At 67, Mohan Baidya is starting to look a little old. The crinkles around his eyes are deepening and his face wears a weathered look of someone who has seen everything in his life. But it only takes a slight provocation for the CPN-Maoist chairman to perk up. His guttural voice catches a new intensity as he launches into why Nepal’s sovereignty and independence are under threat. We met him on the sidelines of ongoing discussions between his party and the three major political forces. They on Tuesday had agreed to an all-party political conference to settle contentious constitutional issues.
Can you elaborate on the all-party political conference?
We had been demanding such a mechanism for a long time and had presented an eight-point roadmap in June. The Prime Minister wanted to discuss the same roadmap. It was in this context that we sat down with the three parties on Tuesday.
What were the main agendas of discussion?
The Prime Minister proposed a taskforce of sorts. We will again sit down with the three parties on this tomorrow (Sept 4). But what I felt was that both Nepali Congress and CPN-UML leaders present in the meeting had come without homework. Thus there was confusion regarding points of discussions at the start. This should not have happened because we had already presented the eight-point roadmap. We did finally come around to discussing modality and formation process of the all-party conference. But since Congress and UML representatives were ill-prepared, we have agreed to sit down again.
What kind of political conference do you have in mind? How will it help settle important constitutional issues?
We want a new understanding among political forces. We fought a decade-long war for the Constituent Assembly. But a situation was created whereby we were not made part of the (second) CA process. Yet we still believe we can move ahead through a broad political understanding via the political conference. Now it is up to them (the three parties) to take the initiative on this. The political parties want to end the conflict and take the peace process to its logical end, but how can the process succeed if a major party to the conflict is left out? We are yet to form Truth and Reconciliation and Disappearances Commissions, the issue of compensations for the martyr families of people’s war is there as well. Likewise, what will happen to land holdings of Maoists from conflict period? There are many such issues. All of them will need to be discussed.
What is your bottom-line in the current discussions?
We first have to agree on a process. Only then can we enter the question of bottom-line. First let us agree to a modality of all-party conference. Who will summon it? Who will be the participants? How will it arrive at decisions?
But how can there be a meeting point between the parties who believe in ‘bourgeois democracy’ and your party which doesn’t?
Yes, we are on two different political paths. So there are major issues between us. There is no hiding from this truth. The question is: Can we still work together? Our stand again is that all important decisions should be made through a broad all-party conference.
The all-party conference, as you have proposed, will discuss major constitutional issues. What is your party’s stand on the new constitution?
We want to draft a people’s constitution (janata ko sambhidan). We want to establish the rights of laborers, farmers, women, dalit, janajati, Madheshi, Muslim and people from backward regions in the new constitution.
If there is an agreement on important constitutional issues will you join the CA process?
Right now we completely reject the CA process. But there is no way to say where the discussions we have started will lead us.
Isn’t it possible to channel your demands through the Constituent Assembly?
We don’t believe we will find solutions from inside the CA. Baburam Bhattarai as the Chairman of the CA’s Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee had invited us for talks. We said since we don’t recognize the CA, there is no point in talking to you. We said we would rather prefer to discuss the all-party conference. Please understand that we are also in favor of a constitution. Our disagreement centers on how to get there.
How do you foresee the forces inside the CA and those outside it working together?
This is exactly what we are discussing. The situation right now is that UCPN (Maoist) has joined hands with other parties. But we have been left behind. We were left out of the truth and reconciliation process. Our demand for compensation to martyrs’ families has been sidelined. And like I said before, there are disputes regarding lands captured during the conflict. All these issues can be starting points for discussions. Right now, we will sit down and listen to one another. Only then will the future course be clear.
Your party won’t accept the CA and the other parties won’t relinquish it. How can there be an understanding between such disparate forces?
We believe the all-party conference can be the middle path between these two hard stands. Now other parties have at least realized the importance of such common grounds. This is why we have also come to the discussions in a positive spirit.
What will your party do if your demands are not addressed by the new constitution?
We have to understand that we have agreed on the all-party conference knowing full well what each party wants. Our demands have been public for a long time. We want to complete the new people’s revolution (naya janabadi kranti). Now the question is if we can find solutions even amidst these differences. The all-party conference is a start in this direction.
It is said that UCPN (Maoist) leadership started making overtures to your party after its humiliating outing in the second CA polls. Is that the case?
Yes, I believe the UCPN (Maoist) leadership has realized its mistake in leaving us behind. This is the reason we were able to establish a post-poll working alliance among the five Maoist parties. But we can have such working alliance with anyone, even Congress and UML, if we have common views on certain issues. I wouldn’t say UCPN (Maoist) leadership has completely accepted its mistake in leaving us behind. But on certain issues, it does seem to have accepted that it made big blunders.
UCPN (Maoist) leadership has been demanding that your party be included in the proposed High Level Political Committee.
This is a separate issue. We have at present no intention of joining such a mechanism. This is an outcome of the four-point agreement between Congress, UML, Maoists and Madheshis and has nothing to do with us. We would like to make it clear that this mechanism is in no way related to the all-party conference we have been proposing.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been talking up the prospects of party unity. Are the two parties really that close now?
It is wrong of him to disseminate this propaganda. How can there be unity without any homework?
CPN-Maoist has not been able to hold its general convention owing to your differences with Netra Bikram Chand. The party seems to be a divided house.
What we have said is that we will set aside our differences for time being and devise strategies vis-à-vis CA and the parties therein. We plan to hold the general convention in a year’s time. Yes, there are some disputes but I believe healthy discussions will only make the party stronger.
The disputes seem centered on whether to go for another people’s war.
I wouldn’t put it like that. We are rather discussing how to proceed from the situation we find ourselves in today. We fought a decade-long war, got into the CA, and now if we can’t have people’s constitution, how do we move ahead from this point? How do we adapt our revolution to this phase? This is what we are discussing. Yes, issues of people’s revolt and people’s war have been raised, but we also realize that the ground realities today are vastly different. We are in the process of working out new ways to move ahead.
There is a fear that CPN-Maoist might opt for yet another war.
We are discussing all available options. But one thing is for sure: We will always be fighting for people’s government (janabadi satta), in one way or the other. The nature of the struggle will depend on the response of those running the state at any time. Our goal is to establish people’s government, reestablish Nepal as an independent and sovereign country, take the development process forward and find answers to people’s livelihood questions.
In the end, how do you view the political developments since the second CA polls?
The political parties represented in the Constituent Assembly are in the process of drafting a new constitution. On the other hand, they have also been saying that they will include other forces in the process. We have to wait and see how the interplay between these two issues pans out. But most importantly, the issue of national independence has become extremely complicated. The way we have been willing to hand over all our important water resources to India, this is wrong. Why do we need to trade in energy when we need so much energy ourselves? If the political parties move ahead in this direction, there will be a serious threat to our national sovereignity. We should not sign lopsided PDAs and PTAs, but rather explore new ways of dealing with India.
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