Nepali Times spoke to Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai this week to gauge his reaction to the political deadlock and the tensions within his own party. The interview was conducted in English at his Sanepa residence Excerpts:
MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Nepali Times: Looks like we are reaching a crucial point in the peace process?
Baburam Bhattarai: The next four months are crucial for us, we have to make the new constitution which will formalise the political agreements, and then we have to finalise the integration and rehabilitation of the PLA. No one side can now afford accuse the others of going against the spirit of the agreement.
There seems to be a fundamental difference between the Maoist and non-Maoist parties about the structure of a future state?
The background is that our movement was from the beginning a struggle for democracy. Only after five years within the system did we go for armed struggle (in 1996). The basic political demand was a constituent assembly. Throughout ten years of the war we stuck to this. Other parties did not agree to this. Only when the war came to a decisive stage, then only the king took over power to fight against us and the political parties were sidelined did the traditional democratic forces join hands with us. My friend Kunda Dixit may differ on this, but there is a certain difference in understanding this issue. Who brought whom to this position? Their argument is they brought us to this position, our argument is that the basic demands were always originally raised by us: the demand for constituent assembly, the demand for federalism, the demand for republic and secular state. These were not in the original constitution. So, theyÂ� came to our point of view.
So when the king staged a coup and sidelined the political parties, they realised there was no real democracy and then only they were forced to join hands with us. On that issue we signed a 12-point understanding and then we came to the comprehensive peace accord, after that we had an election we abolished the monarchy, and now we have to make the new constitution. Now that the monarchy is abolished the other parties are going back on their word, and they think that with international support they can marginalise us. The whole problem lies here.
Where is the international support coming from for this position?
Because of our party's name as a Maoist party, the international community thinks we are not democratic. People have a cold war mindset, you see, they think these are Maoists so they can't be democratic.
But the Europeans seem very happy with you?
Yes they are, but if the Maoists emerged as the dominant power in this country the others thought their old political hold will no longer stand that is why they joined hands to encircle us and silence us. And when we formed the government, they all ganged up against us and forced us to resign and for the last two years the whole process has been stopped. This is the background. For our part, we are still committed to this process, we want to institutionalise democracy through the constituent assembly. We don't think the Westminster model is suitable for a country like ours which is a basically peasant-based society, their concerns should be addressed, most of the population resides in rural areas, and if you just have an electoral democracy then most of the poor people who constitute 70 per cent of the population they will never get the benefit of formal democracy. So we should have a constitutional provision whereby they will have a say in the system, only then will the system work. Then there is the question of the oppressed nationalities, if you don't restructure the state on a federal basis and give them real autonomy then the rights of the nationalities, including the Madhesis, will not be addressed. We have to find a model, an electoral system where these marginalised people will have a say in the state. This is our demand, but the other side is not for real federalism because the unitary state benefited them, they don't want to share power. The landlord feudal system benefits the few rich farmers and landlords don't benefit, so they are also resisting this change. Then there are the traditional Hindu forces who don't want to give rights to Dalits and women. But to divert attention, they are still saying the Maoists still want to go back. Why should we go back?
Your party is polarised as well.
The extreme right and left are feeding each other, you see. When the basic demands are not fulfilled then the path of peaceful democratic development is blocked, then naturally the other side, the traditional Marxist leftist opposition will feel that this strategy is no going to work and we may have to go back to armed struggle even. So this is a reaction to the right regressive forces who don't want to bring societal changes. The danger of this extreme polarisation is growing in recent times.
Our party is still committed to peace and democracy through restructuring of the state and society in a true democratic and peaceful way and if these things are addressed through the new constitution then that solves the problem. If the traditional conservative side blocks that change then there will be a backlash from the left and the whole thing may break down. That is the internal dynamics and there is the added external dynamics, and our relations with India. Since British colonial days there has been a colonial relationship. The 1816 treaty has provisions are formally equal, but they go against the national interests of Nepal. The Indian establishment is also very wary of the Maoists coming to power, if we come to power we will want to restructure our relationship, and that is the external dimension.
Did you manage to reassure the Indians during your recent two visits to India?
I have been putting forth these views openly. We have to restructure our relations but through peaceful and diplomatic and political means, we have no interest to go to war with India.
What is likely to happen in the next four months?
It is very difficult to say what will happen in four months. It won't be beneficial for the other parties also if this process breaks down. The traditional democratic forces are also not going to gain anything because the country may go into some sort of authoritarian or military rule. But I like to be optimistic, I don't see any other alternative.
What needs to happen?
Best thing would be to have a national unity government, work out a timeframe for the completion of the peace process including the integration of the armies. If there is an agreement among the major parties a national unity government is still possible. Ultimately what is delaying it is a power struggle among the three parties and within the leaders of the three parties.
Does this include your party?
It happens in every party (laughs). The personality issue in not the only factor, but it is one of the factors. The three parties want to lead, and within the three parties individuals want to lead, but you have only one chair which can't be occupied at the same time. So a formula has to be worked out, a rotational system, a presidium, or a neutral candidate from outside the three parties to head the government.Â�
You think the military may move in?
If you can't make the constitution by May 28, then there is no constitutional provision of having another election for another government. There will be a vacuum and somebody will fill it and there is a danger again of a violent clash. We should avoid it at any cost and agree on setting up a unity government and go for the completion of the peace agreementÂ� and writing the new constitution. And being the largest party naturally we should be heading it. We are not just the largest, we have double the number of seats of the second-largest party. Our combined seats in the assembly is larger than the second and the third largest party.
How can you build confidence in the other parties to trust you?
Both sides should work to remove these doubts. Practice is the best way to remove these doubts, for the last five years we fought the election, we won the election, and were in government for nine months, but if they block this path and if they cooperate if the peace agreement is broken, there will be a tendency to go back to the insurgency for one side and for the other side to go back to autocracy.
You seem to favour a consensus, while your colleagues are pushing for a majoritarian government.
The other side within the party is getting reactive. Because of non-cooperation from the other side, there is a growing tendency within our own party of losing faith in this process, it's not going to work. When the other side is not cooperating to make this process a success, then it lends strength to their argument that is not going to work. What we are saying is that there is no alternative, the only alternative is violent clash again and that is not the solution. And if it goes back to violence there will be international factor also involved, and we could turn into Afghanistan. If India feels there is instability in their backyard and it will harm their interest, China is a rising power and they may think they should get involved and the Americans might think because they are the superpower they may also want to be involved. We could get caught up in a proxy war.
Could the UN have a role in breaking the deadlock?
If India does not want outside forces to come here, and it is their area. The United Nations Mission to Nepal came here with a very limited mandate, and even that the Indian did not like much. And ultimately they were virtually thrown out.
You were critical of the handover to the Special Committee.
I was misquoted in the media, I was never against the handover to the Special Committee. What I had said was that the same thing was negotiated last year as a package, and within the party I had argued that we should have agreed then and headed the government. But now we were forced to make a unilateral concession and we have handed over and we have got nothing in return. If we had agreed earlier we'd have had much more benefits. It is a misconception, I never opposed the handover, it is along my line of thinking why should I have opposed it?
In 2002 in an interview with Nepali Times you had told us the death toll in the Khmer Rouge genocide was exaggerated and that it was western propaganda. Do you still hold that view?
I think it still may be exaggerated. I don't know whether the exact death toll has been verified by an independent commission, naturally there were extensive casualties. And if it is true that 3.5 million were killed then that is atrocious. We were never with the Khmer Rouge, we had ideological differences with them. Our movement was more political there was no reason to equate our movement with theirs. Just because we were in an armed struggle they thought we were like the Khmer Rouge. We were fighting for a democratic agenda, and naturally there were casualties and there were gains, the monarchy has been abolished. But the king should also be given the benefit of doubt, he didn't try to create trouble, and cooperated in the end. Whether he was forced to do so is another matter.
What of the infighting within your party?
There is always debate within a communist party, when it happens within a big party like ours. We have agreed that these issues will be debated within the party. Some of the issues are old, some are new. The basic issue is of learning from past mistakes of socialism in the 20th century. For example the Stalin era, it was a very closed system and you can't reach socialism that way it has to be a higher form of democracy than the traditional what we call bourgeois democracy. I the so-called electoral democracy, only a few people actually gain, the really poor people the working class they just cast their votes but they never get elected. That is the way it has been designed. The idea of socialism was that the real working class of people will get real power, but what happened in practice in the Soviet Union was some people ruled in the name of the working class so that kind of system failed. What was practiced in the Soviet Union wasn't socialism, we have to learn the right lesson from that and try to evolve the real democracy to the people.
I don't know how long China can manage to go with this phase, there is growing inequality and there is a question about how long the people will tolerate that. They are managing so far. Our party and the party in Beijing were never close, in fact. We are Maoist communists, and we have been saying the Chinese leader are not sticking to communist principles. We never had any close relationship, but diplomatically being a close neighbour we have diplomatic relations.
The Indian Maoists were critical of your party abandoning the revolution?
Apart from ideological political we didn't have any other links. As a Marxist party we have solidarity with all other parties all over the world.