29 March-4 April 2013 #649

Advantage, right

Interview with Kamal Thapa, chairman of Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) and his rising popularity on the polls

In 2010, Kamal Thapa, chairman of Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) won the all-India veterans’ tennis tournament under the 45+ age group in Delhi, beating third seed M Suresh of Andhra Pradesh 6-2, 6-3. But it isn’t just the tennis court where Kamal Thapa is serving aces.

The Himalmedia Public Opinion Poll 2013 shows a remarkable surge in Thapa’s popularity, beating even Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba in straight sets (see Nepali Times #647). Thapa’s consistent stance and fiery oratory have given him unparalleled crowd-pulling qualities in the post-monarchy era.

Thapa traces his ancestry 11 generations back to generals pre-Prithvi Narayan Shah. He is the first in his family who didn’t go into the army. In the last six years, he has emerged from a royal-tainted past seemingly unscathed. If the next election is held in June and he plays his cards right, Thapa may even have the potential to grab a chunk of the votes from half the respondents in the polls who were undecided.

Thapa admits privately that he may do even better if he jettisons his support for the monarchy and sticks to a Hindu revivalist agenda, but adds that as a matter of principle he won’t. But even by wooing voters disgruntled with the current crop of leaders, he could amass quite a big following. If he can also lay hands on part of the block vote of three-quarters of Nepalis who seem to think ethnicity-based federalism is a bad idea, then Thapa has a good chance to make it to the top ranks.

However, if mainstream parties, especially the NC and UML can re-invent themselves, go beyond the stale rhetoric of ‘defending democracy from the Maoists’, and put up fresh young faces, it will spoil Thapa’s chances. The support for Kamal Thapa and the RPP-N is a reaction to the fecklessness of the mainstream centre right, not an inherent pull of his Hindu-monarchy agenda.

Nepali Times’ Kunda Dixit invited Kamal Thapa for a game of tennis and an interview last week. Thapa beat Dixit 6-0.

Nepali Times: Where do you see your party in the current political set-up?

Kamal Thapa: We want to establish ourselves on the national level as a conservative party with a centre-right leaning. And for that we are making radical changes in our central committee. We have replaced those with ‘outdated’ ideologies with people like former secretary Khagendra Basnet and retired army general Bharat Rayamajhi among others.

What about women?

Yes we have very few female members at the moment. We are worried there might be a conflict between the old guard and the young so we haven’t been able to fully integrate the new members yet. In the next three months we aim to have 33 per cent women in the party.

How was your rath yatra?

It was much better than we had expected, but we were disappointed by the scant media coverage.

It seems like RPP-N is slowly renouncing its nationalistic ideology?

Hindutva and monarchy are both closely linked to nationalism. For now our focus is on Hindutva not as religion, but as an identity. Today’s youth are aware about their identities.

Are you trying to mix religion and politics?

Mixing religion and politics won’t work in the 21st century. However, since politics of the past few years has tried to completely erase Nepal’s Hindu identity, our demands are legitimate in this context. We are not asking for religious laws or for the state to be run on Hindu decree or for Hindus to be given special privileges. All we are saying is that people should not be forced to convert.

But won’t harping on religion disturb communal harmony in the country?

If our demands aren’t addressed on time then there might be conflict. You can’t have peace by ignoring the faith and identity of 94 per cent of Nepalis.

Won’t demanding a Hindu state put Nepal’s nationalism in danger through interference of the Hindu right in India?

Hindutva does not belong only to India. Nepal is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Kirat. It’s natural for the more than one billion Hindus across the world to want to make Nepal the centre of their faith.

Are there any links between India’s Hindu right and your party?

No, not at all. In fact I have refused to meet many religious leaders from India even when people encouraged me. I don’t believe you need the blessings of foreigners to be politically active in Nepal. If others want to meet Indian leaders it’s their choice, I am trying to move ahead in my way.

But support for Hindutva makes your movement a religious one, right?

All we are saying is Nepal should be reinstated as a Hindu state. But we are not turning into religious leaders or saints.

What relation do you see between Hindutva and monarchy?

Kings play a central role in Hindu theology, so there is definitely a connection there, but it’s important to point out that Hindutva and state system are different. As a party based on ‘conservative philosophy’ we promote a Hindu state with the king as its head. And given Nepal’s geopolitical, religious, socio-cultural, and current situation, we feel the monarchy is imperative.

Don’t you think supporting a traditional institution like the monarchy will hold back political development?

We are in favour of democracy with a new, improved form of monarchy. After the abolishment of monarchy, Nepal is in an abysmal state in the hands of extreme leftists, which proves we are right.

How long will you carry on with your ‘king’ agenda?

I prefer calling myself a nationalist rather than a monarchist. The country needs a king and democracy. The monarchy was removed through conspiracies and I have been protesting against it.

But wasn’t the royal massacre a reason for the demise of the monarchy?

There were plenty of rumours about the king after the royal massacre. But all that was planned by the Maoists and other parties after they realised that they couldn’t gain total power with the king still around.

What about Gyanendra Shah’s role in his own downfall?

Forming a cabinet under his leadership was the biggest mistake and not being able to win the confidence of the international community and political parties was another one.

Do you feel responsible for the collapse of the constitutional monarchy?

There is no use talking about the past. I had to stand by my party’s line. But I have to accept my weaknesses and learn from mistakes.

How is your relationship with the former king? It is really good, however not the way Nepali media portrays it. We are both on our own.

Do you see any possibility of working with ‘panches’?

We won’t be uniting any time soon, but we are looking into other opportunities.

The UCPN(M) and RPP-N are similar in many ways. Do you think the two parties could come together?

The two parties have many differences in the long-term, but at the moment we both need elections. Working together could be a possibility. But calling the UCPN(M) a nationalist party is a bit far-fetched.

The recent Himalmedia Public Opinion Poll shows a rise in your popularity, what might have led to this?

Our party has stood firm on its agenda. We are not just a party that is trying to reinstate Nepal as a Hindu state, we have a clear road map with a vision to transform the country socially, economically, and politically.

How many seats do you hope to win in the upcoming polls?

It all depends on how effective our campaigns are and how charismatic our candidates are. But as the Himal poll stated, it is certain the field is now wide open.

So how hopeful are you about elections?

We are very hopeful about it. Even a recent report by IDA put us fourth after the NC, UML, and UCPN(M).