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Nepal can’t run on power games alone

KATHMANDU, OCT 29 -

Kiyoko Ogura, a Japanese journalist based in Nepal since 1993, has written several books and contributed to academic journals on the Maoist insurgency and Nepal’s political spectrum. She reported from the Maoist ‘base areas’ of Rolpa and Rukum during the insurgency and is the author of Kathmandu Spring: The People’s Movement of 1990 and Dissolving the Nepali Monarchy [Nepal Ousei Kaitai, in Japanese]. . The Post’s Dewan Rai and Gyanu Adhikari met with Ogura to discuss the stalemate in Nepali politics and a way out.

How do you see contemporary Nepali politics?

Today’s Nepali politics is the politics of three parties, the Maoists, Nepali Congress and UML, although the Madhesi parties are in the picture too. The three major powers came to the forefront through movements (Andolans).  This generation of leaders are all Andolankaris, including, of course, the Maoists. What we see after 1990 is that all parties are good at fighting an enemy and they fight hard to defeat that enemy but none of them have policies on how to build a nation. Whenever there’s a problem, they hit the streets to protest, including even those in the ruling coalition.

Why do the parties see alternatives in Andolans only? Why not utilise constitutional means?

It’s because this generation of leaders all come from Andolan-based political parties. Perhaps there will be a change when a younger generation comes to power. To hit the street and protest as soon as there’s a problem is destructive. They don’t know how to be constructive. I see that in the Maoists as well. After a 10 year movement, they were able to get rid of the monarchy. But they haven’t shown vision for what to do next. Andolan-based politics makes it possible to devise long-term policies about how to get state power, but doesn’t allow long-term plans for state building. As a result, politics becomes reactionary. The only concern after attaining state power is how to retain positions of power.

How strongly does this tendency appear in the Maoists?

I talked to many Maoist politicians after they started their People’s War in 1996. They had plans for 10 to 20 years to attain power through a policy of a protracted People’s War. Look at them now. They don’t have plans for state building and play extremely short-term politics.

How so?

An example is the five-point agreement of May 15 (Jestha 2), but Prachandaji turned it down immediately because Madhesi and Janajati members of the Constituent Assembly opposed it. He thought perhaps he could benefit personally from going back on the agreement. All parties react to various immediate events, especially the Maoists, and change their stances. They don’t have strong policies and directions.

PM Baburam talks a lot about “leapfrogging” into a middle-income country. Do you think it is all rhetoric?

I haven’t seen that in his behaviour. Perhaps he has detailed policies but I haven’t seen them in his actions. The larger issue is that all actions are extremely dependent on personal pursuits for power. This applies to the crisis that arose during Girija Prasad Koirala’s time as well. In every turning point, big and small, power games come into play.

Should we even expect anything from politicians except power games?

I don’t think it’s the norm everywhere. A country can’t run on power games alone. Take Baburam Bhattarai for example. He declared elections for November 22 and that date is approaching. It is certain that there won’t be elections then. At least in Japan, when a PM can’t accomplish something he’s publicly declared, he resigns.

Are you saying he’s morally obligated to resign?

If he can’t hold elections on the date he declared, it becomes a moral issue, at least in Japan. I don’t know what moral standards are in Nepal.

Going back to the background of the three major parties, do you see substantial difference among them?

All three are Andolan-based parties, so we can talk about what they fought against.  After the Andolans, a common nature emerges, which is the hunger for power at any cost. Basically, the Nepali Congress started as a party fighting for multi-party democracy. Going back to the Jhapa Andolan, the UML’s roots are in anti-feudalism, anti-Jamindar politics. As for the Maoists, one has to ask—why did they pick up guns?

What was the motivation?

I haven’t found an answer so far. I’ve been to Rolpa many times during and after the conflict, and I’ve asked myself why they started with Rolpa. Listening to people like Santosh Budha Magarji is like listening to something that’s been taught and rehearsed. Looking at Nepal’s history, was an armed movement necessary? I have no answers. But there appear to be two main causes: one was for social

change, that is equality, and another was to end the monarchy. The reason many people supported the Maoists was for equality.

What kind of equality?

Many Dalits, women and Janajatis joined the movement for equality, by which I mean things like economic equality. There is also inequality between people living in Rolpa and Kathmandu. The Maoists were able to attract many with their slogans for equality.

Now that Maoists have state power, do you think they have dropped the agenda of equality?  

If they did, they wouldn’t be Maoists, or communists. But they haven’t done anything to further the agenda of equality. Just look at Thabang. It looks different than during the insurgency. There’s a boarding school there now. It’s not that boarding schools are bad, but the communist Rolpa and Rolpa after the peace process are oceans apart.

Can you explain how?

Take Sulichaur for example. There was no sale of alcohol during the war—you could make it and consume it in your house but you couldn’t buy or sell it. Today, every shop in Sulichaur bazaar has imported whiskey. All the things that were banned by the Maoists for 10 years have gone back to the old ways—things like child marriage and alcohol. The social change the Maoists tried to bring didn’t materialise.

Do you see any positive changes?

The biggest change is improvement in women’s rights. I can’t say to what extent, but it’s a positive thing. I don’t know whether the situation of the Dalits has improved.

What’s the evidence for improvement in women’s rights?

On the basis of confidence. Still, women aren’t in high positions. But it has given many a lot of confidence. The female guerillas, for example, are very confident that they can do as well as men.

You studied both the 1990 and 2006 movement. Can you tell us what the major differences between the two were?

The 1990 movement was primarily based in Kathmandu and there was a huge participation from the Newar community, starting from Bhaktapur and moving to Kathmandu, Lalitpur and then Kirtipur. Janakpur and the Mithila samaj were also important. There were lots of old Nepali Congress leaders there like Bimalendraji. There was an Andolan in Biratnagar too. But overall, the 1990 movement was limited geographically. It was not a nationwide movement. The biggest difference in 2006 was the People’s War and the royal massacre in the background. During 2006, it was people from the districts, those who rent space in Kathmandu, which made the difference. It was a nationwide movement. So the scale was different. The slogans, too, changed. In the 1990, the demand was for multi-party democracy. In 2006, the movement was against the monarchy.

Do you think social equality has increased after the Maoists joined the peace process?

On the contrary, social equality has diminished. The rich are getting richer; the poor will never be able to rise up.

Does that mean we should expect another movement for equality? Do you see the grounds for another movement?

I don’t think economic disparity and difference are sufficient motivators to start another movement. A movement needs a political slogan. A movement against the rich—is that possible?  I see smaller, localised movements, for example, that of Madhesis and Janajatis. But there won’t be a nationwide movement like in the past. That’s because the biggest political causes were multi-party system and republicanism.

Even federalism, I don’t think, is everybody’s cause.

How did federalism enter Nepali discourse?

It wasn’t a Maoist agenda actually. In 2004, they divided the country into nine autonomous regions but it was to provide Janajati Adivasis more rights rather than to introduce a new state system. A communist can’t be jaatibadi. At that time, I didn’t even hear the word Sanghiyata [federalism] from the Maoists. The reason the present constitution has the word Sanghiyata is due to the Madhesi movement as well as that of Nefin [Federation of indigenous nationalities].

Do you see the possibility of the new Maoist party taking up arms again?

They’ll certainly prepare for it. Even if they decide to do it, all I can say it is that it won’t be a nationwide movement like before. Finding a common cause like before won’t be easy.

How do you see the political process moving forward?

The reason the peace process has moved so far is because the Maoists have compromised a lot. You see it in the Army integration process as well. In fact, political consensus has meant Maoist compromise. If they hadn’t, the peace process would have been aborted and the CA dissolved much earlier. Looking at the behaviour of the three parties, the Nepali Congress and UML do not compromise much. Once again, the process will not move ahead without a Maoist compromise. Today, that means the resignation of Baburam Bhattarai.

Posted on: 2012-10-29 08:29