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Nepal Political Diary-III

A visit to the Kathmandu valley, the political and cultural centre of Nepal after the constituent assembly elections brings the author in touch with leaders of the major political parties, public intellectuals, and the representatives of commerce and industry. This is the third and final part of the author's diary of his travels in Nepal during May.

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 200825A visit to the Kathmandu valley, the political and cultural centre of Nepal after the constituent assembly elections brings the author in touch with leaders of the major political parties, public intellectuals, and the representatives of commerce and industry. This is the third and final part of the author’s diary of his travels in Nepal during May. As we entered the Kathmandu valley and made our way into the three adjoining cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan, it was abundantly evident that we had reached the political and cultural centre of Nepal. We parked ourselves at a hotel near the historic Dar-bar Square, close to the tourist district of Thamel, as Prashant Jha, consulting edi-tor of Himal, helped fix our political itiner-ary of meetings with leading lights of the major political parties, public intellectuals and the representatives of commerce and industry. Madhesi ConcernsThe first of our series of meetings was with Upendra Yadav, chairman of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF). He gave us an overview of the “discrimination” faced by the Madhesis owing to “Pahadi racism”, as he put it. Reeling off statistics about Madhesi under-representation in Nepal’s politico-economic-administrative structure, he made a case for a single autonomous state to be carved out of the Terai region and “self rule” that would help address the concerns of the Madhesis. When reminded that the Tharus and other sections of the inner and outer Terai had reservations about a single Madhes state, Yadav was dismissive; according to him, thiswaspartof a “conspiracy to divide Madhes”. It “was in the Tharus’ interest to have a separate Madhes and they were misled by the Maoists during the elections”, he argued. On the caste question and the question of radical land reform Yadav was eva-sive, saying that social and economic transformation was secondary to the ushering in of a truly federal structure. Indeed, he did not believe that the Maoist model of economic redistribution was necessary in the Terai; all that was required was the infusion of investment and scientific inputs in agriculture. Yadav scoffed at the allegation that India had a role to play in stoking the Madhesi identity issue, saying that India had always sided with the Nepali ruling classes of pahadi origins. Regarding the Terai Madhesi Loktantrik Party (TMLP), the other Madhesi outfit that had done quite well in the constituent assembly elections, we were told that the TMLP was dominated by an upper caste leadership in contrast to the backward caste dominated MJF. But clearly, the strong performance of the Madhesi par-ties had ensured that the issue of identity and representation was going to be high on the agenda of the deliberations in the constituent assembly. The Maoists in par-ticular had a federal model of autonomy that addressed headlong the questions of ethnicity and representation as well as redistribution. Leading Figure of the CPN(M) In the immediate, what kind of political and economic system did the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [CPN(M)] have in mind for the republic of Nepal? A two-hour conversation with Baburam Bhatta-rai, senior standing committee member of the politburo of the party helped clarify what the Maoists had in mind on the po-litical and economic fronts. We started our conversation with Bhattarai on the Maoist handling of the identity issue. Bhattarai felt that by taking up the cause of the janajatis and the dalits, the Maoists had won their staunch support, in the process empow-ering them in the course of the political struggle. On being asked as to why the Madhesi parties had halted the sweep of Maoist forces in many parts of the Terai, he mentioned that the people’s war was concentrated in the hills; it will take the Maoists some time to con-solidate their presence in the Terai. The Maoists had articulated the issue of representation for the Madhesis along with radical social and agrarian reform and that was why the underprivileged such as the dalits and the landless had voted for them, even in the Terai. The Madhesi parties were particularly strong in one area of the Terai, Bhojpura, con-tiguous with the Bhojpuri-speaking parts of Bihar in India, but he was confident of “politically addressing the concerns of these people and winning them over”. Email: srini@epw.inNepal Political Diary–IIIsrinivasan ramani

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COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 200827economic policies as the other main-streampoliticalparties. On the criticism that theYCL was using strong-arm tactics, he suggested that this only happened in places where the local Maoist leadership was not “mature”. Above all, Shrestha felt that a broad left unity was the need of the hour in Nepal so that a “radical constitution” can be drafted by the constituent assembly. Left Unity: Not for NowBut even as Shyam Shrestha strikes a chord for left unity, for a leading light of the CPN(UML), former general secretary, Madhav Kumar Nepal, this seems out of the question. Madhav Nepal is among the senior most communist leaders in the country and had a long tenure as general secretary of the party. In the course of the interview he gave us, he presented an elaborate overview of the left movement in Nepal. The CPN(UML)’s contribution to “people’s multiparty democracy” and their coming to power through the ballot were the party’s major accomplishments, he said. The party’s short-lived government in 1996 had undertaken a series of relief and development measures, enjoying the confidence of the people. However, an un-fortunate split in the party had paved the way for the NC to entrench itself in power again; by the time the party reunited, it was too late to capture a majority, he pointed out.As regards relations with the Maoists, he was committed to left unity in the country, but expressed deep anguish and anger against the activities of the YCL. He emphasised that despite the Maoist leadership’s repeated assurance to con-trol their young cadre, the “cult of violence” unleashed against his party could not be tolerated any more. Support for coordinated action in drafting a new constitution was contingent upon the Maoist leadership containing itsYCL cadre and this was the major sticking point in fraternal relations with the CPN(M), he argued. There were differ-ences on the issue of federalism too; the carving of the country into federated re-gions based on ethnicity alone will not serve any purpose. Socio-political con-siderations and economic viability should govern any federal restructuring, apart from ethnicity, he said. As we interacted with the people in the streets, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and others, we found that many who were formerly staunch supporters of the CPN(UML) had gravitated towards the Maoists. Despite positive memories of the short-lived CPN(UML) government in 1996, in the popular imagination, the party seemed to have lost its distinctiveness af-ter having taken a series of vacillating and conciliatory political stands during the course of the people’s war. Nepali Congress: Next GenerationWe also met the spokesperson of the NC, Minendra Rijal. Interestingly, Rijal was critical of the Koirala leadership’s inten-tion to continue in government. Rijal expressed his fears of a communist-led Nepal under the leadership of the Maoists. “We have no intention of letting Nepal become a communist state”, he said. The NC was also opposed to the in-tegration of the People’s Liberation Army with the Nepal army. Rijal’s statements clearly established that sections of the NC, given their inherent antagonism to-wards the Maoists, were bent on desta-bilising the consensual peace process.It was heartening to know that the younger generation of the NC, those who came into prominence during the jan an-dolan II of April 2006, were staunch re-publicans. One youth leader of the NC who had helped organise multiple rallies dur-ing the April movement and has been a popular campaigner since then was Gagan Thapa. We met him at a restaurant at Dar-bar Marg. Thapa had been active in stu-dent politics before his rise in prominence. He had actively campaigned during the CA elections, but was not given a ticket in the first past the post polls, only to be nomi-nated to the assembly through the propor-tional representation route. Thapa analysed the Maoist victory, say-ing how the areas which were under effec-tive Maoist control during the “people’s war” phase were literally out of bounds for the NC and how the elected representa-tives from this region had virtually neglected any mass contact with the peo-ple. It was no wonder that the Maoists had won over large sections of people who had hitherto voted for the mainstream parties. He was critical of the NC’s senior leaders who vacillated on the demand for a republic by playing “old style conservative politics”. Only a resolution supported by party mem-bers who had participated in the 2005 movement could force the leadership to ac-cept the demand for the declaration of a republic as one of the NC’s slogans. There was a debate within the party whether or not to join the new govern-ment. He was frank enough to suggest that many of the old guard in the party were afraid of coming out of government as they were apprehensive that the Maoists would replace them in dispensing “patronage” once they took over the reins of power. The Maoist leadership had the strategic acumen as well as the organisational strength to remain in power for a long time by addressing the precarious living conditions of the people, he felt. He expected theNC to eventually occupy theliberal democratic space in Nepali politics. Gagan Thapa also gave us an insight into the hold of US and Indian diplomats over Nepali polity. He was concernedabout international meddling in Nepali affairs during the constitution-making phase and asserted that the younger republican members of the NC would strive for a change in leadership and policies in the party. The Nepali BourgeoisieDuring our stay, many of the main head-lines and first page news in the major national dailies were about meetings be-tween the Maoists and the representatives of commerce and industry. The main re-frain was the assurances given by the Maoists about supporting national capital and forging public- private partnerships. We met Shekhar Golchha, executive director with Golchha organisation, a big private manufacturing and trading EPW Blog The new EPW blog feature on the web site facilitates quick comments by readers on a selection of the week's articles. Four topical articles from the current issue are posted on theEPW blog every week. All visitors to the site are encouraged to offer their comments and engage in a debate.Please visit the blog section on our web site (www.epw.in).
COMMENTARYjune 28, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly28company, the largest private employer in Nepal. We asked him about his concerns regarding the coming of a Maoist-led government to power. Golchha said that the end of the people’s war and the return to peace were positive steps. The recent verdict was for peace and he hoped that the Maoists would be able to ensure peace and stability which were necessary for business prosperity. He was under the im-pression, after talking to a section of the Maoist leadership, that labour-capital relations will be cordial once the Maoists came to power.He was welcoming of the fact that the focus of the Maoists was to protect “na-tional capital”; he wanted some amount of protection vis-a-vis foreign competition, but was also hoping for foreign investment in select areas, such as power infrastruc-ture. He was also hopeful of expansion of the basket of goods from Nepal enjoying zero customs/import duty status in India. He was not quite appreciative of proposals for free trade and a common market as he was apprehensive of a flooding of the Nepali market with Indian goods, as com-panies in India had “greater economies of scale”. He also wanted foreign direct in-vestment to be regulated and a preference for joint ventures with the participation of local firms. Our next meeting was with Sujiv Shakya, a management consultant and president of Tara Management, a managing compa-ny handling several diversified businesses in Nepal, including the hydro power sec-tor. Shakya was sceptical of the political processes in place under the leadership of the Maoists. He was against any form of patronage that was inevitably a feature of Nepali polity. He did not want any form of political interference in any industrial ac-tivity and quoted the Indian experience of the last few years (laissez faire economic reforms) to buttress his argument. He par-ticularly wanted labour reforms. The problem of implementation of big indus-trial projects was precisely due to the fact that it was difficult to underwrite such projects in times of political crisis. When we asked him about his opinion regarding the Maoists’ statements about the “devel-opment of industrial capitalism oriented towards socialism”, Shakya was dismiss-ive and said that these moves were only going to encourage “crony capitalism”. We could thus get two views from the “repre-sentatives” of capital. Towards a Vibrant Democracy We now needed to take some time off and so we headed to the landmark places, par-ticularly the Narayanhiti palace occupied by the king and the new venue for the con-stituent assembly in New Baneswor. We were particularly struck by the proximity of the Narayanhiti palace to the huge com-pound housing the United States embassy. Every political leader we talked to, every journalist who had inside information about the happenings in diplomatic circles expressed concern about interference by the Americans or the Indians as had hap-pened in the past. We were keen on travelling to the east-ern parts too, but due to lack of time as well as a travel blockade in those areas, we had to cut short our visit and return to India. We took an unconventional route to Hethouda on the east-west highway and crossed the border through Birgunj into Bihar. In our 15-day sojourn which ended on May 13, we were witness to history in the making in Nepal. Our meetings with farmers, labourers, guerrillas, industri-alists, journalists, politicians, and repre-sentatives of the civil society were richly rewarding. Nepal’s transformation into a republic had been facilitated by the com-ing together of progressives, democrats and communists and because of the peo-ples’ overwhelming support for such a cul-mination. It was the collective effort of the long suppressed citizenry that brought the monarchy down. The talk of diplomatic intrigue and in-ternational interference worried us the most. The possibility of sabotage of the process of building a radically new Nepal should not be underestimated as the coun-try is seen by imperialists as a launching pad of destabilisation strategies against its neighbours, even as the latter see Nepal through the lens of competitive geopoli-tics. There is also the presence of threats from obscurantist forces within Nepal and in India. The historic endeavour of writing a constitution for the federal democratic republic of Nepal and building a self-reli-ant industrial economy rests on the ability of the polity to maintain the bonhomie and consensus generated in the peace process. The long march to a vibrant de-mocracy in Nepal has just begun.Appan Menon Memorial Award for 2008-09 Appan Menon was a journalist who began as an agency reporter and worked in the print and finally television in its early years. Anchoring the popular weekly programme called The World This Week for NDTV he followed International news and reports through an Indian perspective. Before joining NDTV, Appan had worked for The Hindu, Frontline, The Press Trust of India and United News of India. He had also spent some time covering the United Nations HQ for Inter Press Service. The AMMT was established by his friends in 1996 soon after his untimely death on 28 June 1996. ● The Trust proposes to award a grant of Rs 1 lakh every year to professional journalists working in the area of World Affairs or Development news with an Indian perspective. Journalists from any media with 3-5 years experience can apply by submitting the following. ● A brief proposal (1000 words) stating in brief the area, issues and your particular interest. ● A brief account of the proposed use of the grant and the time frame. ● Curriculum vitae and one letter of reference. ● Samples of recent work.The selection of the proposal to be awarded for this year will be by an eminent jury. The grant will be made in September 2008. Applications should reach the address below by August 30, 2008 Managing Trustee Appan Menon Memorial Trust, N-84, Panchshila Park, New Delhi - 110017 Tel: (Off) 26491515 and 292335540 Email: kamalamenon@gmail.com

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