Ignore Prasai but not elements behind the curtainFederal lawmaker and CPN-UML standing committee member Raghuji Pant on the latest trends in Nepali politics and his party’s approach on important national issues.
Federal lawmaker and CPN-UML standing committee member Raghuji Pant is an outspoken leader of the main opposition party. Thira Lal Bhusal of the Post sat down with him to discuss the latest trends in Nepali politics and his party’s approach on important national issues.
How did you analyse the latest protests called by businessman Durga Prasai?
All those who joined the Prasai-led protests weren’t his supporters. Talking to the media, some of those seen in his protests said they were closer to the Nepali Congress. Some were found to have gone to Balkhu to see Prasai group’s protest before later joining CPN-UML’s gathering at Koteshwar. So, many were just curious onlookers.
Besides that, various elements including the royalists who are against the present system are trying to use him as a proxy leader. They want to create havoc and destabilise the system through him. I don’t think the major political forces should take Prasai seriously. But they should sincerely study the reasons why people are following him and why certain elements are trying to use him. Sometimes, people express their genuine concerns through the wrong platform. Still, this is an expression of people’s frustration. So more serious are the reasons behind people’s disenchantment and those working behind the curtain.
Also, some social media platforms have contributed to the rise of radical forces. On these platforms, it is easy to convince people with fake and unsubstantiated facts. So, the issue of misuse of social media is widely being debated in the US and European countries. Similarly, he has misguided a section of people by promising that he would force the government to waive bank loans up to Rs2 million. Authorities have to identify the root causes and address them on time.
The government has been criticised for the way it tried to tackle his protests. What is your observation?
I went to Tinkune to observe the demonstration staged by the UML wing. Protesters weren’t allowed to go outside the area designated for them. They didn’t breach it. Police enforced the same rules at Balkhu. But Prasai’s protesters were more rowdy. It seemed that some elements tried to provoke the protesters and create chaos there. In such cases, the police have to take action because it is their duty to maintain law and order. I think Prasai himself can’t sustain his movement. But, again, there must be some forces acting from behind the curtain.
Do you agree that the government and major political forces gave unnecessary importance to Prasai?
Yes, the criticism that they gave unnecessary importance to someone who would have been better ignored is partly true.
Why did the UML press ahead with its demonstration on the same day that Prasai had organised his protests?
The UML didn’t organise the event to counter him. It was already scheduled for November 23. It was Prasai who planned the protest on the same day. Our youth wing didn’t want to cancel its scheduled event just because of Prasai. The wing was peaceful despite their determination to protest against the government’s inefficiency and failure to deliver.
UCPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and CPN-UML chief Oli promoted Prasai in politics. Now he has become a headache for them. Don’t you think it was a mistake on their part, and has this issue been debated in the party?
I have put forth my differences in party committees. The same views aren’t expressed publicly. This is because of our party’s culture and discipline. What I can say is that this issue has been seriously discussed in party committees and leaders have realised their mistakes. All major political forces are plagued by such anomalies and they have to correct them on time.
It took eight years to produce this constitution but questions have already been raised against it. Why did this happen?
Questions were raised over some provisions of the constitution while it was being finalised and even immediately after its promulgation. Some international forces tried to stop the promulgation of the statute as they weren’t happy with some of its provisions. Royalists were against it. It was a compromise deal even among the major political forces who were for promulgating it. In a democracy, it is normal to raise questions over the constitution. As the constitution is a living document, it can be amended and enriched over time.
A section of people claim that the monarchy was abolished under a grand design by international forces. That is not true. The republic system was established in Nepal also because of the royalties. The monarchy was rotting away due to infightings. The 2001 royal massacre had in fact created a ground for the establishment of a republic. After that, Gyanendra Shah became the king. He was unpopular. His son Paras was more unpopular. The king had to name Paras as crown prince when people were busy with festivities. These developments prepared Nepalis to pitch for a republic. When the Second Jana Andolan was reaching its climax in 2006, it was agitating Nepali forces who rejected the pressure of various countries including India and the US that wanted retention of multiparty democracy with constitutional monarchy.
What about federalism and secularism?
People have started saying that three-tiers federalism is not economically feasible in Nepal. Provinces have been more criticised. Many argue that federal and local units are sufficient for a small country like ours. If the provinces prove their relevance, let’s retain them. Otherwise, public pressure will make us rethink the provinces. But for now, we should give them time.
I am a secularist. But I see some misuse of the constitutional provision of secularism. Making people change their religion through inducements and fraud is against our constitution and laws.
Present-day leaders are accused of putting their personal gains over national interest and thus tarnishing the country’s image. Do you agree?
Nepal’s national standing has in fact been strengthened. The presence of Indian security forces in Kalapani and Limpiyadhura was kept secret by King Mahendra. Rishikesh Shah, in his interviews, has said King Mahendra had asked them not to raise the issue in order to placate India which at the time was unhappy with the king. There are various other instances that disprove the claim that King Mahendra was a nationalist. It was the Panchayat regime that prepared Nepal’s map excluding Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura.
It was the government of Nepal Communist Party led by KP Sharma Oli that produced the ‘pointed map’. Also, it was the political parties’ government that strongly challenged India’s blockade. The Panchayat government, when the king used to be all-powerful, didn’t even claim its own land. It was only after the restoration of democracy in 1990 that people knew about Indian forces’ presence in Kalapani. It was made a national issue after the then lawmaker Prem Singh Dhami raised it in parliament. So historical facts disprove the argument that kings were more nationalist.
Are you happy with the performance of Parliament?
The House of Representatives hasn’t been as effective and productive as it could have been. The government is mainly responsible for this failure as it has failed to give it regular business. This Parliament hasn’t made any law except endorsing a bill on usury, even as some important bills are pending there such as the bills on transitional justice and money laundering. I haven’t seen any minister make a serious effort to pass an important bill nor have I seen such a role from the prime minister. Issues of mass migration, unemployment and economic decline have taken a form of crisis. But the government isn’t giving these issues the attention they deserve.
Why are the Parliament and its thematic committees not working seriously on the pressing issues?
I think it has some connection with our electoral system as well. Based on my experience and observation since 1990, I find lawmakers after the establishment of the republic system in 2008 less effective in comparison to the parliamentarians of the three parliaments elected after the 1990 change. We have to compromise the efficiency of lawmakers when we pick them under the proportional representation category, which is constitutionally mandatory. Therefore, now it has become necessary for political parties to groom political leadership in all ethnic communities and pick competent candidates under inclusive category.
But top leaders seemed to have rendered Parliament ineffective. A year after national elections, even chairs of the two joint committees of Parliament haven’t been elected. It took over nine months to elect heads of 10 thematic committees.
It’s not because of the opposition. The ruling coalition is responsible for this. They wasted a lot of time in sharing positions of committee heads among coalition partners as they couldn’t reach an agreement for months. Besides that, the effectiveness of a certain committee also depends on its leadership. But political leaders don’t seem serious about picking candidates for committee heads based on efficiency. At times, they have chosen committee heads based on their favour and proximity.
Support for alternative forces seems to be building in Nepal. Will traditional parties be able to reform themselves and retain their position four years down the line?
They will either reform or die. They must be ready to listen to public criticism and reform themselves. The rise of Rastriya Swatantra Party and people’s participation in Prasai’s protests are a warning to old parties. As I have talked to masses from various walks of life, I found they want radical reform and transparency in traditional parties. They aren’t against the system per se.