Controversial and Inspiring: Senator Barack Obama's speech

Transcript: Senator Barack Obama's speech
 
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The following is the text of Barack Obama's speech in Philadelphia, as prepared for delivery and provided by his campaign.
"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."
Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.
The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.
And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.
This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.
Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.
This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.
And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.
On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike. I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed. But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way
But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:
"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters....And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild."
That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.
Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.
But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.
The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.
Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.
Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.
Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.
A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.
This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.
But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.
And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so na├»ve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
We can do that.
But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.
That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.
This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.
There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.
There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.
And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.
She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.
She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.
Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.
Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."
"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.
But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins. [Source: The New York Times]

 

INTERVIEW with PRADIP GIRI 'Federalism will create the real Nepal'

'Federalism will create the real Nepal'
 
Pradip Giri joined politics at the age of 13. He earned a Master's degree in economics from Banaras Hindu University and subsequently joined Jawaharlal Nehru University to pursue a Master's in politics. One of his uncles was a founding member of the Nepali Congress. His entire family was involved in the democratic struggle during the panchayat days.
 
Giri is considered to be a well read politician in the Nepali Congress. He believes that a federal Nepal will make it stronger than ever. Giri spoke to Puran P Bista and Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post on the possible outcome of the CA polls slated for April 10.
 
Excerpts:
 
Q: How fair, free and credible would the CA election be given the present scale of violence?
Pradip Giri: Generally, elections held in troubled areas have not been fair. That more than 15 people have been killed in the run-up to the CA election is a negative thing. Still, such incidents are not very unusual in problem spots. Those who have been doggedly demanding that the elections be held at any cost have been citing the cases of Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan. But, of course, I will not be happy with such situations.
 
Q: Do you think that the muscle-flexing we are seeing was necessary considering that this election to the CA is being held to write the constitution?
Giri: There are two things about it. Yes, when you speak of the nature of the election, I will say that all the contesting parties should have agreed among themselves not to have this kind of competition because the CA, by its very definition, is going to create a document of consensus. We have failed to ensure peace and security, and, above all, reach a consensus.
But again, you must be a realist. Recently, I had been to Faperbari, a Maoist stronghold some four hours' drive from Hetauda. On the return trip, our vehicle was pelted with stones. Later, I was speaking at another event in Hetauda; and I joked that people should thank the election system because the boys who were formerly shooting bullets are now throwing stones which were less harmful. There was loud laughter and much applause. So I told them that they should learn to live with the Maoists who have been trained to use violence in accordance with their faith, analyses and views.
The Maoists say that the state is built on violence. So, for them, the only way to fight against the state is to use greater violence. For people who have been indoctrinated in this way, violence is the justified means of change, rather than an exclusive means of change. And there is little Prachanda or Baburam can do about it.
 
Q: What scenario do you foresee in the post-CA election days? Would the Maoists accept the results?
Giri: I have not been to many places in the hills. But in Madhes, there is great enthusiasm and interest in the elections. Considering how things are there, I think the elections should be held. The Maoists are not that great a menace there. But everybody is not sure whether the polls should be held or not. Some journalists had asked me, "Why are you dreaming about holding the elections? They will not be held. You are going to see more and more unexpected things happening in the days to come". I did my best to dispel their doubts. There are many who suspect that the elections will be held. But I still believe that the polls should be and will be held.
One big problem--based on what I have gathered from going on the campaign trail--is that the Maoists are not as strong as they think they are. So I don't know how they will accept defeat.
 
Q: What sort of scenario do you foresee?
Giri: If the Maoists or any other party do not accept the election results in a civil and sportsmanlike manner, I think peace will be endangered in spite of our best efforts.
 
Q: Will they resort to violence?
Giri: I don't think they will resort to violence. They made a big mistake by taking to the jungle. The cities, especially Kathmandu, are safer than the jungle. So, they could live in the cities and create problems for the state.
 
Q: What do you think the king will do, if anything?
Giri: The monarchy is nothing these days… what remains to be seen is which way the army leans. The military has long been thought to be loyal to the monarchy. But, as of now, based on what I have learned of the army's mind, I don't think it cares a bit about the king. So, unless the seven parties are hell-bent on preserving the monarchy, it has run out of options.
The army seems to have a grudge of its own against the monarchy about which the people do not know--they were pushed around by people in the palace, and they resented that. The military has been mistakenly thought to be partial to the monarchy. And the fact is that the king doesn't have the strength to make any move without the help of the army.
 
Q: The Indian elections are also approaching. What would be the impact of a BJP victory?
Giri: Even if the BJP were to win, the Nepal policy of its government wouldn't be much different from that of the Congress. What is the attitude of the Congress towards Nepal? Frankly, I am not sure. Generally, all the big powers like the USA, the EU and others have a very definite foreign policy. So does India with regard to Nepal. I think India is very keen that there is stability in Nepal because instability and disorder create problems on its own territory. There is an unfortunate and perverted thinking in Nepal about what India wants from Nepal. Even if India wanted to see Nepal fail, how would it do that?
Perceptions and reality are different things. The general feeling here is that India has matchless clout in Nepal. India has clout, I don't deny that. Perhaps India has the most influence among the foreign powers because of the development projects it carries out, the number of jobs it offers and other reasons. But so many other powers and countries are also doing it. India does not have that the kind of control over Nepali politics that people think it has. So I say India will accept the outcome of peaceful elections in Nepal.
 
Q: How would the Madhesi political parties act in the post-CA election scenario?
Giri: If you have taken note of the writings and utterances of many people during the past few months, I have been one of the most vocal and consistent supporters of Madhes. The Madhesis indeed have been treated very badly. I feel sorry for Madhes and the Madhesi parties particularly. They are going to suffer because of the infighting that goes on in them. No doubt, they will do better than the other parties, especially the Maoists. And they are going to benefit a lot from the proportional electoral system.
But in the FPTP system, they are going to incur heavy losses because of the deep-rooted caste consciousness that prevents them from coming together. The group led by Mahantha Thakur seems to represent the upper classes. Upendra Yadav's group seems to speak for the middle classes. The Dalits are not very happy with either of them. This could affect the voting pattern. Nevertheless, the Madhesi parties and people have transformed the views of Nepalis and made everybody understand true democratic principles. So I don't think any victory or loss in Madhes will change things much now or later.
 
Q: What about "later", when the country starts federalizing?
Giri: I think that would be very good for the nation states. If you understand the spirit of federalism well, and if you understand the role that federalism plays in strengthening nation states… it will create the real Nepal for the first time, a truly nationalist Nepal. I have been putting forward this argument for months.
 
Q: How do you justify that as some Madhesi parties have been demanding "one Madhes one pradesh"?
Giri: Also remember that some outfits in Madhes have been demanding separation of Madhes. What we have to understand is that making demands doesn't mean that they are going to be fulfilled immediately.
So what happens to federal Nepal will depend on how the other units act with one another--and that's something for the politicians to decide. It is not federalism per se that makes or breaks countries. On the whole, federal states all over the world are doing much better than centralized states.
 
Q: Given the diversity of demands, thoughts and ideologies of the parties, federalizing the country looks like a daunting task.
Giri: I don't doubt that it will be a daunting task. The reservation system provided to Janajatis and Madhesis have left many questions unanswered. If you ask me, the way these things have been done and the grounds on which they have been done are absolutely erroneous.
 
Q: How would you correct that?
Giri: We will have to correct that. During the last two years or so, the centralized Kathmandu, the centralized leadership, has been deciding things on an ad hoc basis without giving serious thought to the issues, problems and difficulties involved--whether about federalism, reservation or the caste policy.
 
Q: Do you think that it would be possible to reverse the decisions?
Giri: The decisions have to be revised. It is not a question of reversing the previous policy. Now you cannot hope to go back to a centralized Nepal. You cannot hope to have a Bahun-Chhetri- or Khas-dominated Nepal any more. There has to be restructuring of the state, but what form that state will take is still open, and that is what the CA has to work on. But again, no CA, parliament or constitution can be the supreme power of all the nation states. Public opinion will play a vital role in this country as it does in other countries. My point is that public opinion matters.
 
Q: What kind of election results do you predict?
Giri: I am very optimistic that the Nepali Congress will emerge with flying colors as the number one party. It wouldn't just be the number one party. The number two party would be way down. I wish the tarai parties and the Maoists well, but I am not sure about their performance. [The Kathmandu Post, March 31]

INTERVIEW with UPENDRA YADAV

'If Madhes is not address MPRF cannot join coalition'

 

Upendra Yadav, who was elected to the Constituent Assembly (CA) from Sunsari-5 and Morang-5, is Chairman of the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF). The MPRF was the initiator of the Madhes movement. A staunch communist and active member of the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) for 24 years, Yadav switched to the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist) during the final years of its decade-long armed rebellion. He broke away from the CPN-Maoist before it entered peaceful politics and joined the MPRF.

 

Yadav came into the limelight when he launched the Madhes agitation after the Maoists signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord. Against a backdrop of the two phases of the powerful Madhes agitation, Yadav stands out as a victor leading the fourth largest party in the new political makeup. At a time when the Maoists are preparing to lead a coalition government, Yadav spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel and Kosh Raj Koirala of The Kathmandu Post on the possibilities of future power sharing and the contentious Madhesi issues.

 

Excerpts:

 

Q: The stunning performance of the MPRF was the second biggest surprise of the CA election after the CPN-Maoist. What was the secret?

Yadav: Though the MPRF was founded in 1997, it has been fighting and making sacrifices for the rights of the Madhesis and other backward communities for a long time. It has now become the main party to establish issues such as republicanism, federalism, autonomy and inclusion as major national agendas. What I think is that the people have endorsed through their votes the national issues that we raised. In fact, the people this time wanted change, and I think they have elected the forces that are for real change.

 

Q: The Maoists, towards whom you still have some sort of antagonism, are likely to lead the soon-to-be-formed coalition government. Will you join it?

Yadav: The MPRF started its struggle with a definite agenda — establishment of a federal republic and autonomous provinces; guaranteed participation of Madhesis and other marginalized groups at the policy-making level, in the administration and in resource management; and, above all, establishment of Madhes as an autonomous state. If the government agrees to fulfill these major demands, the MPRF is ready to extend its support. But if these issues are not taken into account, the MPRF can neither support nor join the government.

The MPRF will extend its support when we get an assurance that the past 22- and eight-point agreements will be implemented, when there is a commitment to guide the nation toward a path of radical change, when the nation is taken on a progressive path relieving it of its backward economy and when restructuring of the state and administration is done together. So if the Maoists move ahead with these radical changes, we will certainly cooperate with them. Whatever bitterness there was in the past, we can move forward with a new thinking in the new context. But if these issues are not addressed, we won't be very keen to support them.

 

Q: You have entered into a couple of agreements in the recent past. What are the major demands that the government still has not fulfilled?

Yadav: There is no point in talking about fulfillment. The question is what have the Madhesi people received so far except disrespect, exclusion and suppression? There was a movement, and there were agreements reached; but none of them has been implemented yet. What Madhesis are demanding is an autonomous Madhes, an autonomous government and participation at the policy- and decision-making level and in the allocation of resources. Madhes is seeking equal rights and opportunities, nothing else.

 

Q: What about "One Madhes One Region"? Have you compromised on that claim after observing the election results?

Yadav: "One Madhes One Region" means the Madhes as a region, a geographical area and the Madhesis living there.

 

Q: Could you delineate the Madhes region?

Yadav: The area from the Mechi River in the east to the Mahakali River in the west and from inner Madhes in the north to the Indian border in the south is what we have been calling Madhes. But this region has been a victim of internal colonialism from the time Prithivi Narayan Shah conquered it and from the time of other conflicts between different powers such as the British East India Company. The Madhesis are still suffering; they seek emancipation from this misery and colonial powers. The only way to liberate them is to grant them regional autonomy.

 

Q: You spoke of a Madhes that encompasses the area between the Mechi and the Mahakali, but the election results show that your presence does not extend to all Tarai districts.

Yadav: This should not be judged the way you are doing. Even if the forum had failed to win a single seat [in the CA], it would have a right to create a separate state. It has that right. The number of seats won in the election are not a measuring rod.

 

Q: Does this mean that you don't respect the mandate of the people? The election results do not back your idea of One Madhes One Pradesh. 

Yadav: We accept the mandate of the people. But this mandate is for radical change, for a federal system.

 

Q: What will you do if your demand for One Madhes One Pradesh is rejected by the other parties, which is likely?

Yadav: We will intensify our movement. In fact, we are still in Andolan mode. Only the form has changed. We will fight in the CA, and if needed we will also fight in the streets. Because the Madhesi people want an autonomous state, they want regional autonomy, and the Madhes Andolan will rest only after achieving that.

 

Q: Rumor has it that the Maoists are offering you the position of Home Minister. If they are ready to give you the position, will you join the government?

Yadav:  The first thing is that without addressing the Madhes issue, there isn't any possibility of our party joining the coalition government. That is just a rumor, a hypothetical question.

 

Q: Is it possible to fulfill your demands before the government is formed?

Yadav: There could be a common minimum program; the government will be formed only after fixing that. In that common minimum program, Madhesi issues should get top priority; and only under that condition will the MPRF be involved in the alliance. For us, whether to join the government or not is a secondary matter. Our priority is our issues.

 

Q: The Maoists have put forward a proposal of 11 provinces, do you agree with that?

Yadav: All this – 11, 12 or whatever the number of provinces – is a tactic to divide Madhes. Those who ruled Madhes for 236 years are now panicking that it will be too strong to control if it is not divided. So their rejection of "One Madhes One Pradesh" indicates that they want to continue with their exploitation and domination.

 

Q: Few years ago when you were in the CPN-Maoist…

Yadav: That is not true; I was only close to the Maoists. I agree that I have a communist background. For the past 24 years, I have been an active member of the CPN-UML and I also took part in one election representing the CPN-UML....

 

Q: Anyway, when the Maoist war was at its peak, you were arrested in India; but the Indian police had refused to extradite you. Some say that India is backing you. What do you say about it?

Yadav: That is not true. We three – Suresh Ale Magar, Matrika Yadav and me – were arrested by the Indian police. Matrika and Suresh had red corner notices against them, and, therefore, they were deported to Nepal. But there was no such warrant for my arrest. So I was kept in a concentration camp for one and a half months where I was tortured. Finally, I was released. Ram Raja Prasad Singh was the one who helped to get me released from jail in India.

 

Q: The words "Madhesi" or "Madhes" have been loosely defined. What do they actually mean?

Yadav: Madhes is the plain land in [southern] Nepal. And Madhesi is a cultural group. But the MPRF also includes other communities who have been living in Madhes with respect. Geographically, Nepal contains three regions – Himal, Pahad and Madhes. Those who have traditionally been living in Himal are Himalis regardless of wherever they may move to, those living in Pahad are Pahadis and those living in Madhes are called Madhesis. So everyone can easily understand who these three cultural groups are. Even if I were to live in Kathmandu, I could not become a Newar. I would be a Kathmanduite, but I wouldn't become a Newar even if I lived here for decades. Similarly, a Nepali could reside in America for a decade, but he wouldn't become an American. He could become an American citizen.

So Madhesi means the cultural group that has been living in Madhes traditionally. Around 1950, Pahadis started coming down from the hills to settle in Madhes. And the migration continued. In the course of time, some of them lost contact with Pahad. So they too will coexist in Madhes in harmony with others.

Second, they too will be accommodated in Madhes. We will have to proceed in an inclusive manner. Another thing is that our struggle is not against Pahadis or Nepali-speaking people, it is against the inequality imposed by the state. It is a struggle to establish Madhesis in the national political mainstream and to secure their equal share of the resources. And that is also a struggle of geography. If there are people speaking Magar, then this struggle is also theirs. It is also the struggle of other marginalized groups and Dalits. This is a national movement.

The Pahadi people too have benefited from the Madhes Andolan, for instance, the Lochhar holiday, reservation in the police and army and so on. These are gifts of the Madhes Andolan which Pahadis are also enjoying. Today, the country is going federal; this, too, is a contribution of the Madhes Andolan. Pahadis will also get their autonomous states. In fact, the Madhes Andolan has added a new dimension to Nepali politics.

 

Q: You failed to forge an alliance among Madhesi parties. Now that you have won a majority in Madhes, how would you collaborate with other Madhes parties?

Yadav: We teamed up in the final hours of the election, but we had a bitter experience. We could not participate in the election as an alliance, so there's no pact of any kind among us now. There will be a new coalition among forces that are ready to guide the nation toward radical change.

 

Q: You had recently remarked that the first sitting of the CA could not throw out the monarchy. What does that mean?

Yadav: Yes, I had said that, but it was misinterpreted. I hadn't even imagined that there were people who could make such an erroneous analysis. Where in the world has the first meeting of any assembly taken any decision? The first meeting is always ceremonial, that is a ceremony. The oldest member will chair the assembly, then the oath taking, then paying homage to the martyrs... When all these activities have been completed, another meeting is started or the date for another meeting is declared. But that becomes the second meeting.

The Interim Constitution says that the first meeting will decide the fate of the monarchy. But at that first meeting, how will the agenda be registered? Who will table it? Who will chair the discussions? Who will conduct the voting? Will those who have not taken the oath be allowed to take part in the voting? There are a number of such complex constitutional questions. If we started talking about the monarchy at the second meeting after completing the oath-taking ceremony, some members may object saying that the subject of the monarchy cannot be discussed at the second meeting. The word "first" written in the Interim Constitution has created confusion. It must be cleared up. That is what the people want clarified. The SPA must explain how things will proceed to end the monarchy. [The Kathmandu Post, Apr 28]

INTERVIEW WITH Suprabha Ghimire 'Threat played major role in the Maoist victory'

"Threat played major role in the Maoist victory"

Suprabha Ghimire, who has been elected from Kathmandu Constituency-4 as a Nepali Congress representative to the Constituent Assembly (CA), is one of the very few women scholars active in the male-dominated Nepali politics. She left behind Bidhya Bhandari of the UML by 3,600 votes.

Ghimire, a former president of the Nepal University Teachers Association and the Nepal Women's Association, says she has come to politics under her own effort and did not inherit her position from family members. She spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post about the election results, future course of Nepali politics and women's representation in the upcoming CA.

 

Excerpts:

 

Q: You have been elected as one of the members of the 601-member CA. How do you feel?

Ghimire: I am very happy that the people have put their trust in me and elected me to the CA. The CA election had been a dream of the Nepali Congress (NC) for decades. Realizing that Nepal needed a constitution written by the people, the NC—for the first time in Nepal's history—had spoken up for such an election in 1950. This dream finally came true in 2008. I am very happy that a dream cherished for so long by my party has been fulfilled under its own leadership.

 

Q: You are one of the few victors from your party. Many in the NC leadership have failed. Same with the UML. So the election results came as a shock to many. How do you analyze the results?

 

Ghimire: In the beginning, we thought that it was a stunning victory for the Maoists. But now, going over the reports coming in from the districts, we find that there are widespread complaints about intimidation and that threats played a major role in the Maoist victory. We have been informed that voters could not cast their votes freely. They took part under great mental stress.

The Maoists were pressuring the voters till the night before election day. They reportedly went house to house warning people that a female member of the family would be wearing a white saree or that their household would become smaller during the next election and things like that. I am not talking about one district, the pattern was similar in almost all the districts.

They spoke to the people politely but with a menacing undertone. They visited their homes at 8 or 9 at night when everybody was asleep.

Despite all these, the NC still desires to support the constitution making process. But the way the elections were held cannot be called free and fair.

 

Q: But the entire international community and all the election observers have said clearly that the voting was free and fair and that they were happy with it.

Ghimire: We also accept the election results. But people were intimidated, and we cannot say that it was held in a free and fair manner. They threatened to kill the residents and warned them that the Maoists would go back to the jungle and that they would take one person from each family for their army. So, where is the free and fair environment?

The international observers failed to see this because the Maoists operated in the darkness of the night. Neither the security forces nor the election observers were aware of what the Maoists were doing at night. They performed their duty during the day and returned. There may not have been bloodshed or physical violence, but there was mental distress and torture.

 

Q: Do you mean that the foreign observers failed to monitor the elections effectively?

Ghimire: Yes, we can say that. They could not reach the remote areas. They could not travel to the polling booths, which were in the thousands, to observe the voting. Some say that the Maoists tried to capture the booths in a non-violent way, but what I say is that when mental pressure, threats and intimation are involved, that is a violent action. Threatening people is also a kind of violence.

 

Q: Sorry, but you seem to be contradicting yourself. You claim that the election was not free and fair, but that you accept the results. If it was not fair, you should reject the results.

Ghimire: No, that is not true. We do accept the results, but if one party tries to impose a totalitarian regime, that will not be acceptable to us.

What we desperately want is that there should be peaceful transformation of the conflict. But the wrongdoings should be revealed, they should not go unnoticed. Such illegal behavior should not be repeated in the future. Such a commitment should come [from the Maoists].

So, while not forgetting the unlawful acts which we are still looking into, we will join in and help to write the constitution. To that end, we have accepted the results.

But our inquiry continues, and we are still discussing these issues. We will be holding our central committee meeting on April 24 when an assessment will be made. By then, reports from all the districts would have arrived. All district committees have been directed to submit their reports by April 22. So, even as we move forward with our investigation, we will be actively involved in the constitution-making process. We will be giving it our full support.

 

Q: So what will be the role of your party in the constitution-making process?

Ghimire: You have been watching the role of the NC. Despite so many efforts to hinder the CA polls, they were successfully held under the leadership of the NC. This is a big achievement for the Nepali people. Moreover, unlike what we had expected, the election was held in a peaceful environment except for some incidents of violence.

We believe that we must establish loktantra as per the people's aspirations expressed during the April Movement so that they would not need to fight for loktantra again in the days to come. The new constitution should guarantee this and to that effect the NC will play a supportive role. If we could do that, Nepal will take a great leap forward.

 

Q: But most of the NC leaders — the UML too — have said that they are not going to take part in the Maoist-led government.

Ghimire: That will be decided by the NC working committee meeting, which is going to be held soon. I cannot say anything about that now. Most of our leaders have made up their minds that we should not join the [Maoist-led] government. We will have to remain outside. We will help them from the outside. We will give our full support to the constitution-making process. But we should not join the government because we can contribute without being part of it. This is what we have concluded.

 

Q: Why is that?

Ghimire: No, we have not made the decision yet. We are thinking along those lines.

 

Q: That is the same thing; why is the NC feeling that way?

Ghimire: Because what we are seeing now is likely to continue even after we join the government. I don't think the tendency will change. So under such circumstances, and when they have got the people's mandate – regardless of whatever means they have used to achieve it – we think we can support them by remaining outside too.

So it's OK, let's give them a chance. Why should we create a situation where they can complain that someone did not allow them to work? That's why one section of the NC leadership wants to stay outside the government.

However, there is another section which thinks we should join the government. Now it is up to the working committee to decide what course the NC should take.

 

Q: Doesn't this contradict PM Koirala's call for unity among the SPA for the next 10 years? He did say this just before the polls. Or is it because things did not go the way the NC expected them to?

Ghimire: No, that is not the case. There will be unity. We can have unity even when we remain outside. We need not remain inside to keep our unity intact. For instance, the NWPP wasn't in the government, but the SPA was united. So we will remain united since our main and common objective is to write a new constitution.

 

Q: There are all kinds of rumors about how the monarchy will end — some speak of asylum in Rajasthan, India for the king while Maoist Chairman Prachanda has spoken of a "graceful exit". Others hint that the king will be provided an allowance. Can you say how the king will make his exit for our curious readers?

Ghimire: The end of the monarchy is certain. The nation has decided to go republic. The April Movement, too, had mandated us to end the dictatorship. But some were still unsure whether this meant ending the king's dictatorship only or the kingship itself. Almost all the parties have decided to go republic. So I don't think any party can retreat from its decision.

We have also made it clear that the first meeting of the CA would formally eliminate the monarchy. But I cannot guarantee that it will be implemented at the very first sitting because during the first session we will be electing the speaker and the leaders.

 

Q: You have won the election not only as an NC leader but also as a woman. What will be your role to secure the rights of Nepali women when writing the new constitution?

Ghimire: There are several issues. Gender-based discrimination should end, and for that discriminatory laws should be scrapped. There should not be any discrimination between males and females in legal, political, social or cultural aspects. So the new constitution should guarantee these things.

Another thing is representation. I believe that without a sizable representation of women at the decision-making level, society cannot move ahead. So women's representation in politics should increase. Women should make up at least 40 percent of the representatives in the states, in the parliament, everywhere.

 

Q: Do you think there has been adequate representation of women in the CA?

Ghimire: Yes, in comparison to the past, it is pretty good now. Earlier, we had to satisfy ourselves with 5 percent, and among them only 3 percent would reach the decision-making level after the elections.

Still, we have not achieved what we have been fighting for. What I say is that in the new constitution there should be a guarantee that women should have representation of at least 33 percent

 

Q: What can an ordinary Nepali woman expect in New Nepal?

Ghimire: Starting from her home, her child and son, there will be no discrimination in education. Women will not have to feel afraid. They can expect to move ahead as freely and fearlessly as men. Women can expect their physical security and maternal and reproductive rights to increase. She will have respect, and she will feel that she is a sovereign citizen of this country. She will have secured her fundamental rights.

 

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