Upadhyay: What should I call you Prime Minister or caretaker Prime Minister?
PM: I’m not caretaker Prime Minister. I’m Prime Minister. There is no provision of caretaker prime minister in our Constitution. In just one condition prime minister will be caretaker. If unfortunately, prime minister’s position is vacant and in such a situation where there is no parliament then the senior minister will take care of the government and he will be the caretaker prime minister.
I’ll come back to Nepal’s politics, but I want to start with what you said vis-a-vis India. You said we are working to deepen ties with India based on sovereign equality.
PM: Yes of course. I am always telling that the countries may be smaller or bigger in size and population or advanced and backward in development processes but the sovereignty of all countries is equal.
No one can argue with the idea or the fact that every country’s sovereignty is supreme, but the fact that you had to add this qualifier, is there a reason you felt the need to mention this?
PM: Yes, we want to remove all kinds of inferiority complex — complexes from our people. Similarly, we want to draw attention of our neighbours also, not to take any complex that may be superiority complex too. There should not be any type of complexes between the countries, between the neighbours.
Both neighbours have superiority complex?
PM: No, I’m not alleging like that; this is not an allegation but there should not be. And I want to develop our friendly ties with both of our neighbours where there are no problems at all.
Right, do you make this concept of sovereign equality a prerequisite in your engagements with the other neighbours as well, namely China?
PM: With both neighbours, we talk in the same way. In today’s world where we are talking — I am talking with you and it goes everywhere. If I hide something and If I talk some other thing with somebody else, that will also be listened, that will not be hidden. So, what works is talking the same language with you or with him and with all. Otherwise, cheating somebody, saying something to somebody else and some other things to someone, that doesn’t work.
You said Indian encroachment— the issue of Indian encroachment and we will get them back the areas, that you said have been encroached by India, through diplomatic talks with India, but the map of Nepal was altered even while diplomatic talks were on. So, is there a rethink or are you talking about other areas?
PM: We are talking about that very area of Limpiadhura, Lipulek and Kalapani and there is a little bit dispute in Susta also. If there are small disputes in other places, we can resolve those disputes too. But basically there is a dispute in the areas of Lipulek, Limpiadhura, and Kalapani now. It is very clear. It is a reality and fact that the area of Limpiadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani is the territory of Nepal. It is a very sacred part of Nepal. But, Sugauli Sandhi confined us to the east of Mahakali River. We accepted that. That was the treaty accepted by both the governments – British India and us. And, for 146 years, that territory was under our control. But in 1962 there was Indian army in Kalapani and then the area banned and Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiadhura were not in our use. So, now we have to talk thoroughly, calmly with evidences, with proofs, with history and we are not in a position to claim the territory of China or India— by size, by strength by anything, we are not in position to claim but we must claim our territory with our friends.
How would you describe your relationship with India today?
PM: Very good. Far better than before.
Before, is when?
At the time of British India, we had fights, and after that we have been gradually developing our friendship and now we are in the final stage of completing our ties to develop it in a really new height or wider sense where there are no problems at all. And there should not be any problem. Before, there were so many problems. There were this or that type of problems like there were military security check posts in the northern border of Nepal for many years. When Matrika Prasad Koirala became prime minister, he immediately visited India and signed an agreement to install about 17 Indian security check posts in the Northern border of Nepal.
Now there are Chinese check posts.
PM: There is no chance for others. There are no Chinese check posts in the northern border and we don’t allow to any side, Chinese, we will not allow them to put their military check posts inside our territory.
Do you also have problems with your Northern neighbour?
PM: Simply speaking, there are no problems.
PM: With China, there are no problems. With India, so far I think, we have a small problem in Limpiadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani. That will be resolved and the year 2021 will be the year where we can declare that there are no problems between Nepal and India.
Some of the things that made headlines in 2020 left bad taste. In May last year, for instance, when the virus was at its peak you were quoted as saying, “It has become very difficult to contain COVID-19 due to the flow of people from outside. The Indian virus looks more lethal than Chinese and Italian.” You called it the Indian virus, no one else has. Do you still stand by those remarks?
PM: No I said that because of open border.
But you called it the Indian virus not the Chinese virus although the virus originated in China.
PM: From China one student had come here and a virus was found but from India, because of the open border, so many people were using that open border and coming back…
Bringing in the Chinese virus into Nepal.
PM: Virus is never Chinese never Indian but from where they came, that was the story I told.
Also, in the month of June you said that the Indian embassy in Kathmandu was hatching a conspiracy to remove you from office. Were you misquoted? Do you think there was a misunderstanding?
PM: I said that not Indian embassy, but I said some corners of India or some elements of India are hatching some conspiracy and that was true.
So, was this directed at the Indian media, you’re saying the Indian media was behind the conspiracy?
PM: Not only media. It was reflected in the media, but you can see the interviews and articles of the intellectuals, analysts and others.
On birth anniversary of the Nepali poet Bhanu Bhakta who translated Valmiki’s Ramayana into Nepali, you said, “Nepal has become a victim of cultural encroachment and its history has been manipulated.” These are very loaded words and they do have a reaction. Is Nepal’s culture then under attack and by whom?
PM: First, this is not a political matter. This is a matter of discussion, research, findings about our civilisation, development of our civilisation and history.
It’s also an emotional matter. I think that’s why the reactions were emotional.
PM: Yes. Why I spoke those facts at that time. Why I chose that time, the selection of time, why was that? I request my friends, brothers and sisters to understand two things. One, this is not politics, this is historical fact. So if you don’t mind, we have to keep our mind open whether Faizabad, Ayodhyapuri or we have to find the real Ayodhyapuri. Where is Ayodhya? And there are so many books written by Indian writers, authors and scholars. Among them, Kitne Pakistan is one which was awarded with Sahitya Academy Award by the Government of India led by Atal Bihari Vahpayee ji in 2003.
I’ve not read Kitne Pakistan, but I’ve read Valmiki’s Ramayana and well, the question of Ayodhya, you don’t want to dwell on it. But you’re talking about Nepal’s history and cultural glory. But the sense one gets is that you celebrate Nepal’s history by painting one of your neighbours as the villain and it has been said…
PM: No, no, excuse me. In this point you didn’t understand me, exactly what I said, I’m talking not only about the glorious past of Nepal and the ancestors of Nepal.
I’m talking about Bhaskaracharya who discovered the theory of gravitation and it was in 1150 AD. And his book Siddhanta Siromani was published in 1210 and Newton found that theory some 500 years late.
This is the first time I’ve heard of this.
PM: I studied it in my courses when I was a child that the theory of gravitation was discovered by Newton, and before him Galileo and others. But that’s not true.
Let’s talk about political situation here. How do you describe right now your relationship with Pushpa Kamal Dahal?
PM: Very good question. You know, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, his background, his history. His activities are not exactly democratic.
You partnered with him, formed a government with him not once but twice even after knowing all of this.
PM: Yes. I am telling you, for that, from where I brought him, and I joined hands with him. His character is unstable and that is one fact. I was careful about his character. Instability would be the consequences of his character.
When you took oath in 2018, Nepal had something, your government had something. Nepal had not seen since the 1950’s, a stable government with a 2/3rd majority. And then you decided to dissolve the House. And your decision has been called a lot of things, I am just quoting, these are not my words, “irresponsible, unconstitutional, undemocratic, a constitutional coup”. This is how your critics have described your decision. So how do you describe yours?
PM: First of all, I want to ask you – what is the meaning of coup? How those people are describing the dissolution of the parliament as a coup? Coup d’état what kind of analysis is this? Do they understand in fact the meaning of coup? Or they just want to criticise the government and define the government.
You’ve dissolved that House, so you’re not a member of the House anymore because the House doesn’t stand according to you. And yet you remain the prime minister and you also, after dissolving the House expanded your Council of Ministers. Does that matter?
PM: That is constitutional. There are different constitutions in the world. India has their own constitution. America, China, Pakistan and other countries have their own constitutions. And we have our own constitution.
Since the 1990’s Nepal has seen no government which has completed a five-year term, that’s almost 30 years and now.
PM: Unfortunately, this time also. I was hoping, and I was trying my best to continue the government for the five years term. But unfortunately, some people, ambitious people from my party, they created such a situation where they wanted to push the country towards instability.
Is the Nepal Communist Party now a divided house, sir? Or are you going to contest the next election together as one single entity?
PM: I’m surprised with their different expressions and different activities. I’m surprised because I called the central committee meeting, but they were absent, and I found them in the street. They went to Election Commission claiming that they are the real party. They never asked me even a single time.
So, you will not contest the election with them? The party is divided?
PM: I have not declared that. Their position is still there in my party. My second chairman is Pushpa Kamal Dahal even now. Senior leaders are Jhalnath Khanal and Madhav Nepal even now.
Will you contest the election with them?
PM: That’s not sure because in Hindi there is a saying that….
There have been reports that the Chinese representative in Kathmandu has held meeting between the warring factions of your party to hold them together which is also unheard of. I have never heard of a diplomat trying to keep the government of another country together and openly holding meetings. Then we had a high-profile visit from Beijing right after your announcement to dissolve the House and had a meeting with you also.
PM: We love our independence, we love our freedom and we don’t want to be instructed or guided by others. We do not follow the instructions by others. We independently decide on our matters. This split, that unity, and today’s split – today’s split is done by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Nepal. That unity was done by me and Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
So, we love our independence and freedom to decide on our internal affairs and we don’t want any type of interference from outside, from north or south. Remnants of such contradiction may exist even now. They have to be resolved and if we can be instrumental, we are ready for that.
So, you’re offering to resolve differences between India and China?
PM: Yes, if we can be instrumental to support and help them to resolve the problems, we are ready.
Another point of contention of course has been Chinese investments in Nepal. As everywhere else in the world there have been concerns, that have been expressed, and I understand that as a developing country or any developing country needs money, needs infrastructure and needs someone to steer those projects but the so-called debt-trap from China is a concern elsewhere. Do you share those concerns, sir?
PM: Some two years ago, when I was in the USA, also at that time I was asked about debt trap and I told them that we are concentrating our efforts on economic development and for that our efforts, our resources are not enough. We want to get support, we want to get investments and sometimes loans too for some projects but carefully.
Are you not worried that, that money comes with strings attached?
PM: I don’t think so because as we are getting loans from others, similarly we are getting loans from China and that is not that much of a huge amount. And that is not in such areas where we cannot get back. We invest in such areas where we can get back the money.
So, you will limit your dependence on Chinese money?
PM: Yes, so in construction they do, they compete. If they are awarded, then they do that work and hand over us. That is simple thing. There is no question of debt-trap etc.
Edited version of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s interview to WION TV channel’s Palki Sharma Upadhyay.