INTERVIEW WITH PRACHANDA
Excerpts of an interview with Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Prachanda, taken on the eve of the much-hyped October 8 Summit Talks between his party and the ruling seven-party alliance:
Q. Will the CPN-M be participating in the October 8 talks?
Prachanda: There is no certainty as to the question of participation in the talks. Interactions to this end are going on with the parties, but nothing is confirmed yet.
Q. So what is the reality then?
Prachanda: We haven't been able to agree on the way forward. What we feel is that the 12-point understanding against the feudal autocracy was aimed against the excesses of the then Royal Army and the present Nepal army. The 8-point understanding was the result of an attempt to move forward with the 12-point understanding. But since then the seven-party government has deviated from the spirit of these historical understandings.
Q. Could you cite some examples of the deviation?
Prachanda: The way in which the letter to the UN was written, with the intention of separating the Maoist army from its arms, contrary to the initial agreement of managing both armies and their arms in the same manner and calling the UN for monitoring, is the most potent example of this deviation. This is a very dangerous thing. This was an attack on the spirit of the April movement. The political outlet the eight- and 12-point understandings had promised was effectively blocked for us. Our greatest objection is to this very issue.
Q. And yet, after all the dispute, you are still in the talks. Sometimes your relationship with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala looks cold and sometimes warm. You look extremely optimistic as soon as you step into Baluwatar. And a couple of weeks later you again look hopeless. What kind of spell has the PM cast over you? Or is it the other way round?
Prachanda: This no spell. This time around too we have made it clear that we will neither head back to the jungle, nor will we leave the negotiating table. A power centre seems to be in a hurry to detach us from the dialogue process. But we are not willing to be detached. Issues like restructuring of the state, constituent assembly, democratic republic-- issues which were raised through the sacrifice of thousands of lives during the people’s war—have today become national slogans. Because, these issues have fallen within our rights, within our responsibilities.
Q. What kind of environment marks the informal talks between you and the PM? It seems there is lot of love and affection between you two?
Prachanda: Frankly, the two of us have always been at odds ever since our first meeting four and a half years ago. And yet, the country's overall situation compels such interactions between us.
Q. Hasn’t the goodwill between two of you increased in these four years?
Prachanda: There have been occasions where this did happen. During the forging of the 12-point understanding, this goodwill had gone up tremendously. Similarly, the rigors that went into the formation of the eight-point understanding had shown the courage Girija Babu had displayed. Because our agreement on dissolving the parliament and forming a new (interim) government definitely enhanced our mutual respect for each other. But later, the manner in which the letter to the UN was written arose our suspicion. The kind of political stability that was needed in him was missing. After that, the way he spoke in public let down the masses. We were also disappointed by his comments. Despite all those agreements, he couldn't stand by his words.
Q. But there is still some hope, isn’t there?
Prachanda: Let’s not say there is no hope. The talks are going on because there is still some hope left. But then, the kind of a sea of good feelings you are hinting at is not there. At some points, the situation demands it; at others, it is genuine goodwill.
Q. But there's no bitterness?
Prachanda: There isn’t. I think he (Koirala) has the role of a very important character. Despite the apparent barriers, he is very important for a political outlet in Nepal. And I believe that at this point, he stands at a crossroads—one that will determine whether he will be remembered as a great hero or a villain. The way I see it, at this point, he teeters on the brink. Looking at his recent activities and comments, the people are worried that he might be becoming a villain instead of a hero. He stands on the edge—he can slip and fall any time.
Q. Will you put forward this very thing during the October 8 talks?
Prachanda: Not only on October 8, let me frankly tell you that I am going to meet him (Koirala) in a very short while. I will tell him the same thing in this meeting also.
People may think that we (Prachanda and Koirala) have reached some secret agreements during our meetings. Last time also, I had flatly told him 'Girijababu, our role has come to a very critical point. You are in such an important place. If you still side with the repressive elements of the royal army, it will be a really bad thing in history. If you move forward as directed by the 12-point and eight-point understandings, you will become the main character in history. I will also have a role, but that will be only a supporting role.' I have clearly told him that he will become the main character. I have told him to stick to the role of that historic character. I meet him again and again to remind him of this.
Q. These days the SPA leaders say that you (Maoists) are interested more in another mass movement than in the ongoing peace process. What do you say?
Prachanda: We want a peaceful exit to the crisis. We have come up to here with the same intent. After forming the government, the seven parties are getting closer to the structures of the old regime. This makes us worry that a peaceful solution to the crisis may not be possible. Therefore we have said that the preparation for another popular movement should not be abandoned because the SPA government may eventually decide to take the side of the feudal elements.
Q. What is the possibility for such a movement?
Prachanda: It's quite possible. We haven't said that we will break the ceasefire and walk out of the talks. It's our assertion that if the SPA government goes against the spirit of the April movement that created a new history then the same people who took part in the April movement will stand up for the new uprising.
Q. Now it seems both you and the SPA need each other. You need the SPA's support to balance the international situation. And they need your support and participation to keep the national politics in balance. But instead of consolidating your ties, both of you seem to be blaming each other?
Prachanda: We had said in the very beginning that whoever will try to go against the earlier agreements between us (SPA, Maoists) will be betraying the Nepali people. We have told even Girijababu (PM Koirala) that the seven parties are now quarrelling over the same agreements. But they raise the issue of donations and all.
Q. What if the issue of monarchy is decided through a constituent assembly?
Prachanda: We don't have any objection to this idea if there is a consensus on other issues. Because the 12-point and eight-point understanding were reached to make the constituent assembly possible. But we are talking about holding a referendum (to decide the fate of monarchy) because we think this is more democratic. The elected representatives of the constituent assembly will draft the new constitution. And it will be more democratic if all the people are given a direct chance to decide the issue of monarchy.
Q. But it is the UML's proposal, isn't it?
Prachanda: Certainly, this proposal was put forward by the UML. But during the course of discussion, we thought that it is more democratic and therefore we agreed on this proposal. But we haven't made the referendum issue a precondition.
But the prime minister is saying many elements will get a chance to become active in a referendum. This risk will be there in the constituent assembly elections as well. Both processes (constituent assembly and referendum) face this risk.
Q. It seems both the SPA and the Maoist leaders have not been able to understand the people's desperation. Don't you feel you may de-link yourselves from the people's feeling?
Prachanda: Definitely. But the situation is not the same for the two sides. Because they (SPA leaders) are now in the government and have become MPs and ministers. But we have a compulsion of moving forward in a different way. During the Dashain holidays, I visited Sindhupalchowk, Tatopani, Naubise, Daman of Makwanpur and Pokhara. I also experienced the cable car journey and visited Mankamana as well this time. In my experience, the people are desperate and are agitated within.
Q. Don't the obstacles seen in the peace-talks increase the people's desperation?
Prachanda: Kishor ji, I don't think this (situation) will last long. We are also intensely preparing for the talks. In case the talks fail, we feel that we will have to take certain steps to address the people's desperation. You will know about these steps after a week. Let's keep it a secret for now!
Q. How optimistic are you about the October 8 Summit Talks?
Prachanda: I am not very optimistic.
Q. Is there any possibility that the talks will not go ahead?
Prachanda: I do see that possibility. But the possibility that the talks will be held is also there. Shortly, I am going to put my things to Girijababu in black and white.
Q. There is also this rumour that the talks will be deferred for a week?
Prachanda: That's not true. We want to hold the talks on October 8. But we don't want the gathering of the leaders on October 8 to look like a Gaijatra. The Nepali people desperately want a positive conclusion; they are hoping for the country to take a clear direction. If that is not fulfilled, there is no point in holding the talks. We don't think it's necessary to sit for talks just to conclude that no conclusion could be drawn.
Q. It's not that the talks will have to continue if the October 8 talks do not take place, or is it?
Prachanda: It's not like that. We don't say to postpone the talks to leave the talks process or to break it. What we have said is let's take some more time to prepare for the talks if the homework done so far is not enough. Otherwise, the leaders gather and the gathering gets much publicity but nothing comes out at the end-- this will only send out a negative message. In reality, our emphasis is on reaching a consensus. If that does not happen, we will take a big decision for the people within a few days. The people are in a huge uncertainty for the past four months; we won't let this situation to continue. We are ready to make another sacrifice from our side for the sake of the country. We won't let a situation come where the Nepali people could blame us.
Q. Could that sacrifice be remaining silent on the issue of monarchy?
Prachanda: No, not that. We may walk out by handing over everything to the seven parties. Let us just go to the people. We can move ahead with this much right. Then the seven parties can do whatever they want; we may say that constituent assembly is enough for us.
Q. Mr Chairman, it seems you are very disappointed. These expressions of yours indicate that you feel weary and tired?
Prachanda: The people are desperate for peace; I am concerned that if that desperation is not addressed in time, there will be another danger. What you see as disappointment in my expressions is definitely not disappointment. Yes, it may be the reflection of my concern. It could be a reflection of my agitated mind. The people should not be left un-addressed for a long time. Last year also, we had declared a three-month-long unilateral truce. Now, the seven parties are preoccupied with their own things even as the royalists are looking for a role again. The people feel suffocated. What we say is we should even be ready to make some sacrifices for a way-out. It's not disappointment.
Q. That way-out could be reached on October 8 itself?
Prachanda: May be, may be not.
Q. You mean the October 8 talks may not be held at all?
Prachanda: Yes, it may not be.
(Interview by Kishor Nepal)