Former Prime Minister and Chairman of Nepal Samajbadi Party Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, who was elected three times from Gorkha as a lawmaker, did not contest the election this time. Instead, he left his constituency for Chairman of the CPN (Maoist Center) Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’.
Although he did not take part in the elections with the plan of not doing 'power-oriented politics', he is still active in building an alternative political force. Fed up with the power-oriented character of political parties following the general election-2022, he claims that alternative politics has increased.
Against this backdrop, Nepalkhabar talked to Dr. Bhattarai for his views on the current political issues, recently. Excerpts:
Whether it's through social media or face-to-face meetings, you're a leader who constantly interacts with people. What has been the public's response to the political situation since the General Election-2022?
The alliance-making and breaking-up in this three-months’ period does not bode well. Also, our electoral system has not given majority to anyone for a political stability. At such a time, the parties had to form a coalition before the election and work for a full term based on a certain program. However, the coalition breakdown within three months has sent a very wrong message. I have found that people are very disappointed by this.
Why did this happen, is it an internal-political reason or an external reason?
When the revolutionary movement is on the rise, not only political party leaders and workers, but also people's consciousness is at a high level. Now, the political movement is on the decline, everything is gone. The main reason for this is that the leaders involved in the political movement yesterday did not have the kind of foresight that they should have had, protecting the achievements and making a solid plan to steering the country in the direction of good governance and prosperity. I think, this problem has arisen because of their attitude to attain power by hook or crook.
What kind of political and economic crisis can this political instability cause?
Our problem is a long transition period. After the constitution was issued by the Constituent Assembly in 2072, we had roughly completed the political transition period, and we should have made a concrete plan for economic and social transformation and moved forward, accordingly. However, the political leadership lacked that kind of foresight and political vision.
The form of government and election system we adopted did not give absolute majority to any party. Due to this, it was a compelling situation to build an alliance. This is the reason for the first election (2074) to form a coalition. But the alliance collapsed in the middle due to the clash of egos of the main leaders.
After learning from it, this time before the elections, we should have gone in a new way. However, this time, too, the same thing happened again. It took three years for the alliance to collapse after 2074 BS. Now, it broke in three months. What this shows is that our political leadership has not learned its lesson, it has not become responsible towards the country and the people. It only exacerbates the situation further.
If there was an executive president, wouldn't this problem occur?
Would not come. When the direct executive president is elected, there will be about 20 million voters out of a population of 30 million. About one and a half million of them will cast votes. The laws of statistics also say that a person chosen by one and a half million voters will be a better person. Therefore, better people would come than the people we have now.
Our political situation is becoming chaotic like before Kotparva!
In history, internal and external forces are constantly in play. After the campaign of state expansion in Nepal, that is, after the Sugauli Treaty, the quarrel started between the clans. That politics led to extreme instability. Hence, the backward and highly autocratic Rana rule emerged.
After two hundred years, the level of consciousness of the present people is much higher. After such a great people's war, the Constitution of the Republic was issued by the Constituent Assembly with the strength of the people's movement. After that, the political leadership had to transform itself according to the time and solve the economic and political problems of the country. However, that did not happen.
Two elections were held between these 10 years. The way power is being scattered after both the elections, this situation cannot last for a long time. A state of chaos is created in the country. The robbery at Lhotse Mall in Gongabu is an example, meaning there is dissatisfaction among the people. This is a sign that a small spark can cause a fire.
In these five years, if we do not give a stable government and necessary reforms in the political system and economic reforms, the country will plunge into a serious crisis.
Is the crisis increasing in both economic and political terms?
Financially, we are in dire straits. We are among the poorest countries in the world. Due to unemployment, six to eight million people of the country are forced to migrate abroad. The education sector has fallen flat, even the students studying Plus 2 do not live in the country now. No industries have been opened to create jobs. There is a situation where we have to get food from abroad, including agriculture. Our trade deficit is increasing daily.
Under these circumstances, we all have to stand united and move together. Congress is a bit older, UML came after Congress, then Maoist Center. Next we are alternative forces.
My proposal was to build a national government in these five years. Five years mean 60 months. During this period, Congress, UML, and Maoists can lead for 20 months each. For that, we should make a program at the beginning, complete the rest of the peace process under it, and make a solid plan for national policy and economic development to solve the geo-political complexities. If we make some reforms in the constitution and some reforms in the government and electoral system, we will create stability in the country. After that, I wanted the new generation to take the country forward. I also discussed this with everyone separately. However, politics did not go in that direction.
Your proposal is good. How did the political leaders react after this proposal?
My colleagues have worked hard for political change. They have served a jail-term for many years, led revolutions and wars. Therefore, it is not good for me to speak against them.
I am 69 years old. Former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is 10 years older than me. KP Sharma Oliji is also the elder. Prachandaji and I are of the same age. I want to tell them once again -- this is the last chance for our generation.
I told Deuba and Prachandaji about this separately. I did not have much communication with Oliji. However, I met him in between and communicated with him. I requested all three of them. You can also ask them about it.
I said, 'We made a constitution through the Constituent Assembly by bringing great changes in the country. This is a historical work. This is what our generation gets. But it is also appropriate for us to give stability to the country and 'groom' the new generation and transfer power to them ourselves. For that we all have to join hands. I am not a power seeker. However, we all should come together, give stability to the country and transfer power to the new generation.
I did not contest because I was not an aspirant for power. I appealed for a political solution, creating a roadmap for five years. I am also interested in finance. If you need any contribution from an ideological point of view, I am ready for that. I don't need power. However, I said that I can also help with the idea.
The situation is that the Prime Minister has been elected from the Maoist Center and the Speaker has been elected from the UML. On December 26, when Prime Minister Prachanda took the vote of confidence, the Congress also gave a vote of confidence to him. After that, Prachanda started asking for national consensus on the presidential election. Is his request the product of your suggestion, or did the prime minister talk about national consensus in the presidential election only as a ploy to cling on to power?
Don't say that he said so because of my opinion. I just suggested it.
I also told him that contesting the elections with the Congress and forming the government with the UML does not go well. The image of the Prime Minister will also not be good among the people. It conveys messages that the Prime Minister has no stand. So let's not distance ourselves from the Congress. And let's ask the Congress to vote in favor of the government.
He said you should talk too. And, I talked to my leaders from Congress. The NC, UML, Maoist Center and other forces (especially the Rastriya Swatantra Party) stand united and lead the country for the next five years. However, it did not work as planned. Again, they started bickering over the power.
Even though the bitterness and polarization between the political parties has increased over the presidential election, the situation where the Prime Minister is elected by the Maoist Center, the Speaker by the UML and the President by the Congress is being created, in terms of political balance, it is going well, isn't it?
A slim hope still exists. Given the three major parties in key positions, it is better to form a national government together. However, the national government should be based on programs and not for power-sharing. That will conclude the rest of the peace process.
There are some issues that need to be reformed in the Constitution regarding the form of governance. Those issues should be resolved through consensus, not on the basis of majority.
The geopolitical issue is getting worse. We all know the north-south-west race. All of us should make a single national policy to solve the geopolitical complexities.
In terms of economic development, a solid master plan should be prepared. For this, an Economic Development Authority created. So you have to plan ahead. If this is done, there is still a possibility that the situation will improve.
The Economic Development Authority was discussed even before the election. It seems that there has been a little conversation between the top leaders on this matter. What was the specific agreement?
Again, sadly, I have to say this - I had said this when I was called a couple of times to coalition meetings. However, they were not very interested in this matter. Later, they stopped inviting me to the alliance meeting. (Since February 24, the Nepal Samajbadi Party has also been included in the alliance, making it a nine-party alliance.) So, I don't know what they are doing lately. However, I have maintained this.
What I feel inside is that this is the way we should walk. If not, the country may slip into a political chaos. That's when alternative forces may have to lead the way.
Are there alternative forces in a position to show the way to the big parties?
This is the need of the hour. The 1990 People’s Movement had taken place just before the people’s war. After the People’s Movement, people were saying that now the problem had been solved. However, our eyes saw that the problem was not solved. We told the people about it. Then a decade-long people’s war took place.
Now people's awareness is much higher. If they spend these five years fighting like this, such an alternative power will surely emerge and it must emerge.
Rabi Lamichhane's Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), CK Raut's Janamat Party, and Resham Chaudhary's Nagarik Unmukti Party are the examples of alternative forces that emerged through the last general election.
Do you see the possibility of bringing them together by providing an ideological path under your leadership?
I have been raising two things together. One is the 'top down' approach where the country and the people feel immediate relief. The 'top-down' approach is for the old powers to reform themselves once and for all, give political stability and transform themselves. However, there is little chance of that.
When this is not possible, the second approach is bottom-up. This means that the alternative forces may reorganize themselves in a new way, find a political way to find a comprehensive solution to all economic-social-political-cultural issues nationwide.
I call on both the new and old generation friends to solve the problems of the country as alternative progressive power. Such a power is the progressive socialist democratic power. It is compatible with the geopolitical, economic and social environment of Nepal. My role lies in building such an alternative force.
However, my path now is to transform the old powers into an alternative force. I am active for that. If that does not happen, I am open to other ways of forming alternative forces from below.
The name of your party is Nepal Samajbadi Party. The Maoist Center, the Unified Socialist Party and the Janata Samajwadi Party call themselves socialist. To what extent are they socialist?
NC is a liberal democratic party. It has an ideological political international base. It can stay in Nepal for a long time. Communist parties emerged in a unique environment after World War II. They also made a good base in Nepal.
But now the world has changed. Class relations have changed in Nepal too. People will not support the communist party for more than a decade, a decade and a half, if it is to be called the communist.
Therefore, it may be a suitable option for the existing communist parties to transform themselves into a socialist power. I have also discussed this issue with UML leaders. In an informal way, they also say, ‘In the current situation, the term Marxist-Leninist does not work much.’
However, the leaders of UML, Maoist Center, and Unified Socialist have had a problem in dropping the name 'CPN'. They are afraid that if they drop the‘CPN’, the mass will go to another party.
Isn't it foolish to think that parties and leaders who have a tendency to do anything for power can be transformed into an 'alternative force'?
That's it. I think so sometimes, too. When I see them enjoying a power-to-power game, I also think, how they will be transformed!
However, the awareness level of the people is not that high. People are emotionally attached to the party, consider the election symbol as a symbol of idol. That's why a large number of people are voting for them. So, you can't be sure. But, what shall we lose if give it a try?
How optimistic are you about the youth in solving the crisis?
Hope lies with the youth. Because they are the future of the country. If more, we will live 15-20 years from now. However, today's 40 to 50-year-old youth can live another 40-50 years more. After 50 years, the world will be different. In what is being called the Asian Century, our neighborhood will be the most advanced place in the world.
Therefore, that generation must lead the country. So, they have to be trusted. I am committed to helping them. What worries me is that our youth have lost faith in Nepal. They stopped dreaming here. The young generation stopped thinking that staying in the state of Nepal will be good for them. This is a very worrying issue.
Is this because of 'globalization' or the weakness of political leadership?
Both pull and push factors play a role. Globalization will pull. It is a human tendency to go to a more developed place to make things easier. If a cow runs to a green pasture, it is natural for humans to do so. This tendency was yesterday, is today and will remain tomorrow.
Our point of reference is the push 'factor'. When you can't provide employment in the country, you don't provide quality education, you don't get a business environment here after giving a degree, if you don't get employment, people will leave their place. People from the village go to the city, people from the city go abroad. It should be reversed through interventions in some areas.
What are the areas to intervene?
I think there are two or three areas that need intervention. First, the education system should be comprehensively reformed. Quality education up to class 12 must be provided by the state to all. Dual education system needs to be avoided. Everyone should be given the same kind of quality, commercial, professional education.
The second reform should be done in the field of employment. In a country like ours, work should be done to modernize agriculture, promote small and medium businesses, and create jobs in the fields of tourism and information technology, which are of interest to the youth.
Nepal cannot compete with the non-stop goods coming from India. We also have to find a way to protect our economy. That situation has to be created. Bring investment from China and India. Produce goods and export them.
Secondly, the productivity within our country is on a small scale. It cannot compete with large economies. We have to protect to be competitive. If we adopt this method, employment environment will be created.
If employment opportunities and quality education are provided, the youth will stay in their own country. We have to work by keeping these things on top priority.
Three alliances were formed in three months. It can, in general, be said that the answer is 'because of power-hungry attitude of t politicians'. However, what was the main reason for the breakup of the Democratic Left Alliance formed on December 25?
A lot has happened. The visible aspect is the power-desire of the party leaders. The invisible side is our complex geopolitics. During a major revolutionary upheaval or national unification campaign, internal momentum is dominant. The internal dimension reigns supreme. When peace resumes, external dynamics dominate more than internal ones. As resumed following the Sugauli Treaty, the influence of external powers gradually increased.
After the peace process started following the promulgation of the Constitution through the Constituent Assembly in Nepal, geopolitical and external forces are gradually increasing. Therefore, it is understood that external forces are involved in the current political scenario.
Does external power play a role in breaking up the alliance?
Of course! Big countries are doing this. Look at America! If you look at Europe, you see the same. No different case in Africa, too. This has been happening to us for a long time. As the tripartite interests of America, India, and China are growing in this region, its impact will automatically increase here.
Presidential election is taking place. However, some of the practices carried out by the past two presidents did not seem conducive to official responsibility. What do you suggest to be done among the political parties to make this position more dignified after the next election?
The President envisioned by the current Constitution is the 'Ceremonial President'. There is nothing in the Constitution that the President can do at his/her own discretion.
However, in the past, for various reasons, presidents were forced to take action against the decisions of the Parliament or the Council of Ministers. This example is not so good. The future presidents should act in line with the 'spirit' of the constitution.
You are a former Member of Parliament (MP). Do you have any suggestions for new MPs?
Currently, the role of parliaments is unclear. What we want is a directly elected executive system and make ministers from outside the parliament. If that could happen, the parliamentarians would be able to focus on legislative work, making laws. By doing this, the role of MPs would be clear. Such a system exists in America.
Currently, parliamentarians play an executive role - they are also ministers, they also make laws and rules - due to such dual roles, their role is ambiguous and creates ambiguity. It has also brought a bit of distortion.
However, in the current context, their main role is legislative. Parliaments all over the world make laws and regulations. After the constitution, many laws are yet to be enacted. The laws that have been made are also incomplete in nature. They should focus on making perfect laws.
Because democracy is the rule of law. The method should have been made first! So, you should be more focused on it. Parliament also keeps the executive in check. Parliament has the power to impeach the judiciary if it commits mistakes. If the president commits a wrongdoing, the parliament also has the power to impeach him/her. In this sense, the parliament is the most empowered institution.
Hence, they should play a responsible role as representatives of the supreme body exercising the sovereignty of the people.