CPN-UML, Nepal’s largest communist party and the main opposition, is gearing up for its tenth General Convention scheduled from November 26-28. While preparations are in full swing, it is almost decided who the Convention will choose as the leadership for the next term. How will CPN-UML be different post-convention? What will be its policy changes, if any? And how does it assess the performance of the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government? Nepal Live Today‘s Mahabir Paudyal met Ishwar Pokhrel, incumbent General Secretary of CPN-UML to take his insights on UML’s General Convention as well as national politics. Excerpts:
Your party is set to elect the new leadership through the General Convention. But the entire party seems to stand up for the continuation of Chair K P Sharma Oli as the next leadership. Why Oli again?
That K P Oli will be the Chairman of the UML has been determined and guided by national politics. This is the imperative and the need of the country. National politics has polarized into two extremes. On one pole stands UML which Oli leads. His agendas are clear: National development and prosperity, national integrity and sovereignty and dignity, social harmony, national development and economic prosperity. And you know who stands at the other end: Those who have no regard for the constitution, those working against political norms and values and those who appear to stand together today not because they have common ideologies and vision but because they are guided by petty personal interests. They are opposed to development, values and national sovereignty.
It is for this reason that UML has stood up for K P Sharma Oli.
If the convention is going to reelect the same leadership and endorse the existing policy, in what sense will the UML be different post-General Convention from what it is today?
Let me begin by sharing with you how happy we are to complete the assemblies at the grassroots level. Conventions were held in a total of 6743 wards of the country in a single day. On October 26, we completed municipal-level conventions in 753 local units. We held a Statute Convention in which more than 6,300 members were present. Except for some of the places and regions affected by floods, these events were conducted within a single day on the scheduled dates. We completed all these democratic processes within the set deadline without any hurdles. Some were saying UML would not be able to do it. We proved them wrong. In many places, leadership was chosen based on consensus but this consensus was arrived at after intense deliberations.
Our upcoming Convention is going to be a big event with the participation of a number of international guests. We will inaugurate it with grandeur which will instill confidence in people. There will be around 2000 delegates. Our closed session will witness intense discussion on policies. We will try to elect the leadership on consensus first of all. If that does not work out, then the election process will follow.
That K P Oli will be the Chairman of the UML has been determined and guided by national politics. This is the imperative and the need of the country.
You asked how UML will be different post-Convention. It will not be different only for the sake of being seen as a different political formation.
Nepal’s history of political revolution is different from that of many countries around the world. In Nepal, communist parties came to represent the laborers and the working class people whereas Nepali Congress came to stand as a representative of the bourgeoisie class. While there was such a dichotomy, on the one hand, these two parties stood together in a fight against feudalism and autocracy. Such is the legacy we share. These two parties have had a history of cooperation and coordination but at the same time, they have also competed for supremacy in national politics. You can see this competition in policies, plans and visions and their influence among the people at the grassroots levels. Today we stand in such a situation where the competition in national politics will be between us, the UML, and the Nepali Congress.
There was a time when our agendas and policies were centered on achieving political and civil rights. In the process, many of us suffered exile, others lost their lives, and others were jailed. A generation of people suffered this fate. Now that phase is over. There was a time when we struggled to ensure the representation of diversity in the state structure, such as inclusion and proportional representation. Now that phase is over too. These provisions have been safeguarded by the constitution. Now they are the givens. The only issue is that of effective implementation of those safeguards.
Now any political party that wants to remain relevant in national politics has to champion the cause of economic development and prosperity. Whichever party can raise these agendas effectively in their policies, goals, action plans and conducts will be the party people will support. This will be the major agenda for the UML from now on. Post-convention UML will emerge as the party to champion the cause of economic development and prosperity. We will emerge with further clarity in vision, rise as a stronger organization with more understanding and accommodative leadership.
Your party has heavily criticized the current government. In your view, where has this government failed to deliver?
First of all, this government does not look like a government to me from any angle. It is a coalition of forces guided by petty selfish interests. It has no vision, no thought and no action plan for the country and the people. It has no principled stand on anything. It has no vision for development and no commitment to national sovereignty. Most of all, it is against development.
Facts speak for themselves. They stalled the 1400 roads of strategic importance that the Oli government had started. Those roads were envisioned by our government to change the landscape of the country itself. And they would benefit all the people and all the political parties. The bidding process had also started. But this government stalled them all. The previous government had started to construct more than 350 hospitals across the country. This was a momentous decision and it could potentially revolutionize Nepal’s public health sector. Such a good start has also been stalled.
The incumbent government has no vision for development and no commitment to national sovereignty. Most of all, it is against development.
How the government responded to the death of Jaya Singh Dhami, who fell off the Mahakali River after the SSB personnel cut off the tuin is known to everybody. Dhami died due to the criminal activities perpetrated by outsiders and yet the government did not even dare to send the diplomatic note to the Indian government.
You have been a strong critic of the Maoist leaders. One of the allegations from the UML was that the Maoists did not cooperate and that they did not allow the government to function well. Can you substantiate this?
I don’t want to comment about the individual leaders who became ministers from Maoist side in the Oli-led government. But if you know how the Maoist leadership, especially Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda behaved, you will find it shameful. When he was the co-chair of Nepal Communist Party (NCP), or when we were together, Dahal chaired around 93 secretariat meetings. If you look back and check the minutes of those meetings, you will be amazed. None of the discussions of those meetings were centered on development, and people’s pressing needs. Nor were they about providing feedback to the government in its daily governance. These meetings were centered on petty things such as who should be appointed the ambassador of which country, the number of political appointments to be made for certain leaders and so on. These minutes are the mines of misconduct which Pushpa Kamal Dahal and co were promoting bringing infamy to the party and the country.
One unmistakable tendency among the leaders who grew up with Maoist school of thought was to loot the state resources for personal benefits. Some would openly say since they fought during the ‘people’s war’ they deserved some largesse or appointments or even contracts. The tendency, as I said, was to loot the resources for personal benefits.
Many leaders from your party have faulted Maoist Center for the MCC grant debacle. What is your view?
Prachanda played a dubious and double role in MCC. He would say one thing to the American ambassador to Nepal, quite another thing to us and then quite a different thing to the public. We have come to know that Prachanda said this to the US ambassador in a meeting with him: ‘Let the government led by K P Sharma Oli be toppled down, then I will lead the government and I will get the MCC Compact endorsed by parliament. So help me become the PM.’ Prachanda does not believe in any ideology and political philosophy. He is the leader who has mastery over playing amid contradictions to stay relevant in politics.
Those who have tried to do something good for the country have faced unpleasant fate in Nepal. K P Oli is the latest example.
Earlier, you heavily criticized the Sher Bahadur Deuba government for failing to deliver. Had not the Oli-led government also failed on the same front?
You have to evaluate the K P Oli government in major historical contexts. You must be familiar with the history of Kaji Bhim Malla, who actually fought for the country, brought victory for the country in war with Tibet and brought glory to the country but who was killed on false charges in Nepal after his arrival. Those who have tried to do something good for the country have faced an unpleasant fate in Nepal.
When Oli became the PM for the first time in 2016, he was the one to sign mega-deals with China, such deals, which if executed well, will end forever the prospect of Nepal facing economic blockade from India. The transit and transport agreement with China which he initiated was the milestone development for Nepal. You know what happened after he returned to Nepal. He was displaced from power by none other than those who were his coalition partners. The Maoist leaders who were serving as ministers in his cabinet until the previous day came to the parliament to file no-confidence motion against him. What could be a more glaring case of political immorality than this?
What happened during his second stint as the Prime Minister is known to you all. Attempts to dislodge him from power started after he brought out the new administrative and political map of Nepal to include our land in Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura.
In recent times, Nepal Army has been accused of doing business. How rampant did you find this tendency when you led the Ministry of Defense?
I have always held the Nepal Army in high esteem. Nepal Army is the institution of glory with glorious history. It is the symbol of national unity, national sovereignty, a force to maintain social harmony and a force to make Nepal known to the rest of the world. It is an institution that is deeply connected with the people.
Nepal Army is the institution of glory with glorious history. It is the symbol of national unity, national sovereignty, a force to maintain social harmony and a force to make Nepal known to the rest of the world.
Nepal Army follows the instruction of the political leadership that exists. When there is bad political leadership that may have had a bearing on the functioning of the Nepal Army as well but largely Nepal Army is the institution that has remained above controversy. It has always maintained its professional integrity. As a Defense Minister, I got to understand the Nepal Army even better and my respect for this institution has grown even more. There may be some aberrations because of the wrong tendencies of some of the officials but Nepal Army as an institution is not into what you call doing business.