We embrace Hindutwa as the backbone of the Nepali polityTwo rightist forces—the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party—merged on November 22 to become the RPP.
Two rightist forces—the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party—merged on November 22 to become the RPP. With 37 seats in the 595-strong Parliament, it is now the fourth largest party in the country. The party is holding its unity convention on February 17-20 in Kathmandu.
Mukul Humagain and Binod Ghimire spoke with Kamal Thapa, RPP Chairman, about the convention’s agenda, the role of major parties in national politics, and the RPP’s position on constitution amendment, elections, monarchy and Nepal's status as a Hindu state.
To start with, there seems to be some confusion about whether your party is in opposition or in the government.
Before the merger of the two parties, the RPP-N was in the opposition and the RPP was in government. After the merger, we have not recalled party members who are ministers in the Cabinet. It shows that our party is, technically, a part of the government.
What is your party’s stance on the constitution amendment proposal that has been tabled in Parliamnent?
Although we were part of the government, we were not consulted during the proposal’s preparation. So there is no moral commitment on our part towards the proposal. Some clauses of the proposal are not in the national interest. Our party’s formal position is that the bill must be refined after consultation with all concerned stakeholders. But if the bill is advanced in its current form, our party will not be able to vote for it.
What changes to the amendment bill does your party seek?
We have not worked out the details yet. Broadly, we are opposed to the clauses on citizenship, language, and federal delineation.
If your party is opposed to the government’s position on the amendment bill, why doesn’t it recall its ministers?
We have had discussion on it in the party. But our focus right now is on the party’s upcoming convention. After it concludes, we will hold serious discussion on our participation in the government. We have had differences with the RPP, but given the increasingly complex situation that the country was in, we decided to set aside the differences to form a strong nationalist and democratic force.
What’s your assessment of the current political situation, particularly with regard to the apparent connection between holding polls and amending the constitution?
Polls are mandatory to implement the constitution, and a favourable political environment is necessary to hold polls. To that end, reasonable demands of the Madhes-based parties have to be addressed. While it is not impossible to hold polls without addressing their demands, doing so might be politically counter-productive.
And while we are for addressing the reasonable demands of the Madhes-based parties, we also maintain that polls should not be stalled under any pretext. We may be able to resolve the current problem if we announce poll dates, while simultaneously forming a mechanism to discuss Madhesi demands.
How do you view the proposal to form an all-party government as a way out of the current stalemate?
An all-party or a consensus government that is repeatedly talked about is not a right option in a democratic system. Democracy cannot be strengthened in the absence of a strong opposition.
To resolve national problems, agreeing on the due process is what is necessary, as opposed to being in the government. In the last 10 years, democratic values are being undermined in a facade of consensus. Both the UML’s reluctance to table the amendment bill and the Madhesi Morcha’s insistence to not let elections take place without agreeing on the amendment proposal are against democratic norms and an expression of an authoritarian mindset.
How have you assessed the role of the major parties?
I don’t think any of the major parties are honestly in favour of addressing the demands of the Madhesi parties. The UML is openly against the amendment bill. And while the NC and the Maoist (Centre) have paid lip service to addressing the demands, their actions show otherwise. They had the two-thirds majority to pass the bill, but they did not put in honest efforts to secure the vote.
The leadership of the NC and the Maoist (Centre) seem to be unduly influenced by elements that did not want the promulgation—and now the implementation—of the constitution. Failure of the major parties to agree on holding polls will put a big question mark on the constitution’s implementation.
What’s your opinion on the talk about extending Parliament’s tenure?
That’s not something we can even imagine. If some leaders are dreaming of extending Parliament’s tenure, not only will that be unconstitutional and against the Supreme Court’s ruling, but it will also infuriate the people. It will set off a storm of protests that the big parties will not be able to deal with. Our party will be against any such attempt; we will lead a nation-wide movement to oppose it.
Do you think the UML has appropriated the agenda of nationalism that is an important plank of your party?
We have to take it positively if anybody stands up for a nationalistic agenda. Nationalism is not something we should compete for. In fact, we want all major parties to stand firmly for nationalism. Given Nepal’s delicate geo-political location, the issue of nationalism cannot merely be an election agenda. It is a strategy to ensure our nation’s survival.
You’re not concerned that the UML will capitalise on it in the elections?
The kind of nationalism that our party has been advocating cannot even be compared to what any other party proposes. The kind of nationalism that appears in a particular context to further a particular agenda cannot be put in the same league as the kind that has remained an integral part of our party.
What do you hope to establish from the upcoming party convention?
We have three main responsibilities. The first one is to determine the party’s principles, policies, and direction. The second one is to formulate the party’s constitution. And the third one is to choose leadership. We will seek to establish conservatism as our party’s ideological stand. Within that conservatism will be nationalism, democracy, Hindutwa, and liberal economic policies. We will make our position on monarchy, federalism, and the constitution clear.
Some sections of your party have started advocating an active monarchy. How do you intend to tackle the challenges they might pose?
We haven’t attached too much importance to it. The RPP is not a religious force; it’s a nationalist and democratic force established for an ambitious agenda of the country’s social, economic, and political transformation. Given the country’s geo-political situation and its religious, cultural, and social setting, we are, in principle, in favour of a force that transcends electoral competition, and monarchy could be that force.
We believe monarchy can be a common institution that can be accepted even by the progressive forces through agreement and compromise. Federalism was not necessary for a country like Nepal. But it has also become a national reality and a fait accompli despite our disagreement. We are not currently in a position to reverse it.
But we should be constantly vigilant about not undermining our national integrity and social cohesion while implementing federalism. As far as Hindutwa is concerned, it is not merely a religious issue; we embrace it as the backbone of Nepali polity. Given that 94 percent of Nepalis are either Hindu, Buddhist, or Kirat, we believe Nepal should be a Hindu state—but one that upholds religious equality and freedom. Our policy will be to advance our agenda by working closely within the constitution’s framework.
What kind of monarchy do you seek?
It will be a ceremonial role under the Parliament’s control. It can be considered the last custodian of national interest and unity.
There are concerns about you exercising monopoly over the party. How justified are such concerns?
If they had been genuine, there would not have been a party merger. I believe in internal democracy. There can be personal views, but the decision has to be collective. Lack of internal democracy in Nepali parties has made them susceptible to factionalism. Our party’s goals are to re-establish our agenda that has been defeated, to make the country prosperous and to make the party the largest national party.
How do you intend to be a pan-Nepal party if you haven’t made inroads into a significant section of the Nepali population, namely the Madhes?
We are clear on this front as well. We are as committed as any party, including the Madhes-based parties, to ensuring the rights of the Madhesi people. We believe we will do very well in the Madhes in the coming elections.