Bidya Devi Bhandari, Nepal’s first female president, was at the helm of the presidency for two consecutive terms. Here is her interview with RSS’s Krishna Adhikari, Narayan Neupane and Prakash Silwal.
You are now living a retired life after completing two consecutive terms in the supreme position of President of the country. How are your days going on?
This is probably the first interview I have given to a news media after completing my term as president. I got the opportunity to fulfill my duties and responsibilities by remaining in office for around seven years as president of the country. I discharged my duties and responsibilities to the country, people and myself, and in that sense, I feel my tenure as president was a success. President is an institution not an individual. I was busy at work within my jurisdiction during my tenure. I returned to my civic life after fulfilling the responsibility to the state. It has been around three months. I have not done any special work on my initiatives in between. I have not felt that my responsibility to the country has decreased, but has increased. I am unable to attend public activities in a planned way. I am thinking to gradually raise national issues on behalf of the civil society with the experience I have gathered so far. Now, I am not so busy nor I have free time.
How do you see the implementation of the federal democratic republic in the country?
It has been around 15 years since the country has got the federal democratic republic governance system. In my experience, things have moved ahead at a normal pace during the period when it comes to the fulfillment of responsibilities by the president. I think changes and development activities may not have accelerated the way they should be when a country enters a new system. During the period, things should have sped up to address aspirations and wishes of people. But, it may not have been. We have adopted the multi-party system and have open society with pluralism. It requires support of all as things cannot get moving at the wishes of only a party and an institution in this system. All in all, my tenure as president was successful, and I believe the implementation of the republic has headed in the right direction.
Whose roles of what sort are essential to strengthen the federal democratic republic system?
The federal democratic republic is the best political system in the world. To consolidate it, it requires understanding and cooperation from the mainstream political parties in particular. They can fulfill their responsibilities when it comes to bringing the national unity and addressing the aspirations of people.
How do you compare the situation before and after the country entered the federal democratic republic?
Republic is a symbol of a full-fledged democratic system. There are many differences between today and yesterday as in this system, individuals and persons are elected by people through periodic elections. We have entered the full democratic system. In this context, we must move ahead to keep up with development activities in the world as per the need and aspirations of Nepali people.
How do you find the situation and to what extent Nepali people have exercised their rights following the establishment of republic in the context of international practice?
‘We must not jump to a conclusion that the system itself is bad just because of wrongdoings at the hands of the person responsible.’
It takes time for everything to be matured and develop. We have entered the republic system. It does not mean that the wishes and aspirations of people are fulfilled through a periodic election shortly following the adoption of the system. This system officially took place after the promulgation of the constitution in 2015. Before that, the country went through transition. Authorized institutions of the state should take initiatives to achieve this goal. Authorized institution is the government. There are many bodies of the state. All of them should be responsible. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s gross domestic product growth was around seven percent. The figure was very good. But, the pandemic affected it. Political instability also added to it. If we see the history, it took time to build modern Nepal. It also took time to safeguard achievements made. A long period was spent in safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and national integrity. At the same time, we had to face the autocratic dynastic rule. During that arbitrary rule, people suffered a lot. It feels that things like what is the state, what sort of governance system is good for the people and how it operates have been defined following the 1950’s movement. We have reached thus far on the back of the movements. In fact, people’s viewpoint on state, state management, governance system and good governance has been clear. The situation is that those who have carried the legacy of autocracy and traditional school of thoughts have not yet embraced these changes. All state bodies have moved ahead acting on a parliamentary system. But, it takes time for the traditional school of thoughts to change. We must utilize the changes made so far to build a prosperous nation. It has taken time to fulfill the aspirations of people for development activities due to political instability. There is not any alternative to the democratic republic. Big political parties of the country should lead it. There is a need to remove indiscipline from the society and defeat regressive thoughts through the democratic system and people’s mandates. Prosperity can be pursued through this system. For this, there are authorized institutions. These institutions should cooperate with responsibility.
Good governance is weak. As a result, there are comments that whether the system itself is weak. What sort of things can be done to strengthen the system and maintain good governance?
Sometimes, there might be some negative comments coming in knowingly or unknowingly due to the persons who are held responsible although the system itself may not be wrong. The county was out of order in a way for a long time before changes took place. How was our education system? Why have people left the country in search of education and job opportunities? How is the situation of employment opportunities and production at home? All these things should be evaluated. So, we must not jump to a conclusion that the system itself is bad just because of wrongdoings at the hands of the person responsible. Now, youths have had new visions. New political parties have emerged. Have we been able to hand returns of republic to youths? They were not today’s youths who fought for changes in the 1950’s movements. I might be there to take to the streets during the movements in 2036 and 2046 BS. I might not be there during the movements in 2007 BS. And, is it fair to say that those who fought for changes during these movements are nobody? History of our ancestors should not be forgotten. In the democratic republic, all can have a stentorian voice. Today’s generation can join politics. But, we should not have the mindset that our ancestors are none, and that we are only an alternative. Any weakness and complaints surfaced in democracy should be corrected and amended. Mainly, we have to pursue a prosperous Nepal and a modern Nepal.
Federalism is said to be costly. Has the state failed to focus on development activities and social service?
We have to look at how policies, programs and budget have been allocated in course of the operation of state system. Whether or not we have carried out educational development and utilized modern technology in a way it requires the state to produce skilled and qualified human resources. Employees should be assigned in a new area of work through the use of technology by properly managing workforce in bureaucracy. We must pay our attention to it. We must make proper policies based on our geographical structure and emphasize productions. We are a landlocked and land-linked country. In this situation, we must create an environment conducive for us to become self-reliant. We must increase investments in production. Our productions are costly. Our problem is how to address it. I do not think the province system is costly. We must increase productions and address the aspirations of people.
There are comments that the structure of province is unnecessary. What’s your view?
There are around 30 million people in Nepal, and each of them may have different thoughts. These things may have surfaced through media. Such complaints do not come up when one engages in productions and at a job. We can have agricultural products as per our climate and soil. We can have quality forest and agricultural produces and export them to foreign countries. But sadly, our trade deficit in agriculture and forest is increasing. We must reduce it.
Talking about water resources, there are risks created by the global climate change. We must try to maintain its impacts. Call it a grace from Aradhyadev Pashaputinath, we have such watercourses that we can use for many purposes like drinking, irrigation and to generate electricity. We must utilize water resources accordingly. We are lagging behind in utilizing them, and is it fair to blame the system?
‘We are a landlocked and land-linked country. We must create an environment conducive for us to become self-reliant.’
It is not fair to blame the system after just joining politics today. Who were where when the country experienced the armed conflict? Who committed mistakes? Who did good deeds? These things must be evaluated. When I was in office as president, during my official meetings I used to ask high ranking office bearers of the state to make policies and plans in accordance with the geographical structure of our country in a bid to make the country self-reliant on economy. We must take initiatives to strengthen the system and give returns to people. The state bodies are responsible to pursue economic prosperity while institutionalizing republic.
In this sense, what is the role of the presidency as an institution for strengthening republic?
The role of the presidency as an institution is important to this effect. The presidency as an institution is the higher form of legislature, executive and judiciary. The credits of the work done by all of them go to the presidential institution as well. It is not otherwise for the guardian of a state to get both credits and blames. We all must play our roles responsibly.