Then we want to develop our productive investment capital, not the very parasitic capital we have right now. This is what we call comprador and bureaucratic capitalism which does not promote production, and does not promote employment. It is only that type of

may 10, 2008

INTERVIEW
distorted, dependent capitalism, which is system a soviet formally – but in general
developing in the country that we are since most of the workers, the majority of
against. We are not against productive the workers are organised in our trade
and industrial capitalism, you know, unions, they have been able to assert their
which provides goods, provides jobs, cre position within the factories, so the man
ates value within the country, and at least agement is forced to take the working
resists the imperialist interventions within class into confidence while making big
the country. That type of national capital policy decisions. So that has been
ism we promote. We tried to convince the achieved. Not formally in the sense of a
nationalists and traders that we will cre soviet – we have not been able to organise
ate a favourable environment. as a political power in the factories. But
because of their strong presence, they
SM-MDC: What is your position on have been quite successful in exerting
Nepal’s WTO [World Trade Organisation] pressure and influencing the decision
membership in this context? There are a making within the factories.
lot of conditions within the WTO member
ship that preclude some of the things you Land to the Tiller
are saying.
BB: Yes. That problem is there. It is very SM-MDC: Most of Nepal’s workers are not
difficult to totally come out of the WTO. within the industrial or formal sector.
You cannot be within the WTO; you cannot Most of them are in the, you could say,
come out of it. That dilemma is there. peasantry. So what is the position of the
party on the peasantry and its role in the
SM-MDC: So the CPN(Maoist) does not party and in the state?
have a formal position on this issue? BB: Mostly ours is a peasant-based econ-
BB: We have not made a formal position omy, because two-thirds of the workforce
on this so far. is engaged in agriculture. So in that sense
our most important sector is the agro-
SM-MDC: Following up on the role of the nomic sector. And most of them are poor
trade unions, theoretically in communism peasants. You see the pattern of land
and socialism the working class are the holding. It is called owner-peasant. Those
rulers. So how do the trade unions insert who own less than 0.5 hectare of land,
themselves into the party policy and your around 70 per cent of the peasants own
state policy? less than 1 hectare, and around 50 per
BB: So far, our trade unions are highly cent own less than 0.5 hectare. So there is
politici sed. Our workers have very good a very small land ownership. The totally
political consciousness. When they put landless peasants are about 10-15 per cent
demands, for the most part they know of the total. We are trying to organise the
they are fighting for political and state peasants into peasant associations, and
power. We have tried to inculcate in the within the peasant associations we try to
working class that unless and until you organise the poor peasants and landless
have state power in your hands, whatever peasants separately. Also, there have
economic gains you get, you will not be been some movements, the seizing of
able to defend. It is the first thing we try to land from the feudal landlords and the
inculcate in the working class. So the trade redistribution among the peasants. That
unions are highly politically conscious. has happened.
But apart from that we have to make a bal
ance also, because if we do not make eco- SM-MDC: At the same time, now there are
nomic demands then a large section of the pressures and promises about returning
working class would not attain a very high property seized during the armed strug
level of political consciousness – they will gle, and your party has also made some
not be organised. So that balance we have [post-election] statements about carrying
to make, between political and economic through with land reform.
demands. We are trying to create a BB: Yes, this is one of the sticking points in
balance. And within the factories we try the peace process, because the landlords’
to create – though we have not called the lands were seized by the peasants during
Economic & Political Weekly may 10, 2008
EPW

the People’s War. In the peace accord, there was quite an ambiguous provision. The land which was seized unjustifiably will be returned. This is the word – “unjustifiable”, “unjustifiably”. It is very ambiguous. That is why it has not been resolved. This has been the sticking point. Our peasants are not returning the land because they think it is rightful seizure, because the landlord had in fact always seized it from the peasants, you see. So they have seized it back. This is the argument of the peasants. And on the landlord side, they would say it is the right to private property, so that is the encouragement of the democratic [bourgeois] sides. So that type of struggle is going on. But in the interim constitution we put a provision for making scientific land reform. Though we wanted to put the word “radical” or “revolutionary”, we had to compromise on the term “scientific” land reform. So there is again an ambiguity there – what do we mean by “scientific land reform”? Our interpretation is revolutionary land reform based on the principle of land to the tiller. Those who are actually tilling the land should own the land. This has been our interpretation. The other side is trying to interpret it differently. So there is also contention going on over this issue.

SM-MDC: In volume 3 of Capital, Marx made the point that if you just have straight redistribution into small plots it actually becomes a process of even more land consolidation because the small plots are facing a very concentrated capital, and it is very hard for them to survive. BB: That is why we’re trying to promote cooperatives. You see, one of our slogans has been that the small peasants should organise in cooperatives and the state should provide certain specific facilities and rights to the cooperatives. If they are working and organised in cooperatives, then they can compete, or they can at least defend themselves from the encroachment of capital, and big capital.

SM-MDC: That is an example of something that could be included in the interim constitution in some form that could have significant progressive consequences. But, as the numbers have turned out, even if all

INTERVIEW

the left forces unite, there is not quite the required two-thirds majority to pass a constitutional provision, there is about 60 per cent only. So there is a real dilemma about how the assembly can proceed in a way that will produce, even if it is a compromise, a constitution that is genuinely progressive. BB: You are very right. In fact the path will not be easy, it will be a big struggle that we will have to face for making the new constitution. That we know. But one good thing is, since we have got 37 per cent of the seats in the constituent assembly, which is more than one-third, we have the veto power, you see. They do not have two-thirds without us. At least we can resist a very reactionary constitution. If they will not allow us to form a very progressive constitution, still we can prevent them from creating a very reactionary constitution. So that will be a big stalemate. It will be difficult for us to win, but we will not lose, you see. We cannot lose. But they will not want to let us win either. That is the thing.

SM-MDC: Because you have veto power, maybe they will also be forced to give in a bit too. Though they can also play the dynamic that has been played with this past government, where stalemates and therefore continuing lack of change may then get blamed on you – I am not saying fairly so – because you are the force that is preventing a decision from being made. And those kinds of politics were played quite effectively by the king, for example, over a few years, even with these Congress governments and so on. BB: That is the thing you see, with this triangular contention in Nepal, between feudalism and monarchy, the parliamentary bourgeois forces, and the proletarian left forces. First we want to do away with feudalism and monarchy. Then the contention between the bourgeois forces and the proletarian left forces will be sharpened in the days to come. In fact we have prepared ourselves for that. In case they do not allow us to assume the leadership and implement progressive measures, then we will resist. Our main weapon will be to mobilise the masses. As I said earlier, one section of the party will constantly engage in mobilising the masses. This has been our strategy. In the central committee meeting we have decided that. We will follow a two-pronged approach. We will try to intervene maximally from within the state. We will try to lead the state. We will try to implement progressive programmes. But we know there will be a lot of resistance. To counter that, we have to mobilise and organise the masses. We have already given instructions to the party, to the lower levels, that they should organise themselves and instruct the masses. At any time they may have to come to the street and resist.

Young Communist League

SM-MDC: How are you thinking now about the role for YCL [young communist league], both in that kind of mobilising you are talking about and the kind of immediate relief you were talking about earlier in the interview, the need for really immediate relief. Do you see a role for YCL there as well? BB: The YCL will play a very important role. The reactionaries are very frightened of the YCL. They are right in that sense, because, though it is not true that they are not using any force illegally or otherwise, it is a very dedicated political force. During the election and earlier they played a very important role in organising the masses and resisting the intimidating tactics of the reactionary classes. All these years, the reactionary classes have been intimidating the poor masses of the people, not letting them vote, you see. It has happened earlier, but this time the YCL resisted that. And then the reactionaries made a big hue and cry: “The YCL intimidated!” The YCL did not intimidate, but, in fact, the YCL prevented the intimidation practised by the reactionary classes all these years, throughout history. This is known to all. So in the days to come one of the functions of the YCL will be to resist any reactionary onslaught of the feudal, and monarchist, and the reactionary classes and to defend the masses of the people. The second part will be to mobilise and engage themselves in production activities and providing relief to the masses of the people.

SM-MDC: When they are involved in production activities they could also be involved in teaching circles and teaching about the constitutional assembly. BB: Yes, yes, that is the way of thinking, we will train our YCL cadres to organise the masses, to engage in education and health service, and in construction and production activities.

SM-MDC: Is it the Congress or CPN(UML) [Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)], one of the two is setting as a condition for being part of a coalition government that the YCL be dissolved. BB: That shows their reactionary character, you see. Because all these years they have practised rigging and […]. The YCL prevented that, they know it, so that is why they are asking for that. So there is no chance of considering such a stupid and reactionary line. The YCL will defend the masses of the people. If they do not want to, then let them not join. We say, if you want to join the government, then join. We will lead the government as part of a coalition. If they are not ready for that, being the single largest party we will form the government. If they do not allow that, then we will go to the masses of the people and bring out another movement. Those are the three choices we have. But we will not compromise on basic issues. No. Because people want change, they have given us a mandate for change. If the reactionary forces do not allow us to put this mandate into practice, then we will go to the masses of the people, rather than succumbing to the pressure of the reactionaries.

Oriented towards Socialism

SM-MDC: And this mandate for change has been taking the form of the slogan of a “New Nepal”. What exactly is meant by that and how is it expected to come about? BB: Yes, “New Nepal” has been a very effective slogan given by our party during the election. “New thought and new leadership for a new Nepal”, that was our basic slogan. And I think that people took it very well, and that is why they voted for us. So by New Nepal, what we mean is,

may 10, 2008

INTERVIEW

first, politically, we want to dismantle all the feudal political, economic, social and cultural relations. That will be one aspect of New Nepal. The other aspect of New Nepal will be making drastic socioeconomic transformation in a progressive way. The one is destruction of the old, the other will be construction of the new. There will be two aspects. And our basic focus will be on economic activities: the transforming of the agriculture sector, and then developing productive forces, industrial relations, so that the workers and the youth will be provided employment. And that will create a basis for going toward socialism. Our economic slogan that we gave was: “New transitional economic policy.” That means industrial capitalism – development of industrial capitalism – oriented towards socialism. This has been our work for the interim period.

Transforming Agriculture

SM-MDC: Going back to the topic of agriculture for a moment – in your dissertation, the indicators you used for measuring development seem to be kind of mainstream indicators of fertiliser, application of machines and landholding concentration. Do you think that this is actually something that fits in Nepal? BB: No, I understand. I was forced to do this because of lack of statistical data, you see. I couldn’t manufacture my own data, I had to rely on the given data and the given framework in which it was available. Because of that constraint, I had to use those indicators. That is why I was only able to give an approximation, not real averages, but just approximations. That I mentioned in my dissertation.

SM-MDC: So now in thinking about transforming agriculture, which is one base of the economy, what kinds of things would you be concentrating on now? Say you can take power in the government and set agricultural policy, what are your top three moves? BB: Well, firstly, in the agricultural sector, we are going to change the production relations, and landholding patterns we want to change. Especially in the plain areas, landlordism is there. The absentee landlords who own land, thousands of

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
may 10, 2008

hectares of land they would own: they live in cities, they do not invest, they do not manage the production, so that way they exploit the poor peasants who till the land. The peasants are exploited and the productivity is also very low. So we want to abolish that type of absentee landlordism and enforce the principle of land to the tiller. That land which is tilled will be redistributed. So we will put a ceiling, say of some four or five hectares and above that land will be confiscated and redistributed to the peasants. So this is one aspect of land reform. The other will be that we are going to organise the poor peasants, because many of them will be very small landholders. I have already told you, less than 0.5 hectare. And they engage very much in subsistence farming. So with that individual cultivation and farming, they can never improve their economic lot. We want to organise these poor peasants into cooperatives. That is the second aspect. And thirdly, we want to modernise agriculture – mechanisation, modern irrigation, and so on.

SM-MDC: And on the question of agriculture that is focused on food security within the country versus export economy agriculture, what is your view? BB: Our emphasis will be different from the economic policy determined by the World Bank and FAO [food and agriculture organisation], which has been export-oriented, and peasants are not encouraged to produce food crops, they have been encouraged to produce cash crops for export. The dependency has been increased, the food security has decreased, so you see the food crisis increasing. This is one of the consequences of the World Bank policy – wrong policy. So we would not like to just blindly follow that policy. Firstly, the peasants’ food security will be given high priority. They should produce food and cater to the needs of the internal market. And then only, they can produce for export. So that will be our priority.

Struggle against Imperialism

SM-MDC: We know that you have to go. Is there anything you want to say to the Left in North America?

BB: You see the crisis is international in scale: there is a direct fight between the proletarian ideology and imperialist ideology. This is in the whole of this so-called globalisation. Globalisation has given this sharp class contradiction, of two classes. So North America being the centre of imperialism, the working class and Left forces there, I think they should organise themselves and the stronger the movement against imperialism there, that will be helpful for the Left and proletarian movement in the Third World countries, because the Third World countries are the most oppressed by imperialism. If there is a strong working class movement and Left movement in the imperialist countries, that will directly help the revolutionary movement in the Third World countries. That way we appeal to our friends in North America. They should sharpen their struggle against imperialism. That will help our movement in our countries.

SM-MDC: The workers there see themselves as being forced into competition with workers in third world countries because all their jobs, that is, capital, is moving to the third world and leaving them unemployed. BB: That is because of the nature of imperialism, you see. It is not the fault of the third world countries. They want to exploit the third world countries more.

SM-MDC: Exactly. They want to use these countries to weaken the workers in the ... BB: They want to use the workers of the poor countries against the workers of the rich countries. Instead of that, I think that we should have international working class solidarity, and we have to coordinate the policy against imperialism. When you do not have this political sharpness and political consciousness, the working class in the imperialist countries will think workers of the dependent countries or third world countries are their enemy, you see. Workers are not their enemy; imperialism is their enemy. So I think this consciousness should be developed among the workers of the imperialist countries.

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