|Photo: Min ratna bajracharya|
Shortly after his win, and before he formally attended office, Prime Minister Dahal sat down with the Kathmandu fortnightly newsmagazine Himal Khabarpatrika. The following is a translation of the conversation, printed here with permission.
How did you reach a consensus to form the government?
This was an effort to forge consensus amidst disagreement. We are moving ahead on the belief that, even with all of the divergences between ourselves we can achieve the kind of consensus that will take us ahead. We share an agenda of social and economic transformation with the UML, and are with the Forum on the matter of formation of a federal republic. The consensus between the three parties will guide the peace process to reach a logical solution, and will also ensure a two-thirds majority in the writing of the constitution itself.
Can this be called a natural coalition?
A coalition must be termed natural if it is likely to move in a progressive direction; but it is a forced coalition if it is regressive. Our coalition, between parties that share similar agendas, is natural and progressive. Whereas the previous alliance, between the Nepali Congress, UML and the Forum, was a dramatic coming together of contradictory forces.
How can those who call for ‘one Madhes, one state’ and those who oppose it work together?
We have an understanding on autonomous regions and federalism with the pro-Madhes parties. However, we have made it clear early on that ‘one Madhes, one state’ is not a possibility. We can have lots of autonomous provinces in the Madhes or Tarai on the basis of language, culture and geography.
How can the new constitution be written with the Nepali Congress (NC) out of government?
The NC is trying to imply that it has been deliberately left out of the government, but this is untrue. We were fully engaged over a long period to go into the government with the NC. In fact, friends in the UML were even more active for this end. Finally, on the afternoon of 14 August, at a meeting with the UML and the Forum, the NC made it clear that it was not keen to be part of a Maoist-led government. I was taken aback, and realised then that the Defense Ministry had never been the real issue [during negotiations over portfolios].
Has political polarisation begun?
The process of polarisation began when we moved from a consensus-based to a majority-based system [through an amendment of the interim constitution following the elections]. However, any polarisation that will affect these priorities should not be pursued at a time when our priorities are constitution-writing and establishing long-term peace.
How can there be agreement in constitution-writing, now that we have a government and an opposition?
We will try to maintain consensus. We have been telling the Congress that we need to conduct ourselves carefully, since the constitution has to be written on time. We will try this exercise, and perhaps in a couple of months or more after staying in opposition the Congress could be persuaded to join the government. My effort shall be to continue to try to bring everybody into government, and if the environment improves we can start thinking in a new manner.
What are the new government’s priorities?
The peace process indeed comes first. We have agreed on the integration of the militaries within three to six months. Then, second, we need to draft the constitution. Third, we have to provide relief to the people. The absence of a government for the past four months has led to a rise in impunity, and has threatened peace and security. The need of the hour is to address and manage these issues.
How will you fulfil the pledges made during the elections?
We presented an election manifesto with long-term plans for 10, 20, 40 years. Since our focus in the next two years will be on writing the constitution, it is true that we will not be able to do much. However, we will initiate immediate relief for the people, and start work on long-term infrastructure projects. To give you an example of our plans, we can establish a team under the prime minister to efficiently bring in local and foreign investment. The people will take confidence if we are able to draft the constitution and also convince them that something positive is happening.
The Nepal Army seems anxious over the formation of a Maoist-led government. How will you address its concerns about the matter of integration?
We are committed to the goal of long-term peace, and the Nepal Army too does not want bloodshed among Nepalis. I see no reason why the army should be distressed by the turn of events that has us leading the government. In fact, I think they will be happy, as it will be easier to achieve lasting peace and strengthen the army under the new government. As the situation demands, we will manage and improve their security and structure. The accusations that we will come in and destroy everything are untrue. It will actually be easier to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement’s provisions on army integration and rehabilitation under a Maoist leadership than under one that does not understand the issue.
How will you go about the issue of integration?
The main basis of integration is the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Then there is the interim constitution, which has firmed the ground. As per the constitution, the third basis will be the formation of a committee to look into the matter, comprising the political parties in the cabinet. We will have in-depth discussions on this issue, and will come up with the simplest and most effective model. I do not think the Nepal Army needs to worry, because the decision will be arrived at through consensus in a committee made up of all the political parties.
Will you continue to use Maoist combatants for your security?
At the moment, we are using a team comprising of the police and members of the PLA who have been verified by UNMIN [the United Nations Mission in Nepal]. In future, too, as per requirements, we may continue with a similar arrangement. But after the formation of the government, perhaps we will see a change in this. After army integration and rehabilitation, one can think of an adjustment so that they are under a single command and control.
Is there now a change in your Maoist ideology, that violence is an instrument to gain political power?
The political transformation here has been quite unique, and is worthy of study. It is rare to find a situation where those who were at war barely two years ago have been elected by the people to lead the government. We ourselves may not find this evolution very significant, but in my view before long the world will take great interest in what we have achieved. We are proud that our People’s War has created a political scenario like no other. But keep in mind that even yesterday’s armed conflict was not a matter of our choice; rather, it was a compulsion. Today there is a new political situation, and we are focused on taking society forward through peaceful means.
Will the Maoists now formally announce a rejection of violence?
This is a very difficult question. Those who demand this of us are the very people who engage in violence under the cover of so-called democracy. We cannot talk about violence in neutral terms, and only a fool would say he is forever against the use of violence. Likewise, it is foolish and unscientific to claim to be forever in favour of the use of violence. One is for or against violence depending on the situation. If a foreign army attacks Nepal, we would all be speaking in favour of violence. To try to make us say we will never use violence is an attempt to trap us. Violence was never our choice in the past, and neither is it today.
With you now in government, can we say that the Maoists have captured power or is that yet to happen?
Anyone who leads by political thought harbours hopes of capturing state power, and the only difference is in whose name and by what methods. As far as possible, every party tries to achieve this through peaceful means. No one wants to forcefully kill anybody. But if the situation demands it, one is forced to pick up weapons to move ahead. Nepal has a history of 10 years of People’s War, as well as 60 years of armed and peaceful struggle. After 70 to 75 years of struggle, we have abolished the monarchy and established Nepal as a republic. We are now trying to establish Nepal as a federal republic. For this reason, we are hopeful that the Nepali people will not need to take up arms again to capture state power.
You were projected as the future president of Nepal, so how does it feel to be prime minister instead?
The party had put forward the idea of a president in order to address the issue of state restructuring. The intention was also to emphasise our commitment to transform Nepal into a republic. But given the kind of people’s verdict that came, we were not in a position to do whatever we wanted. Thereafter, the party thought it more appropriate to propose my candidacy for the post of prime minister. The party’s decision is more important than my personal feelings.