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The Baburam Bhattarai interview: 'Democracy does not meet the needs of the poor'

Monday, 29 August 2011 - 9:00pm IST Updated: Monday, 29 August 2011 - 9:03pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The newly sworn-in prime minister of Nepal was in India earlier this year. Here's what he told DNA in an interview.

The newly sworn-in prime minister of Nepal was in India earlier this year. In an interview with DNA, he talks about the success and challenges of the democratic movement in Nepal.

The Nepali parliament is currently caught in an impasse in choosing a prime minister. What has led to this impasse?
Nepal is passing through a delicate transition phase. We have had hundreds of years of autocracy in Nepal.  There has been a mass movement against it for decades. It is only now that we have been successful in declaring ourselves a secular, democratic country.

We don’t have a regular parliament right now. What we have is a constituent assembly, elected to write our new constitution. This is an interim period and we are facing problems. But one must remember that during any epochal change, problems are normal. The real issue is making sure the constitution is written.

As per the rules of the interim constitution, we have should have a consensus government. The Nepali Maoists have a majority of the seats. In normal practice, the largest party forms the government.

But in Nepal, the other forces have joined hands to stop the Maoists from leading the government and they are unable to form the government. The last six months we have had a caretaker government. This is indeed the birth pangs of institutionalising democracy in Nepal.

What is the way out of the impasse?
The way out is to follow the principle of consensus. The interim constitution categorically says we must try to form a government through a consensus. When we emerged as the largest party, this rule was amended to say that we must have a government through a simple majority. When that happens, it becomes very unstable, as has been proved over the last three years. The way out is to now go for a national consensus government and then focus on making the new constitution in time.

How do you view India-Nepal ties?
We have excellent relations at the people level. The people of India and Nepal go to each other’s country for economic opportunities and for tourism. But at the government level, we do have certain problems. Hence our proposal is that we sit down, have a serious talk, review all the old treaties, write new treaties. The major treaty is the 1950 treaty that institutionalises the open border. I think if we police the border, then there will be no security problem for India, which India keeps complaining about. This way we can meet India’s concern about terrorists entering India through Nepal and our concern about revenue losses suffered because of illegal economic activities.

There is the sentiment in India that Nepali Maoists are closer to China than to India. Your comments.
Nepal is a sovereign, independent country and free to pursue its own policy. But we know the geopolitical compulsions. We know that geographically, culturally, and demographically, we are tilted towards India. We have an open border and most of our economic activity is with India. So whether somebody wants to or not, we are bound to have closer economic interaction with India. Nobody can change that.

But that does not mean Nepal’s sovereignty can be compromised. Nepal should be free to pursue its independent foreign policy, which should not go against India. I can assure we are ready to take into consideration India’s genuine concerns, especially in security matters. It is not in our interests to antagonise India unnecessarily but that does not mean we should not be allowed to pursue our own policy.

The Maoists in India have not been as successful as the Maoists in Nepal. What do you think is the reason for that?
Every country has its peculiarities. India is a Parliamentary democracy for the last 60 years whereas in Nepal we were fighting an autocratic monarchy. So the Maoists were fighting for democratic rights in Nepal, and our agenda was a democratic agenda. That made us very popular in Nepal. But India is a vast country with different problems in different states. Each state has its own problems. Marxism is not a dogma, it is a guide to action. It has to be applied according to the prevailing conditions in country.

Yet, Maoists in India are popular with the poorest and with many intellectuals, including the likes of Anuradha Ghandy, whose memorial lecture you will be delivering. So why did it not capitalise on this support?
(Smiles) I think this is for the Marxists and Maoists of India to asses as to why they failed to make an impact. But seeing this from a theoretical level, parliamentary democracy does not address the problems of the poor masses and people in backward countries like India and Nepal. There is too much disparity, with one section enjoying the fruits of democracy and the majority in the country — the dalits, the tribals, the women, the poor — are deprived of their genuine democratic rights. This contradiction is there. I think the radical communists are trying to champion the cause of the downtrodden.

Since you have led a successful movement, you probably have some insights.
Unlike Nepal, India is a vast country and its problems are big also. It becomes very difficult when there is a formal democracy. A section of the masses  is easily deceived by this façade of democracy and liberty, which is only in form but not in essence. It is very difficult for the ordinary people — the middle-class — to grasp this aspect. That is an additional challenge for the Maoists and Marxists.

India is on the path of fast economic growth, but I fear it will lead to economic disparity. If the divide between rich and poor increases, it will lead to further unrest. India needs to decide whether Parliamentary democracy suits a country of its size and tremendous diversity. It needs to find its own model that can provide genuine democracy for the masses, for the dalits, tribals, and women.

In India, the Marxists and Maoists are fighting each other.
That is not good. People who are closer in ideological lines, despite their differences, should conduct their struggle in a friendly manner with unity on basic issues. In India, both sides have stayed with only one path: the Marxists following the Parliamentary path and the Maoists the armed struggle path. Both sides should review their political line to find the positive aspects, blend them, and discard the negative aspects.   

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