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.
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]


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