Nepal’s politics is in crisis, says former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai. In an exclusive conversation with TOI’s Indrani Bagchi, the former Nepal PM says high-level political dialogue between India and Nepal is missing. Excerpts
Q. How would you describe the current state of affairs in Nepal politics?
Nepal is in the midst of a serious political crisis. There was danger of disruption to the hard-won constitution. Fortunately, the decision of the Supreme Court to restore parliament has averted the crisis for now. But the danger remains because PM K P Sharma Oli has refused to resign. Until an alternate government is formed, the crisis will continue.
Q. How will a government be formed?
There could be a technical problem in government formation. The ruling NCP is split vertically and politically. But the split has not been formalised legally. Once parliament starts on March 7, if PM Oli doesn’t resign, the opposition or the rival NCP faction will have to move a no-confidence motion against the PM.
According to Nepal’s constitution, you have to propose the future prime minister along with the no-confidence motion. That will be another problem.
The best way would be to reach a political understanding before the parliament session. Then, the PM could resign and we could go for an alternative government — either a majority government or a consensus government.
In my understanding, given the severe crisis in the country, a consensus government could be best. Since we have only a year and a half before the elections, we could chart a new political course in the country.
Q. What would be the components of the new government?
After the NCP splits formally, the parliament will have four political formations. Two NCP groups, the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajwadi Party. These four forces will have to work out a solution. If they agree on a consensus, that will be best, I think. If that doesn’t happen, then three of the four groups can join hands and provide a stable government.
Q. Which way will your party go?
JSP is a new emerging party in Nepal. We’re trying to give an alternative to the traditional neo-liberalism leaning Nepali Congress and the old-style Communist party. We want to provide a more inclusive and participatory democracy-based socialist party in Nepal. We’re an emerging force, so we won’t be in a decisive position right now. But our political position will matter, so the party will decide.
Q. You have a history of working with Prachanda. Will you join forces with him?
As of now, I can’t say anything. But I’m not very much inclined with leaning towards any faction of the NCP, because both are more or less equally responsible for the current imbroglio in the country. Having said that, I feel PM Oli should share a greater part of the blame given his style of working as an autocratic self-centred leader.But Prachanda and Madhav Nepal also cannot be exempted from the big mistake they made by coming together with Oli and for the misgovernance and mismanagement in the last three years.
Q. What does Nepal need right now?
There are five structural problems which we have not been able to solve till now.
The peace process, which started during the Maoist insurgency, is not yet complete. One of the major components of the truth and reconciliation commission and disappearance commission has not completed its work. Millions of people were affected during the insurgency and it is important to address their grievances.
We also need to resolve the issue of ownership of the Constitution. When the Constitution was promulgated, a major section of Madhesis, janjatis, dalits and others did not get reservations. I was the chairperson of the constituent committee and I had expressed my reservations.
Third, Nepal state institutions are not well developed on democratic foundations. As a result, there is a lot of corruption and misgovernance. That needs to be tackled.
The fourth important issue is the economic development of Nepal, which is one of the least developed countries.
Fifth, our relations with India are deep-rooted and interconnected. Without having a good working relationship with India, we can’t have political stability or economic prosperity in Nepal.
Q. In the past few years, we have seen a see-saw relationship between India and Nepal. What role do you see for India in Nepal?
India and Nepal have long and deep-rooted relations – politically, economically, socially and culturally. If we have more interactions with each other, there are bound to be some problems. With this understanding, both sides should have held discussions and put forward their core concerns to reach a strategic understanding. However, this was not done.
The other problem with the South Asian countries is that national issues are made into political planks for electoral purposes. So, when a party makes territorial nationalism a political plank, it becomes difficult for other parties to counter it. That is one of the reasons why Nepal-India relations have deteriorated in the last few years.
While strategic concerns are important for India, development concerns are a major issue for Nepal. If a balance could be worked out between the two countries that would be the best solution.
We need to have a high-level political dialogue between the two countries. That is missing now. Only bureaucrats and security agencies are handling it. Earlier, there used to be some sort of political interaction and dialogue.
Q. How do you assess India’s interest in Nepal, in your conversations with New Delhi?
I came here for personal reasons, so I did not engage in any political dialogue. However, since I have been educated here and have many friends in government and outside, I spoke with some of them. My sense is, India feels dejected with the developments in Nepal. PM Modi, I feel, tried his best to improve relations in the beginning. Nepal was in a transition phase. But things didn’t move the way it was expected. In that sense, I got the impression the Indian establishment is apathetic to developments in Nepal.
Q. Many in India see Nepal as part of China’s sphere of influence. How would you respond?
The geopolitical dynamics in the Himalayan region are changing, with the strategic interests of India, China and the US colliding. The situation is getting more complex.
Nepal, being part of the Himalayan region and part of South Asia, has to work out its strategy, keeping this in mind.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to do it.
The perception that Nepal is moving into China’s fold and its influence are not true. Of course, Chinese influence has increased in Nepal, but given the deep-rooted India-Nepal relations with civilisational roots, no other country can replace India for Nepal in my opinion.