I am a patriot Nepali. I am accountable to Nepali land, Nepali people’s self-pride and their well-being. I have not taken the oath of anywhere else but Nepal’s. Well, as a guest, I may have eaten somewhere else’s. A guest is respectful to the host. But if you host someone, you should not expect loyalty from your guest. It is wise to think and believe that the guest is loyal to his own home. This applies to me too.
See the moon from afar,
From closer can be seen blemishes
And when blotches are seen
You may not wish to go closer again!
See the moon from afar!
CPN-UML Chair KP Oli opened our conversation with these lines of poet Hari Bhakta Katawal. It was nine o’clock at night. Oli seemed to be in the mood of long chat. Black tea was served in the room. Oli furthered conversation, “There were reasons why Hari Bhakta said so. But what I think is a person should be seen cleaner and more respectful from closer. Our life must look better from closer.”
In whose eyes Oli ji? One’s own or others’?
Others’. One requires higher ability to be able to see oneself closer. It is not easy. I would just refer to our modest ability. Even within most simple abilities, our life should not qualify to be hated whether seen from afar or from closer.
Would you recall some decisive turns of your life?
Certainly. I was eight years old. A Pundit was reciting Purana in the village, “….a king donated so many cows that their number exceeded the number of droplets of entire Monsoon.” I could not digest that. Being myself a cowherd, I asked him, “How is it possible to have the space and shed to keep so many cows? I can’t really believe your story, Pundit ji.” He was angry. Telling me off, he showered all words of his dictionary. From that day onwards, I stopped believing things even if they were told by the books, whether religious or political. I think we should understand all kinds of religious books and Puranas only in the context of time they were written.
I was about thirteen. A village headman in Panchayat gave an unfair decision against a poor person. I stood against it. The headman got angry; threatened me with breaking my molars! I got angry as well and held him by his collars. He left the scene. Many people advised me I shouldn’t have done that to a “big man” (thoolo maanchhe). But from that day onwards, my definition of “big man” changed. I started believing that a person doesn’t become big by birth or caste but by his deeds. I started telling myself that I must work for similar purpose. After some time, I joined politics.
What are your views today about the use of violence in politics? How do you feel when you look back and assess the armed rebellion of Nepali Congress in 1950, your Jhapa Mutiny of 1970s and the use of violence and counter-violence of Maoist insurgency?
A form of political struggle can not be treated as a subject of theory. It should rather be seen in the context of time. Congress’s armed rebellion against Ranarchy was positive. One should examine Jhapa Mutiny in the background of struggle against Panchayat authoritarianism. Both of these rebellions of different times occurred because suppressions of the regimes had closed all doors and windows of peaceful popular resistance. Jhapa Mutiny is significant also in the sense that it was the first uprising for Republican Nepal at a time when absolute monarchy had literally broken the backbone of Nepali Congress.
And, the violence during Maoist insurgency?
Maoist insurgency was a theoretical blunder. It was based on their inaccurate analysis of national and international situation. We should not forget; all paths of peaceful resistance were constitutionally open when they chose armed insurgency. Monarchy had already been made constitutional. Even if in smaller number, people desiring for Republican Nepal had reached to the parliament and raised their voice. CPN-UML had formed popular government before the insurgency. Therefore, it would be erroneous to put the three struggles you mentioned together. You can not do so just because it pleases someone.
Would you agree with the contention that Nepal would not become a republic so swiftly if violence was not used as a means?
I don’t think so. The prime minister should have sealed the palace after the royal massacre. The government must have investigated it so that circumstances would take a different course. Monarchy ended in Nepal on the day of royal massacre. After this, it was made to stand only on artificial legs. Did monarchy end because of Maoist violence? The army still existed. Was the army defeated? It was there, intact. In fact, monarchy was abolished through the pressure and will of the Nepali people expressed in the Jana Andolan (Popular movement). Not only Nepal, hundreds of other countries around the world have undergone this process of change. Who removed Iranian Monarchy? It was not an armed struggle, but a peaceful mass movement. I had told Girija Prasad Koirala (the prime minister during the royal massacre), ‘Seal the Royal Palace. Investigate. You are an elected Prime Minister. Bring this situation under control.’
You say this, but your leader at that time Madhav Kumar Nepal went to King Gyanendra and recognized him with royal greetings on behalf of your party!
… …(smiling after a period of silence) This is the reflection of mentality. Everyone is entitled to have their own.
So, you don’t agree with the general premise that the decay of monarchy took speed because of Maoist armed insurgency?
Agreement or disagreement with it won’t make a difference in reality. We can have a longer conversation about this on a different day.
You took fairly long time to claim the leadership of your party compared to the span of your political career, why?
I didn’t try to look towards the leadership. I am a person with different make. I have my own point of view about nature, life and world. Some say it is spiritual; I consider this a material one. Our spirituality talks about another world, post-death. I focus on this world, not celestial one. A man may live for a century, but this world has lived for billions of years. People may not know much about the generation older than their grandparents’. We are in this world for a brief period. Because I am not the kind of person running behind positions, respect, wealth etc may have created a situation of me not coming to the leadership. Yet, I have always remained in politics. I did my work honestly, spoke freely, and didn’t really wait for results.
However, in 2013, I realized I should change my approach. I decided to move forward with broad activeness. Colleagues supported. Elected me to the leader of our parliamentary party; voted me for party Chair. My health was not good when I was elected parliamentary party leader. When I was elected party Chairperson, I had literally returned from death-bed. After this, I got to work more decisively. I was always devoted to my work, but had not been able to demonstrate it. Before, many did not notice how I worked. I was there, in the crowd. No one took note of me until I came out and sat on the edge of the field.
Then, you were instrumental in writing the new constitution. The way you stood upto to India in that process has ever since surprised many people in both countries. I ask this because you were seen as being friendly with India after the Mahakali Treaty.
We were facing non-equal treatment on Mahakali for a long time. There was a long history of deeds opposed to the international principles on the use of Border River. As far as the information I have, India corrected its mistakes through “Unified Mahakali and Pancheswar Project Development Agreement” and we have been able to reclaim our rights. I am clear about Mahakali Treaty, which is not a new one. This is an old Treaty, whose mistakes were later corrected, after several attempts. Therefore, I stood in favor of it.
Do your views on Nepal-India relations carry continuity or do they have a habit of getting hot or cold according to the weather?
I understand our country, our geographical location as well as our neighbors’ politico-economic systems. I also know that our interest lies in having friendly relations with them. I know as well that we need to keep away from unnecessary entanglements with neighbors. We are not in a position to do something wrong against them. We don’t think awful about them. We only safeguard our own interests. This is not just a matter of being politically correct. Is it wrong, in return, to expect respectful behavior from our neighbors? I have a humble submission to our neighbors: help us if you can; if not, do not put your hands in our internal affairs and make things worse.
I stress three things on international relations. First, we all need to see our interest. Second, our interest must have the element of justice. If you take my jacket away, you will still get warmth, but I suffer from cold. There has to be justice. Third, there are international laws and values which must be respected. Powerful countries may be competing. India and China may be competing. There may be others in this competition. We are least interested in that. We urge all our friends: give us space to move because we want to live peacefully and this is our right.
In Kathmandu, there are one kind of people who have, for several years, advocated of equidistance in Nepal’s relationship with China and India. Is this possible? Should we look for equidistance or equiproximity?
I don’t use the term equidistance. I prefer equiproximity. Not only with the neighbors, it’s for all friends. It’s about developing proximity, not about creating distance. Some may need two meters of fabric to tailor a coat. Some are likely to have a bigger body and need a little more. This is not inequality. Friendship cannot be measured in mathematical terms.
But when we say equiproximity in our relations with India and China, we also have the extent of multidimensional broadness in our relations with India. These relations are not equal. I mention it in this context.
We should still see this in terms of equiproximity and equality. What is it when you say “relations are not equal?” Is it that the issues one neighbor raises must be more respected than the ones advanced by another? Not really. We equally respect the interests of both. Then, we act to protect our own interests. Look at the friendship between Lord Krishna and Sudama. Both of them possessed different capacity to give. Sudama gave rice, Krishna gave palace and gold. Did it make any difference in their friendship?
The issue I have tried to touch is not so general Oli ji. Which country is there in this world which has equal relations with two powerful and competing countries? Does UK have equal relations with US and Russia? Does Japan have similar relations with China and US? Is it possible?
(Goes quiet for a moment) Does an equal relation mean trade? Relationship does not amount to the result of trade alone. You would like to talk about access for people, or you may want to mention geographical ease. This is where we say equal relations with neighbors. We say we have no capacity to bear with pushes and pulls. We look for mutual respect. When we say so, we also say we take into account mutual sensitivities, mutual concerns and interests. We are not against anyone; equally not against both. This is not limited to trade and geographical access. This goes far beyond.
Take for example the two shops near my home. One is a grocery, the other sells paan. I need both. I buy groceries from one. I visit him only once a month, but spend larger amount at this place. At the friend with paan shop, I spend less but visit him twice a day. I have friendship with both. My give-and- take or frequency of visiting them is not the same but I have friendship with both.
The most important issue for us today is non-interference. We just want no intervention. Help us if you can, if you cannot, do not exacerbate our situation by extending your hands. This the most significant issue.
India probably keeps higher interest because the border is open. There is also a past of terror elements taking Nepal’s route. Or Tibet’s balance could also have an impact from here?
Both of these cannot be done. No. This won’t be allowed to happen. Aren’t we here to address the real concerns of our friendly neighbors? Don’t we have a government?
But the Nepali state has been so weakened that the Indians may not want to trust our government. Or controlling these stuffs can simply be short of Nepal’s limited capacity?
And, did you forget that the Twin Towers of the US had fallen? Wasn’t Pentagon attacked? By your logic, the USA must put the blame on the weaker one of its neighbors.
With all these activities here, what did India achieve?
Nothing. It did get nothing. It lifted certain individuals and got in return nothing except troubles. Some people of their agencies may have satisfied their individual vanity. India has certain sensitivities, we understand. We also have similar concerns of ours. Do we ever extend our hands? Do we ever say what kind of ministers or secretaries we need there? India should also come forward to understand our sensitivities.
All I want is very good Nepal-India relations based on trust. So do I want Nepal-China relations to be. We need to be supportive to one another. We need to be appreciative of each other’s sensitivities.
Would you, then, look into if they come forward with their concerns and sensitivities?
Why not? I would definitely look into them if they are justified.
India should emancipate itself from the mindset that its concerns in Nepal are better addressed only when certain type of people come to power.
Would it mark a new beginning for India to start working by preparing a list of its concerns and handing it over to whichever elected government in the neighborhood? Would it end their uselessly non-productive jumping around?
True. This is how it should be. We also do the same. We clearly convey our sensitivities to India if any. We do the same to China. They should also tell us clearly. Let us hear what they have to say. And let us address them. But refrain from jumping around here. I had told some Indian leaders way back during 2000s, “We now need to change the old style of handling Nepal-India relations. Let’s see the acceptable international values.” The most painful thing for us is the interference in our internal political matters.
Reviewing 70 years of experience, does India interfere itself or do we invite India for interference and then cry foul?
You nailed it pretty much. It is true that the clapping hasn’t come from only one hand. They were used to doing it from the beginning, since British-India times. When they whispered into our ears, we could not express our displeasure despite our dislike. We also developed this as a usual stuff. Let me just tell you today that we need to leave all this behind and begin afresh in our mutual relations.
You should not be called anti-Indian just because you say this!
Why should I be anti-Indian? For what reason? How?
Not at all. Any person thinking of Nepal’s well-being cannot afford to become anti-Indian. Someone wearing the shoe telling India where it pinches should not be labelled anti-Indian. Let India understand we are not a vassal-state or a protectorate. We are friends.
For the policy India has applied on Nepal for fifties of years, what did it get in return?
Nothing. Zilch. Some people… some agencies probably satisfied their ego. Nothing else. The people of both countries got deprived of unlimited development potential. For the petty interest of certain people, tensions were created in our relations. There were no obvious reasons. True that there could be problems in the border but we need to be open on major issues and move forward. Mutual benefit and mutual respect should enhance. This would also enhance our mutual trust. For this, interference in our internal matters must stop.
If India stays indifferent on Nepal, do we bring China to fill the vacuum? Or the US?
How a vacuum? Aren’t we here? Can’t we run our government? Can’t we make and operate effective and friendly policies?
I have some questions on our current politics now. On the pre-poll alliance you have formed, is it a Left Alliance or a Communist one? Are you planning for a communist regime in Nepal?
This is essentially not a communist alliance neither is this a Left alliance. Communist happens to be the name of our party just as your name is Vijaya (victory). But does it mean that you get victory all the time? It is only your name which is Vijaya. Names of political parties are kept in a context. Names remain but their essence changes.
Communism is a beautiful fantasy. It implies higher human society. It is like a “Ram Raj” in our average language. It is not possible in today’s circumstances. Let alone others, I cannot say how many people in my party are really honest and qualified to imagine a Ram Raj.
For your ease of understanding, I classify today’s communists in three categories: philosophical communists, ideological communists, political communists. Most communists today, not only in Nepal but around the world, belong to the third category, who happened to be communists for benefits, opportunity, development etc.
Do you say that the age now is not of philosophical or ideological communists but of political communists?
Sitting in front of me is a senior journalist Vijaya Kummar Pandey (smiles) and he says the age today belongs to Vaishya (business). This is true. Vaishya age is not limited to shops and markets. It has made its way into politics as well.
Yes Oli ji, no sector remains untouched by Vaishya age. Media too.
Yes. It is in the communist parties too. For many, it may look confusing. But the expanse of markets and business has fundamentally changed the production relationship, requiring communist parties to think out of their old box. This is a rather complex issue for another conversation.
How long will your alliance with the Maoist party go?
We will unite our parties now.
Am I talking to the future Prime Minister of Nepal?
From the seat of responsibility of mine as now, I cannot answer your question today. I wait for the decision of the people and my party. You will know in a few days.
Some people say your victory would lead the country to authoritarianism?
What do you think? Will that happen? Will a person like me who has suffered so much struggling for democracy do so? When I was in prison for fourteen years, I never thought I would live to become a Prime minister. My faith on democracy is not the matter of trade-off. The thing I never did in my lifetime, do you think I would do now?
Everything comes to an end for the people whether delivery of development will ever happen. All questions end with the question if life of the people changes for good. Failure of Kathmandu’s Mayor stands before us as an example. Panchyat regime also had political stability!
Majority is nothing in itself. Nepali Congress got majority a few times. Majority without vision and ability to operate that vision is useless. Stability turns into stagnation if not utilized properly. We are aware of it.
What is your next political ambition?
Nothing. I dream of developing this country.
How do you want people should remember you?
I don’t think they should remember me. Let them forget me. No one should sing my praises. After my death, it will not make any difference to me if one offered flowers or the other kicked me. While living, it pains if someone kicked. After death, makes no difference. I would not grump.
Are you satisfied with your life?
I was satisfied when I was in prison cell. I am the same today.
You attack opponents in very strong, satirical terms. Once you did this to Prachanda ji, now this has moved to Sher Bahadur ji?
You can say my faith on truth is to the level of stupidity. In the past when wrongs took place, I did so. So do I today.
How will the next days for Nepali people be? Will they remain the same or will they change?
We are not in old situations. There were achievements in the past too. But there were many ups and downs as well. Petty politics ruled. Some individuals were lifted, others were knocked. Development didn’t take place as expected. We will now move towards better days.
Oli stopped here. The clock was ticking ten. While preparing to return, I recalled to him the poem that he had started our conversation with.
On parting, he held my hands and said, “I won’t look bad even if seen from closer, Vijaya.”
I replied to him in two words: Let’s see. And I asked myself if I should see him in Hari Bhakta’s tunes or understand him in his own.
While coming back on the way, I was also thinking if the votes of UML and Maoist parties would transfer to their alliance candidates; whether the voters would uphold the alliance mathematically in Proportional List category as well.
(An interview by Vijaya Kumar, Editor of Annapurna Post Daily. This interview was published in Nepali on 2nd December 2017).
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