JUN 16 - With the CPN-UML, the second largest party in the Constituent Assembly, readying for its 9th General Convention, the race for new party chairman has turned sour. The two contenders—senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal and KP Oli —have been trading barbs in a debate over a ‘leadership handover’. Concerns have also been raised over Nepal’s 15 year leadership of the party as general secretary and Oli ’s frail health. Bhadra Sharma and Pranaya SJB Rana spoke to Oli , who had just returned from a medical trip to Bangkok, at his Balkot residence about the UML’s general convention, his candidacy for party chairman and his assessment of the current government.
First of all, how is your health?
My health is good, which is the reason why I returned home from abroad.
How are preparations for the party general convention going?
Preparations are going well. It was unfortunate that the convention was not postponed but it will be held now. The general convention is not just procedural; it is required to consolidate all the work that has been done since the last general convention, rethink party principles, direction and leadership and move ahead accordingly. Attempts, however, have been made to push back the general convention. This will not only affect the functioning of the party but could also affect the constitution-writing process. There is a need to hold serious dialogue on ways to take the nation and the party forward. Society is always progressing and there are always changes in values. So there is also a need to reorient the party along the major changes that have taken place. Also, some decisions have been made that contradict the line of our 8th General Convention. If some major decisions need to be made the Central Committee of the party can change the working line but the line laid out by the general convention cannot be contradicted. But the general convention must understand that a rigid party cannot lead a society that is constantly changing and progressing.
What changes have you seen in the party since the last general convention in 2009?
Some weaknesses have been seen inside the party, like tendencies to swing towards the right or towards the extreme left. In the last five years, the tilt towards the extreme left has been more apparent. There were celebrations at the defeat of the UML and a mentality that we needed to work together with the extreme left to bring about change. But the difference here is that the left make progressive change possible while the extreme left pushes progressive change farther away. The party has not abandoned its struggle against these extreme elements. Many leaders and cadres abandoned us and were drawn to the extreme left but the party maintained its stance and is now the second largest party in the CA. This is an accomplishment in itself. But the bigger accomplishment is the fact that a second CA was elected. After the dissolution of the first CA, the nation was in a precarious position. The second CA has now been established with a heaven-and-earth difference in composition. The new CA has given a two-thirds majority to democratic forces. It would deplorable if the Nepali Congress (NC) and UML are unable to write a constitution even in a situation like this.
At the upcoming 9th general convention, senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal and you are in the fray for the post of chairman. If elected to lead the UML, what changes do you plan to institute?
The party is a progressive institution but I do not agree with the way the leadership functions in the party, where one is elected for five years and instead of working for the nation and the party, the leader concentrates more on building a protective shield around himself. Party leadership means uniting all leaders and cadres on a path to nation building. My leadership will be progressive, open to change and in favour of a leadership handover. Some friends who were in the leadership failed to stem the tide of ethnic politics, going so far as to propose a 15-state federal model from inside the party in the last CA. In the end, they agreed to an 11-state model. Let us not take the nation back to the era of ‘baise-chaubise rajyas’. We must keep the country united while making sure that all citizens have access to their rights and the services they are entitled to from the state.
There are concerns about your health and if you are physically capable of leading the party.
These kinds of attacks are unbecoming. Whatever happens and whoever gets elected, we must all work together within the party. Concerning my health, just look at the example of Girija Prasad Koirala. Despite his frail health, he was both prime minister and party president. It is natural to become frail sometimes. After all, we are bodies made of flesh and bones. My kidney failed so I got it replaced and came back to work. Even now, I am back from an illness. But I am disappointed with the way in which I was attacked before I could even return. I had refused to pick up a bow and yet, they fired arrows from all directions.
You speak of a handover of leadership but there are complaints that you plan to handover leadership only to a select few people. They claim you lead a syndicate where Bamdev Gautam is next in line after you, Bidhya Bhandari after him and Ishwor Pokharel after her.
Are these people dreaming or are they paying undue attention to rumours? Or maybe they have consulted the astrological charts of us four? They are not the only ones I have spoken to. There is a large section of the party and the Nepali people in support. I have said countless times that we must move forward on the basis of unity and consensus. But unity and consensus require adherence to rules and regulations and a logical argument. Leadership handover doesn’t simply mean a handover to a younger generation. The handover can be to someone older too. At the general convention, we will focus on organisational issues like ensuring inclusion. But when it comes to thought, we cannot address everyone’s ideology and principles. We need to consolidate everyone into the right principles.
Some accuse you of being a factional leader and patron to all sorts of criminal elements.
Where is the proof to these claims? You cannot just go around accusing people without a single shred of evidence. You can visit Hanuman Dhoka and ask the current and previous SPs and SSPs there—which criminal, which don, which businessman did KP Oli ask to be freed? These accusations have been made by people to suit their own selfish interests.
On a different note, how do you assess the performance of the Sushil Koirala government?
I have just returned from abroad so I have not had a chance to assess the government. I have also not had a chance to meet with Prime Minister Koirala. There are a few things I need to speak to him about. The first
concerns the agreements between the UML and the NC. Second, the Congress seems to be under the impression that the government is under the prime ministerial system when in fact, this is a coalition government. We made the government together and we will run it together. But it is not necessary for the government to carry the baggage of the prime minister’s party. I see a
critical juncture coming up that will need serious dialogue. It is true that the government has not been able to do much. Crucial positions, like ambassadorial appointments, are vacant. When the prime minister visits China or India, the Foreign Minister isn’t with him. Instead, he takes his family members. He also doesn’t take into confidence anyone from a party other than the NC. The people need livelihood support and relief through development works and a peaceful security situation. This is the responsibility of the government. To write the constitution, we have the CA. Of course, the government should create an atmosphere conducive to the writing of the constitution.
There are rumours that PM Koirala will be bringing in Congress Vice-President Ram Chandra Poudel as deputy prime minister.
We are not straw puppets that the NC can run the government as it pleases. The government runs according to consultations between the NC and UML and other parties. The time of giving orders is over. The NC has not spoken to us about this issue and I do not believe it to be true. But even if it is true, the NC cannot move ahead unilaterally by disregarding the seven-point agreement. If the party wants to do that, should we then ignore the actions of the President? We don’t want a President who is politically active. The UML is in favour of a completely
ceremonial President. We did not get rid of the monarchy to replace the king with another pseudo-king. It is the job of parties to enter the fray and debate issues, not the President.
Posted on: 2014-06-16 08:20