"Democracy in Nepal is not immature or illusive"
After centuries of absolute monarchy and civil war, Nepal is set to form a democratic government. A coalition of two communist parties, the Unified Marxist Leninists (UML) and the Maoist Center, is set to control not just the national government but six of seven provinces. Former prime minister of Nepal Madhav Kumar Nepal, currently a Member of Legislative Parliament and Chief of the Nepalese Department of Foreign Affairs on Friday talked to The Asian Age. Kumar, also the former general secretary of Communist Party of Nepal for 15 years, explained the factors that worked behind the win of the left-leaning coalition in the Nepalese Legislative Election in 2017 and discussed the future outlook of his country. The interview was taken by Sohel Mahamud.
Asian Age (AA): What are major tasks you have on the table to do after assuming office?
Madhav Kumar Nepal (MKN): First, we will be fighting vestiges of autocracy, all sorts of dictatorship and authoritarian regime. The communist party in Nepal has become synonymous with democracy -- for what we fought and shed our blood. There were forces to portray the communist party as an authoritarian one in Nepal. The second task is to clarify the stance of our coalition that is establishing itself as a banner of democracy. And the third is to prioritize people's livelihood, social justice and social transformation.
AA: How did the leftists come to the center stage? Which, do you think, were the factors that contributed to their win?
MKN: Well, people evaluated us as we stood by them and eventually we became part of the common masses. The factors that worked were uniting the people, raising their awareness, mobilizing them and leading the struggles. All these proved fruitful for us in the elections. To be popular in Nepalese politics, to be at the center stage of politics, you need to respect public sentiment. You have to understand people's desire. Then you must feel their nerves. Once you can do that and work accordingly, you will get recognition, their support. So you must share their weal and woe. If you are not with the people, you must be forgotten.
AA: And, you say these are the reasons behind the leftists' popularity?
MKN: Yes, if you think you are above the people, they will reject you. The Communist Party of Nepal has been very popular as the communist movement is associated with the people and has struggle together with people during movements.
AA: Nepal went through a transition from monarchy to democracy. Some might argue that the transition was very peaceful. Do you think the model can be followed by other countries for transition to democracy?
MKN: Precisely, yes. Communist Party of Nepal has adopted the philosophy of multiparty democracy as propagated by Comrade Madan Bhandari, who was the general secretary of the party during its fifth congress in 1993, and gained public trust. We actually came to the understanding and realization that the peaceful transformation was possible. Peaceful mass movement has the power to change the vestiges of autocratic regime. The thing is you need to sacrifice for the change.
AA: Democracy in Nepal, as some might say, is immature or illusive. How is your government planning for its improvement?
MKN: If you are with the people and the people are behind you, there is no force on earth, which can defeat you. Multiparty democracy has all the basic characteristics of democracy being properly used around the world. Believing in ballot not in bullet, our political philosophy strives for mandate from the people. You need to be just by the people every time periodically. So we believe in periodical action; we believe in the rule of the majority, and minority as the opposition. We give recognition and due respect to the opposition. We do not like to minimize their worth or sideline them, but the thing is it should be a responsible opposition.
AA: Do you suggest that democratization in Nepal, or the gaining of popularity of the leftists, began long ago than it is presumed or officially recognized?
MKN: Look, we, the leftists, were in the opposition in 1991 parliamentary election and became the second largest party. During that period, people compared the two parties. Because of our role in all sectors, we emerged as the largest party not as a majority but as the largest party in the next election in 1994. Being so, we got the opportunity to form government. However, it was a minority government and could not sustain for long. It lasted only nine months. But those nine months were like a miracle.
We earned popularity and people started to like, respect and follow us. There was again a chance in the next parliamentary election in 1997, a big one, of a landslide majority. But unluckily there was a split in the party and we could not form the majority government.
However, in that year, our party emerged as the most popular and the largest majority in the election. We were elected in 75 percent districts of Nepal and 60 percent of the municipalities. We were elected elected in 52 percent of the villages.
AA: Even after that, you had to wait for years to form a leftist majority government.
MKN: Our popularity is increasing day by day. Even though there were ups and downs, the leftist forces have come to such a situation where the majority of the people, more than 50 percent, have voted in favor of the communist party. In last year's election, we got 53 percent of total popular votes. So it reflects the growing popularity of the party as well as its candidates.
I think we need to remember that the role we played during the political moment and political evolution should be kept up. If we forget what we did earlier and only enjoy the government facilities, we are sure to be forgotten by the people amid the worldwide economic revolution and transformation. We emphasize hard work, honesty, serving the people, integrating with them, and sharing woes and weal with the masses. These comprise our basic politics.
AA: There are some concerns among the Indian establishments led by its Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Nepal is moving closer to China. What is your observation?
MKN: Actually in Nepal, everything can be changed except the geography which has given us the dictations that we have to live together with the neighbors whether they are in the eastern side or in the north. We need to maintain the relationship with both as it was earlier. Even, in his time 250 years back, King Tree Pre Nan Shah, who unified the nation and created modern Nepal, mentioned clearly to keep proper balance with the neighbors. In diplomacy, you have to maintain certain things.
Those are mutual respect and mutual interest -- and these are very important. If you know the world economy, it means the supply will be there if there is more demand. You will go to that market which gives you more concessions. It may depend on the profit whether the choice would be made from India or China. Instead, India and China have to take into account that Nepal wants to serve the best national. At the same time, we will not forget the sensitivities of both our neighbors. We would like to maintain proper balanced relationship with them.
We want to maintain the relations not on the principle of equidistance, rather equi-proximity. When we use the word equidistance it means distance will prevail. But when we use the word equi-proximity, it means nearness prevails.
So we want close and cordial relations with other neighbors. We cannot forget the geography as I mentioned earlier. We have open border, plain lands and mountains with India. In spite of that, nothing is mountable in the world. You have to dare to scale the heights. They want to keep their interests intact. You have to get good respect from the others. So it has to be learnt from experience as to how to strike a balance between neighbors.
AA: There had been reports that the Indian government and its agencies were interfering in the last elections in Nepal. Previous records were allegedly there too. Do you think such things are still going on?
MKN: I cannot state the truth of any of those without enough evidence. What we are sure about is that Nepal managed all the affairs. We believe in the philosophy that let others to mind their own affairs. That's why friends are needed when there is a crisis. A friend in need is a friend indeed.
The friendship is not with a party or with the people, rather it is with the country or the nation which is most important. The Asian countries should be more correlated to protect their own civilizations -- the oldest one in the world taking high pride in their own history. No more interference, no more domination will be there. And more importantly there should be no big brother attitude.
AA: Thank you for the interview.
MKN: Thank you too.