Was the nationwide emergency necessary?
Once you had the ordinance [Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention and Control) Ordinance (TADO)], it allows you to impose curfew in particular areas. There was no need for a national emergency.
What has been your assessment of the emergency?
Before going into the assessment, first of all I would like to ask some basic questions because we have not been given convincing arguments about why the emergency was imposed. What was the compulsion behind imposing emergency rule now? If the government has now decided that emergency was the only option, weren't there similar situations before this? Wasn't the situation equally grave in Dunai when the Maoists attacked the district headquarters [in September 2000] ? Or when they attacked the police in Rukumkot [in April 2001]? Can the government tell us when it realised that the time had come to impose an emergency? The situation has been bad since some years, because we have a serious problem on hand. Our question now is, was it necessary for the government to declare emergency? Will the emergency automatically solve all these problems?
What has the government response to these questions been?
We have not been given reasonable answers. Our position is that if the army needed to be deployed, the decision of the National Security Council would have been enough, there would have been no need to impose emergency rule. If the intention was to ban the Maoists, the [TADO] ordinance would have been enough. So why did the government opt for the emergency? Again, if the emergency is only aimed at controlling the Maoists, as we have been told, why is the media getting no information, why is there lack of transparency, why have the civil rights of other people and political parties been suspended? How can the government convince us that the emergency is aimed just at the Maoists and not at other sections of society? Couldn't the government have said the civil rights were being suspended only for the Maoists or their supporters? Couldn't we have been more focussed? Our position is clear: even the Maoists cannot be killed indiscriminately. People may be killed in combat but no one can kill the unarmed, or those who have been taken prisoner or those who surrender.
Do you have reports that this is happening? We understand your party is monitoring the emergency.
We have heard that unarmed Maoist supporters were killed in Dang. Non-Maoists have also been killed in Makwanpur. In Syangja a porter was killed, in Kabre an ordinary citizen was killed. Besides, many workers from other parties, including the UML, have been arrested. Their houses have been searched, and they are being made to suffer unnecessarily. Can you subject common people to that only on the basis of suspicion? If you are involved in "cordon-and-search" operations in a particular place, that is fine. But you cannot conduct searches wantonly, just because you want to. You cannot search 1,000 innocent people and trouble them because you want to arrest one person. Even when you do that, there are ways you can do it politely. You can harass criminals but not ordinary people. The government's methods are not befitting a democratic polity.
What steps are you taking to check the misuse of emergency powers?
We have been saying that the Maoist problem cannot be solved through this approach. You have to get to the root of the problem and focus on that. For that you need a sound intelligence network, but that doesn't exist. Are they trying to cover up their inability to perform by declaring an emergency? Are they hiding information fearing that their inability will be exposed? Are you missing targets and hiding information because that would expose you? Are you afraid of information? If you were honest, responsible and confident, there would be no need to withhold information. These are reasons for us to think emergency powers can be misused. That is why we are trying to develop a monitoring mechanism, within our party, and jointly with other parties.
Today we could not enter Singha Darbar showing our press passes issued by the government itself. Does that say anything?
When any government does not have confidence in its own machinery, there is a danger that it will develop an undemocratic character. There is the danger of its developing authoritarian, even fascist, tendencies. Such governments lack patience; they try to cover up their inability by blaming others. They get angry if their incompetence is exposed and take to more repression, and eventually head towards their own destruction. We are worried, we fear the government is taking that road. The Nepali Congress has failed to rule in the past 12 years, and it is responsible for bringing the country to the situation it is in now. It politicised the bureaucracy, dismantled the systems of different institutions, it rendered them ineffective and misused resources. But even now it shows no sign of changing.
Your support is critical to give continuity to this state of affairs, what would be your position?
I told the prime minister yesterday (Monday) that if you continue to misuse emergency powers we will be forced to take a serious decision.
Does that mean you won't support the emergency?
We've not used the word "support" yet. There are times when one has to use particular terms, we have a very rich vocabulary.
What is the word we can use?
You could use one to send a message.
I cannot think of one now. But if the government begins to misuse its powers, and takes inhumane actions by restricting the rights of the constitutional opposition, the general public and even the Maoists who want to surrender, the UML will not keep quiet. It will go along with public opinion-with what the people want. The UML will play a very responsible role, depending on how the situation develops.
Are you considering the option of calling for an early session of parliament? We have not given much thought to that possibility. The present question is, should the government not have consulted the main opposition on something as important as an emergency? There was no consultation, no information. Such a method of functioning has led us to believe that the government may not be able to perform. We will decide on future actions based on how the situation develops.
We don't have as much information as we would like, how is the information-sharing at your level?
We have no information-sharing with the government.
You are not briefed on what is happening on the ground?
No, we have not been briefed up to today (Tuesday).
Have you asked for information?
What is the response?
They tell us that we will be told.
Why is that?
That is something for the government to say.
So for two weeks all you've been told is, "We will tell you?"
Yes. That is what we have been told. Logically they should be sharing all the information with me. Are we expected to make guesses or make phone calls to the districts to get the information? Or, are we expected to catch up with all the people coming in on buses and ask them what is going on? This is not the way things should be run. Okay, we can collect information from our own sources, but if we get the facts there won't be rumours, there won't be room for suspicion. We need to have the facts to be able to analyse, and separate truth from make-believe.
In July the prime minister himself came to chat with you. Has that kind of informal talks taken place this time?
The prime minister came once, but only after I told the press that I had been back from the US for four days and did not know much. After that he came to see me. He said that he would brief me on everything that happened. It is already over a week and a half since, but he has given me no information whatsoever.
Your first statement on the emergency was some sort of a "cautious support"?
We have been giving the government the benefit of doubt.
How long will you wait before beginning to ask tough questions?
We are seeing the prime minister today (Tuesday), and we will ask him three questions. First, we will seek an acceptable rationale for the need to declare this state of emergency. We will ask what mechanisms have been developed to prevent misuse of emergency powers, and if the authorities have a code of conduct? We will also submit to him a list of complaints and queries on atrocities that have taken place so far. We will take with us facts on where there have been unnecessary arrests. We have some cases of that happening, they have raided offices of the Samyukta Jana Mocha, arrested journalists.
Where do you think the present uncertainty will end? Now we also hear that development spending will be cut.
The government has not been able to do much development. As for what little was happening, of course there will be more problems once you begin to divert the budget. This affects the entire social sector, productivity and employment. That could deepen the crisis and force us to rely on foreigners. We are headed for economic collapse and the Nepali Congress is responsible for that.