INTERVIEW with Dinesh Bhandari

'More vehicles mean more money for politicians'

Dinesh Bhandari, president of the Federation of Nepal National Transport Entrepreneurs (FNNTE) has been in the transport business for the past 30 years. He has brought three different transport organizations under a single umbrella to provide better services to the public. He claims that federalization of transport entrepreneurs' organizations has improved bus services and prevented operators from being affiliated to any political party.

Bhandari has been pressuring the government to fulfill the demand of the FNNTE to raise fares by up to 35 percent. Bhandari spoke with Puran P Bista and Kamal Raj Sigdel of the Post on the ongoing bus strike that has crippled public transport for the past several days.



 Q: How do you justify the demand for the fare hike? Is it necessary to call a strike to press your case?

Dinesh Bhandari: Let me clarify certain things. A hike in fares was long overdue. Like the latest 25 percent increase in the tariff announced by the government, past increases in the bus fare did not match the growth in oil prices. In 2005, the government raised the fare without the consent of the FNNTE.

When Bharat Mohan Adhikari was finance minister, the government, passengers and transport entrepreneurs had reached an agreement. He had told us we could raise the fare as we saw fit. Our present charges are less than what was agreed with the government and the consumers' organization then. The fares should have been hiked by 20 percent, but it has not happened. The government knows that well, and we are raising the bus fare to meet the cost of operation.

The government agreed to raise the fares of buses plying between the airport and the city by 40 percent. It was not applicable to other buses. Now rumors are afoot that the bus syndicate has seized the power to hike bus fares at will. This is not true. We are calling for a fare hike as per the agreement reached with the previous government.

Since 1999, petroleum prices have doubled; but we have not raised the fare by 100 percent. It is our right to raise the fare by 20 percent in addition to the 25 percent agreed upon earlier. So our demand is that the fare should go up by 45 percent. But we are willing to settle for a 35 percent increase.

Q: Do you agree that market should determine the fares instead of the FNNTE?

  Bhandari: Let us look at other aspects as well. The price of lubricants has gone up by 75 percent. The price of spare parts has shot up by 100 percent. How would it be possible to operate our buses by letting the market fix the ticket prices? Did the government think over these aspects before raising the fare? There are laborers who are underpaid. Students vandalize private vehicles. If we stop bus services in protest, the federation is blamed.

The buses plying on the roads are owned by private parties. The government has not been able to provide bus services to the public. The passengers must understand that and allow the private companies to operate bus services continuously. The buses are owned by more than one person. We have to respect the right of the owners and allow the buses to ply their routes.

Jyoti Bania and others had agreed to raise the fare, but later they changed their stance. These people are affiliated to different political parties. So they change their track according to what their party says, and that has harmed bus services. The government talks of competition, but it cannot provide bus services to the public. Private parties have invested big money, but the government keeps repeating the same thing – competition.

Q: But the syndicate of private bus owners has crippled services.

Bhandari: That is not correct. We have been functioning as per government rules and regulations. Otherwise, why would we have asked the government to raise the bus fare? We could have done it on our own.

What we have been doing is trying to reform the country's transport system. We want to phase out vehicles that are more than 15 years old. Why should obsolete vehicles that pollute and cannot provide good service be allowed on the roads? It takes hours to travel two kilometers in the city due to traffic congestion. Why don't we remove the tempos from the capital city to lighten the traffic? The government does not realize these things because the party leaders do not want to realize the mistakes.

Finally, most vehicles ply profitable routes only. Nobody wants to go to remote places. But the federation has been providing transport services even in the remote hills. Have we been only making money or also providing services?

Q: The permit system could have forced vehicle owners to go to the remote hills because a city permit costs a lost of money.

Bhandari: There are more vehicles than are necessary. The government is allowing in anybody. You just stop importing vehicles for five years, and let us phase out the old ones. The more vehicles there are on the roads, the more money you have to pay for lucrative routes. And the length of the roads has not increased in the past one decade. The government has no vision at all. It has made a mess of every sector. Now it is talking about building a new Nepal.

More vehicles mean more revenue for the government and more money for politicians. That's why there is such disorder in the transport system.

Q: How do politicians make money?

Bhandari: Motor vehicle dealers approach politicians and propose to import a certain number of them. The dealer makes millions of rupees. Part of the profits goes into the pockets of political leaders.  The government did not raise the price of kerosene along with the price of diesel. Why? Because petroleum dealers can sell adulterated diesel and politicians can also get a share of the earnings. There are several examples of how the connection between politicians and petroleum dealers and politicians and vehicle dealers works to make money for all concerned.

Q: Why is it mandatory to obtain the federation's OK before a transport company can be registered?

Bhandari: There are several reasons. One of them is the increasing number of transport companies and vehicles. As I said before, there has to be a system. In Narayani zone alone, there are 4,000 buses. Do you need more vehicles or a better and larger road network?

Q: How are you trying to bring down the rising number of bus accidents? 

Bhandari: Poor roads and lack of maintenance, old vehicles and ignorance of traffic rules are the main causes behind the frequent road accidents. Besides, bus drivers do not get their vehicles repaired and drink while driving. We can identify the problems and urge the government to enforce the regulations strictly. But we are not a regulating or law enforcing agency. How much funds does the government allocate for road maintenance? How many roads does the government repair every year? Has the government ever realized that poor road maintenance and old vehicles are responsible for killing innocent people?

Q: What do you say to student demands that they should get a 50 percent discount on bus fare?

Bhandari: We are ready to accept their demand on the condition that the discount is provided to not more than six passengers of a bus. How can buses give them a 50 percent discount when half of the seats are occupied by students? They must shun violence. They cannot dictate the terms as they have been doing.

INTERVIEW with Thakur Gaire

'They listen to you only when you burn tires'
Thakur Gaire is president of the ANFSU, a UML-affiliated student organization, which is leading the students' protest against the transport fare hike. Gaire has been involved in student politics for the last 20 years. The students are adamant that unless their demands, which include a 50 percent discount on transport fares, are fulfilled, they will not stop their agitation. Gaire spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post about the protest program, their demands and a possible solution.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: For the last two days, students have been staging fierce protests — burning tires, vandalizing government and private vehicles and disrupting the valley's traffic. Why this rage?
Thakur Gaire: We are protesting against the sudden hike in transport fares. Right after the government jacked up petro prices, transport entrepreneurs hiked transport fares unilaterally. This is not acceptable.
Q: What are your demands then?
Gaire: We have demanded a 50 percent discount for students. Earlier, we had agreed to a 33 percent discount, but that was rarely implemented as the transport entrepreneurs denied students that facility by creating a quota system. So we are also calling for scrapping the quota system, which means that all students with a valid ID should be provided the stated discount. Similarly, we have also asked for creating a system to deter the misuse of student ID cards as we have seen non-students exploiting the facility. We have submitted an eight-point demand including the above to the government.
Q: Do you think your demand for a 50 percent discount is justifiable? Can entrepreneurs afford that?
Gaire: Yes, that is justifiable because transport entrepreneurs are not going to lose anything. They will be exempted from government taxes in proportion to the discount they provide.
Q: How long will this go on? You must find a solution.
Gaire: The ANFSU has no intention of creating problems only; we have proposed a solution also.
Q: What will you do if your demands are not fulfilled? 
Gaire: We've planned a phase-wise protest program including a Nepal bandh. But I wish that we won't have to go to that extent. I don't think our demands will be rejected.
Q: What if they don't agree?
Gaire: We will not stop until our demands are met. But there are no demands which cannot be fulfilled. Some government officials had whispered to me that we should have asked for a 60 to 65 percent discount, and then bargained them down to 50 percent. But I don't like bargaining because it is a genuine demand. Besides, it's not a new one. The government should not hesitate to give us this facility.
Let me state clearly that my role in bringing the country to this stage is many times greater than any minister in the government today. Besides me personally, our organization also contributed much to making the April movement a success. But we have not asked for any ministerial positions or any personal benefits. We are doing this for the welfare of the students. The students were the ones who braved bullets, batons and tear gas to catapult these leaders to the ministerial posts they are enjoying today. So I don't think the government will dither over fulfilling the students' demands.
Q: But the students never tried to change their behavior. They seem to believe that they can do anything they like. Why do student unions like yours back them and provoke them to go wild?
Gaire: It is because the dictators of the past have irritated them and made them very aggressive. But let us also not forget that it is the same ministers and leaders who pat us on our backs for what we did while fighting against the monarchy. So they cannot vilify us today when the same students are protesting against the present government for their rights.
It is sad that a bad precedent has been set. Without burning tires and staging violent street protests, the government does not listen to anyone's demands.
Q: Do you justify the acts of vandalism committed by students, for example, the smashing up of the Chief Justice's car at Putali Sadak the other day?
Gaire: While I don't say that violence is good and also don't commend the students for wrecking the Chief Justice's car, I also don't criticize them because the Chief Justice should not have taken the road where he knew that ANFSU students were holding a demonstration.
Q: Are there other students' unions in this protest?
Gaire: No, the ANFSU is the only organization doing the protesting. 
Q: Why are you not coordinating with other student unions?
Gaire: This is purely an ANFSU program. There is no environment for coordination because the Maoist-affiliated student union has been continuing with its atrocities, intimidation and criminal activities. You can read about their violent acts in the newspapers everyday.
The other day at RR Campus, Maoist-affiliated students beat up our friends over a minor reason. What is more disgusting is that when our injured friends were being treated at Model Hospital, Matrika Yadav arrived all of a sudden and misbehaved with them. He manhandled one of our members Sobhiet Dhakal. He even threatened to blow up the hospital. He was in a bad temper when he got there as he had come right after locking up the LDO in the toilet. So I don't see any environment for coordination. Even then, I am inviting them to join us.
Q: There are other more distressing issues facing the country today. The nation has been held hostage by political parties wrangling over power. Why are you keeping mum about all this?
Gaire: This is really a genuine concern. We agree that the leaders are wasting precious time because of their greed for power. Regarding this subject, we have presented our stand through our seven-point memorandum which includes our clear views on major items on the agenda. What we are saying is that we must have a common understanding on major issues, such as state restructuring, among the student groups at least. This will help us exert pressure on the parties.

Nepal Royal Massacre and The Mystery Unfolding

Nepal Royal Massacre and The Mystery Unfolding

By Ashutosh Shrivastav

'Monarchy is over in Nepal '. The same title is being used in fashionable ways by media throughout the world - of course, only those who hold significant stake in Nepal. The biggest stake holder and the director of Nepal's devastation is Nepal's closest and most sadistic neighbor, India.

Even though the intellectuals are familiar with this direction, I would like to show why the world remains silent on India's sponsorship of terrorism in Nepal. Quite surprisingly, the actors have created a huge mass of junior actors in the hope of making them a lead actor one day. In the meantime, the director is enjoying the show. Let's trace back when the director thought to direct this inhuman movie that might not leave the director an option of bankruptcy if the truth is exposed.

As known to the world, Nepal was a Kingdom and the most peaceful country in this chaotic earth. While many may disagree, however, there was no extreme poverty in Nepal in the mid 20th century. The Indo-Nepal friction started when the then Prime Minister of Nepal - Jung Bahaur Rana - supported the British India to suppress the Sepoy Rebellion. In 1857, India could have born, but since the Rana prime ministers of Nepal were strong allies of the British, they supported the British in their mission to crush any independence revolution.

In fact, Nepal had already become an enemy of Indians then. Moreover, the strength of the Gurkha army was the biggest obstacle for the Indians to overcome. Because of Rana's support for British India, the later known India could not gain independence until 1947. Many of us forget to note, immediately after India was born, the Rana Empire was thrown out in Nepal in the year 1950. The then Prime Minster of Nepal - Mohan Shumsher Rana - was deposed and would later go to India on a self imposed exile. His titular successor - Pashupati Shumsher Rana - still resides in Nepal. His role would come into play post the Royal Massacre of 2001. Until 1950, Ranas were the prime rulers of Nepal and the monarchy was only symbolic. When India was born in 1947, the then prime minister of India was Jawarharlal Nehru - the same leader who kicked out Indira Nehru for marrying a Muslim, who would later become Indira Gandhi and the biggest enemy of Hindus and Sikhs.
There was another family who was fighting for the Indian state with the Indians - the Koiralas. Koiralas were Indians who were born in the Northern Province of British India - modern day Bihar or Uttar Pradesh in India. Koiralas were three brothers who were born and raised in India. The family claims to be originally from Nepal, however, their roots and bushes have been found only in India. Even today, much of Koirala family resides in India - respecting the motherland.

The Koirala brothers joined the struggle to give birth to India. During the later years when India was about to born, Koiralas were suggested to form the Nepal Congress Party within India. Finally India was born in 1947 with another new nation - Pakistan.

Appropriate justice does not seem to have been carried out looking at the area of India and Pakistan and the number of people residing there. The most important factor was religion. Most of the princely states were to accede to the Union of India. One of the biggest Kingdoms was the Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir whose King Raja Hari Singh was a Hindu and the population majority was Muslim. Raja Hari Singh decided not to surrender his Kingdom to either of the countries. However, illegally, India annexed the Kingdom into its Union.
It is interesting to see how Indian textbooks claim this beautiful Kingdom a part of India. In the last days of 1948, a ceasefire was agreed under UN auspices demanding a plebiscite. Nehru never proceeded with the UN resolution and hence, the ascertainity of the instrument of accession is questionable. The Kingdom - as falsely claimed by India and Pakistan - is still considered as the international disputed territory. Then India annexed the Kingdom of Gwalior, and the Kingdom of Hyderabad.

By all means, they were illegal annexations. India's vulture eyes were gazing on the Kingdom of Sikkim and the Kingdom of Nepal. The Indian Congress had helped create Nepali congress for a good reason. The Indians had foreseen their fortune in Nepal. The Koiralas were assured by the Indians that they would help Nepal merge into India if the Indians help overthrow the Rana regime in Nepal.

India was lured with this Childish Koirala Deal. Even a newborn child would see the benefit in helping the needy brothers. Finally, in 1950, King Tribhuwan fled to India to seek refuge from the Ranas. The only Royal member left was the 3 year old, the then prince Gyanendra. The Ranas - who were expert in analyzing the future - were familiar with the Indian game. The Indians had thought to end the monarchy in 1950, but the Ranas, moving a mile ahead, crowned the 3 year old as the King of the Kingdom of Nepal.

The Koiralas' and the Indian dream shattered. The Ranas knew that India wanted to weaken Nepal by overthrowing the monarchy. Hence, they took the wisest step to save Nepal, and we witnessed the result. Even though the Ranas were able to save Nepal's monarchy, unfortunately, their Empire was brought down. Since Ranas were the true Nationalists, their downfall encouraged India to envision a possibility of annexing Nepal into India.

It was not as easy as the Indians had presumed. The King in Nepal was considered the reincarnation of a Hindu God, and replacing the institution of Monarchy was their far dream. They figured where the problem lay - the Monarchy. Nevertheless, India did not stay quiet, and offered Sikkim and Nepal to sign the instrument of accession and join the Union of India. Nepal's then King Mahendra was infuriated by the proposal, whereas the 'Koirala equivalent' prime Minister of Sikkim offered Sikkim to the hands of India, only to be slaughtered. The three Koirala brothers became the prime ministers of Nepal on the recommendation and pressure from India. This paved an easy path for the Indians to intrude in Nepal's internal affairs.

Nepal 's monarchy was well aware of this Indian strategy, however, the then King Birendra had declared Nepal as the Zone of Peace in the 90s. This was endorsed by more than 110 countries, but not India. Intellectuals could smell the stink that was coming from the southern block. King Birendra's popularity almost made India's dream a nightmare. Moreover, the future King Dipendra was one of the most popular figures of Nepalese monarchy in history.
India's dream was almost impossible. As the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi created LTTE in Sri Lanka, they thought they would help launch a Maoist revolution in Nepal to break Nepal. The Maoists' top demand was the abolition of Monarchy. Since 1996, India started funding Nepal Maoists to fight against the state. As the Maoist party was formed in 1996, their leaders were backed up by the Indian government.

Most of the Maoist leaders lived in Darjeeling, Lucknow, and Delhi in India and masterminded their plan. These plans were executed by guerrillas who lived in Nepal and were dying to fight. In other words, India created Communism in Nepal. They also were supported by the Indian Communist leaders and other Naxalite group fighting against the Indian government for communism. Surprisingly, India never helped Nepal's government to arrest those leaders and extradite them to Nepal.

When Nepali Maoists met Nepali Communist leaders in Lucknow, India in 2003, India's government did not take the initiative to arrest them, even though they were recognized as terrorists. Hence it is evident that India never wanted peace in Nepal. At the same time, international media was busy defaming King Gyanendra.

The interesting chemistry was all political parties held discussions in India with the Maoists in the Indians' presence. The irony was Maoists were able to kill Inspector General of Police of the Royal Nepalese Government, but were not able to kill any leaders. This does not digest well. These Maoists and leaders were in agreement not to kill each others leaders. Although India was successful in proving why they did not endorse 'Zone of Peace', they were unable to offer prayers to the King. Then India played the worst game with the help of its own citizens - Koiralas, and Maoists to end the Nepalese monarchy - which the world today knows as Nepal's Royal Massacre.

After the Royal Massacre, much speculations was in the air. However, immediately after the incident, the media, funded by India, started to rail against Gyanendra, who was the only heir left to the throne. The strategy of India, the Koiralas and the Maoists, was to defame the monarchy and most importantly, the monarch who was unknown to the world. India knew that King Birendra was most popular and if the blame could be dumped on Gyanendra, it would be the easiest way to uproot the monarchy.
And so that was the story we witnessed. India had a sound plan to kill the Royal Family so that no one else would remain alive to keep the monarchy breathing. However, the massacre happened when King Gyanendra was out of town and allegedly was on the way back to the massacre site for dinner. Gyanendra was crowned again as the King of Nepal, and India, once again, could not prove to be a successful director.

India funded media began airing speculations about King Gyanendra. The love and respect for the King was then seen by the shaved head of all the Nepalese - who respected the Nepalese Monarch as their father. Noticeably, the present Prime Minster, Girija Prasad, the same Indian Citizen, was the Prime Minister of Nepal during the Royal Massacre. He helped India facilitate the killings. Later, he also facilitated King Gyanendra, to be removed from the palace. In other words, the Koiralas were well aware of the killings, but instead of stopping India from kill the royals, the old traitor helped them successfully execute the plan.

The King wanted the then prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to hold the elections but even after he was granted an extension of the election date twice, he was never motivated to hold the election. The underlying political reason was that he wanted to remain in office by postponing the election.
As a Chief of State, King Gyanendra could not wait to see his country devastated. This made him sack the cabinet and impose direct rule.

Subsequently, in October 2002, King Gyanendra dismissed the prime minister and his cabinet. While stopping short of reestablishing parliament, the king in June 2004 reinstated the most recently elected prime minister who formed a four-party coalition government. The King, citing dissatisfaction with the government, dissolved the government in 2005, declared a state of emergency, imprisoned party leaders, and assumed power. The king's government subsequently released party leaders and officially ended the state of emergency in May 2005, but the monarch retained absolute power until April 2006.
When King Gyanendra ascended throne in 2002, Nepal had been going through civil war for ten years. Politicians of Nepal, as an easy excuse to take benefit from inexperienced King put the blame on him. When the King sacked the parliament for its inability to hold elections, the law was enforced, the administration was healthy and the environment was getting conducive. He acted tough on the people to enforce laws. The 12 years of democracy by then had made Nepalese lazy and incompetent, but the king wanted to abolish the ongoing crisis.

While most Nepalese were pleased to see this progress, the corrupted people were unemployed. The leaders of Nepal were barely educated to find jobs, other than in politics. The government employees who never showed up on time were forced to be in the office and corruption was strictly made illegal. How could idle Nepalese like that? I think that is what made them revolt.
That led the politicians to ally together and form a coalition to fight the King. Nepal and Indian media supported these coalition leaders. 10-15 people gathered to restore democracy and started a protest. It was not until April 2006, when the Maoists joined the movement to fight against king. Truckloads of Maoists entered the capital city to revolt. As a way to spread violence, Maoists attacked other Maoists in the revolution process and charged the King for their deaths. After 30 people were killed, the King gave up all the powers and reinstated the government. Hence, the King who wanted to make the country progress was framed as a dictator. Following that, if anyone in Nepal supported nationalism, then they were labeled as royalists or a dictator.
Now that the monarchy is gone, common Nepalese who are diehard fans of the King, are looking for their God. However, Hinduism and Buddism have not taught violence to Nepalese. Maybe that's why common Nepalese are not on the streets yet.

I remain unanswered, is Hinduism's patience tested? Is Gurkhas' blood tested? Are the Nepalese tested? Nepal has so far witnessed the Maoist crowd, not the Nepali crowd, there will be a day when Gurkhalis will be on the streets to show the bravery of Amar Singh Thapa, Bir Balbhadra Kunwar, Bhimsen Thapa, or another Jung Bahadur Rana... and who knows, another Prithvi Narayan Shah to Unify the breaking Nepal.

Interview with YCL Chief Ganesh Man Pun

'The polls succeeded because we became Gandhis'


This week's guest for our Monday Interview is Ganesh Man Pun who leads a new but very controversial organization called the Young Communist League (YCL), a sister organization of the CPN (Maoist). The YCL was formed after the Maoists' People's Liberation Army was confined to UN-monitored cantonments. As the head of the organization, Pun, an intermediate in arts from Tribhuvan University, leads one million active cadres who are always on standby to do anything at one command. The Nepali Congress (NC), the CPN-UML and other parties have been criticizing the Maoists for using the YCL as a paramilitary force to intimidate other parties' cadres.


At a time when calls for disbanding the YCL are rising as a precondition for the Maoists leading the next coalition government, Pun spoke to Puran P Bista and Kamal Raj Sigdel of the Post on issues concerning YCL activities, possible reform and where it gets its spending money.




Q: The YCL has been a bone of contention perpetuating the present political deadlock. How do you react to other parties' demand for abolition of the YCL as a paramilitary force?

Pun: The NC and the UML have been at the forefront in raising this demand. Their demand is not justified because the YCL is a political organization of progressive youth. It represents the forward moving stream. I admit that there may have been some weaknesses, and we can discuss them. They have lost the CA elections and they are venting their anger at the YCL. This will create hurdles in writing the new constitution. But one thing is clear, and that is we will not dissolve the YCL at any cost.


Q: Their objection is mainly its paramilitary character and its criminal and violent activities rather than the organization itself.  

Pun: No, they have formally called for dissolving the YCL. But now they are becoming defensive and talking about camps and paramilitary force. The fact is that the YCL is neither a paramilitary force nor is it housed in camps. This is a political organization of youth, it is a sister organization of the CPN (Maoist). Young people by nature are aggressive. We are different from others because we have thousands of fulltime cadres. They have come together and agreed to work and live together. So their settlement looks like a mass shelter. If that is a problem for other political parties, we are also ready to reorganize their lodging and mobilize them for development works.


We are not a paramilitary institution; we may appear paramilitary in our action and manner because we work and move in a mass or group. We will correct that and we have been saying it. But the other parties are creating problems and raising unnecessary demands. By doing that they are supporting regressive tendencies.


Q: But there is wide criticism that the YCL has arms and its activities are violent. And this is what we have been seeing for a long time.

Pun: I can challenge them to find weapons among the YCL. Actually the Tarun Dal has arms. We have found arms with the Tarun Dal chairperson in Sindhupalchok. This is my challenge. We don't need arms, our principles are our arms. Our force is our people. If anyone accuses us of being violent and we possess arms, we vehemently deny that.


Q: You may claim that the YCL does not possess arms and that your cadres' behavior is not violent. But Pushpa Kamal Dahal himself acknowledged as much when he appealed to them to behave like Gandhi for a week.

Pun: Your question itself is wrong. The CA election was successful because we became Gandhis. We lost one and a half dozen YCL cadres, their sacrifices, and the YCL's tolerance made the elections successful. What would have happened if the YCL had reacted? The YCL have not only become Gandhis, they have become Maha Gandhis. We kept quiet even when seven of our members were killed at one single spot. Now we have one million active members. We have enough full-timers and we can deploy them whenever we need to. But we mobilized them to support the peace process which made the CA polls successful. It's not only me who's saying this. International election observers like Jimmy Carter and the leaders of the election observation missions from the EU, the UN and other organizations have said that this was a model election.


If we had wanted to, we could have done anything. If somebody like Khum Bahadur could kill seven of our members in broad daylight, what couldn't we have done? When Pushpa Kamal Dahal told us to become Gandhis, we obeyed him. The Carter Center, the UN and the EU mission told us that the leadership's commitment was good and that we should pass it down to the lower ranks also.


Q: You say you have one million active cadres working in your organization. How do you manage such a large number of people?

Pun: All one million of them are not the full-timers.


Q: How many of them work full-time?

Pun: They are very few in number, maybe 5 or 10 percent.


Q: That means around 20,000 persons?

Pun: Even less than that. We don't have the exact data. That one million is also not the precise figure. There were around six to seven lakh YCL cadres some seven months ago. We expanded the organization's membership during the election, so now the number may be around nine to 10 lakhs.


Q: How do you pay for their living expenses?

Pun: They are volunteers. A few full-timers work in groups and they carry out group programs. For instance, we are doing large-scale commercial farming on leased lands in the eastern tarai. In different places, we do wage labor. And as per our policy, one unit of the YCL should engage in producing one particular product or some income-generating activity. For instance, they can get involved in chicken farming or raising livestock. Others can run shops and such enterprises. And that generates funds.


Q: Do you mean the YCL survives on such income?

Pun: Of course. The money that we earn from these income-generating activities is what sustains our organization.


Q: Alongside carrying out these income-generating activities, the YCL has also been acting like a local authority – passing judgment and punishing the guilty on the basis of applications received. Several people are reported to have been seriously beaten, abducted, intimidated or threatened in the course of enforcing YCL law.

Pun: No we have not done that.


Q: Who is doing that then?

Pun: No one is doing that. After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the [kangaroo] courts were dissolved. Now we don't do that, we don't examine any cases.


But the truth is that we receive many applications even today. But we do not take any action on them; we have been ignoring them. But if there is any suggestion that we can provide political awareness, we do that. For instance, in corruption cases, we suggest and emphasize strongly that corruption should be eliminated. Being a progressive youth-led organization, we don't do anything except give suggestions wherever appropriate.


Q: You say you are working on leased land. It is said that the Maoists are still keeping much of the land captured during the armed struggle. Are the YCL cadres farming on these same lands?

Pun: If the lands that we are farming had been captured, there would be no need to lease them. We lease the lands and the people are ready to rent them out to us.

The lands that we have captured is a different issue. We have returned all those lands that were captured illegally during wartime. But the subject of the lands that still have not been returned is a little bit complicated. The lands which had been left uncultivated or lands whose landlords have migrated to America or Kathmandu and have been absent for years are being tilled by the tenants.


Q: So you are not dissolving the YCL?

Pun: Why should we dissolve the YCL when it has a big role to play in building a new Nepal? This is a powerful organization moving forward with a progressive agenda. Most other youth organizations are simply following the orders of some corrupt leaders. Other organizations are passive. The YCL is the one that has been taking a firm stand against injustice and corruption. What sort of new Nepal are we going to make if such an organization is to be dissolved?


Q: The UML has formed a youth force to counter YCL excesses. The Tarun Dal is also warning that if the YCL is not dissolved, it will create a similar force. Why do you think they have been compelled to take such steps?

Pun: That is a biased approach. They fared badly in the CA election, and they are taking it out on us. They should look back at the errors they committed during the past, and from where and when the people chased them away.


Q: Tarun Dal leader Poudel said that if the YCL was not dissolved, they would build a similar organization and fight the YCL. Won't that start another conflict?

Pun: That's why we have been requesting them not to do so. Let's work together, let's work for a common cause by building a joint network. I agree that at some places our friends might have beaten up cadres of other parties. But it is also equally true that at other places our cadres too have been beaten up. They show us data [about YCL atrocities], but we too have our own data about their activities. Our cadres have been killed, not beaten, by UML cadres in Arghakhanchi, Dang, Solu and other districts. I agree that a number of  such criminal incidents have happened in the past. Let's punish them as per the existing laws. And there have been some mistakes which we must own up and try not to repeat them. Let's make a mechanism extending down to the local level. We have been urging the leaders of other youth organizations to do this. But they are not ready. We call them for a meeting, but they don't show up.


Q: You say the YCL is a political wing of the Maoists, but it is being criticized for occupying government buildings. The NC and the UML say that the YCL has been occupying 64 government buildings in Kathmandu alone.

Pun: They are trying to create confusion. They are showing their own true colors. Their jaundiced eyes see everything wrong about the YCL, they see it occupying 64 government buildings. That is not true. Currently, we are occupying not more than four or five buildings. Some of them are government property, but we have taken over them as per agreements reached. Nothing has been done without an agreement. For instance, they speak of Balaju industrial area, which we have taken on a 20-year lease.


Q: How much rent are you paying for it?

Pun: I am not sure. I think it is around 20 lakhs per year. I am not sure, however.


Q: Whom did you make the agreement with?

Pun: With those who own it.


Q: What about this building we are in? Is this a private or government building?

Pun: You suspect this building too?


Q: No, we are not suspecting anything. But just as an example, how much are you paying for this house?

Pun: I think we are paying Rs 25,000 to 30,000 per month.


Q: Have you been occupying the trolley bus office building?

Pun: No, we have not occupied any such government building. Don't believe what others say.


Q: Do you have any plans to reform the YCL? Your high command too might have given you some suggestions regarding that.

Pun: There are two to three ways to reform this organization. One is to deter those who abuse the YCL. It has been misused in different places. Thugs have been committing crimes in the name of the YCL. We will develop a mechanism to identify real YCL cadres. Next, we will improve our behavior about which many people and political parties have complained. Next, we will manage our mass shelter; we will manage it in a way which will not trouble other parties. We may get involved in development work.


Q: You say that YCL cadres in the eastern tarai are living on what they make by farming on leased lands. What about your expenses in other areas including the Kathmandu Valley? How do you manage so much money?

Pun: It is the same in Kathmandu [and other places]. For instance, though many of our workers are volunteers, others work as wage laborers in different places. We have local teams everywhere; each team can do one job. And this is done across the country as a movement. And this is how we have been collecting money. We were doing this even during the war. We used to collect large amounts of cash. Nowadays, it is even easier.


Q: You did not mention what is often reported to be your major source of income. What about donations?

Pun: No, we do not collect donations.


Q: Does your party give you money?

Pun: No, it does not. But it is a different thing to give matching funds occasionally.


Q: You have so many fulltime cadres. Does not the party provide them pocket money?

Pun: No, the party does not give us money. We raise it on our own. We are managing our expenses by being economical.


Q: The YCL has been blamed for using school children in its political rallies. Is it good to involve children in politics?

Pun: I don't think that is wrong. We should make them politically aware, but we should make sure that it does not hamper their education. (The Kathamndu Post June 16, 2008)

Interview with Hridayesh Tripathi

'Keep out of tarai affairs'

Hridayesh Tripathi, former minister of industry, commerce and supplies, is a senior leader of the Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP) – the youngest party to contest in the CA polls held last April. He has been elected to the CA from Nawalparasi-5. Tripathi was with the Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandidevi) before he and Mahanta Thakur of the Nepali Congress broke away to form the TMDP last year in the wake of the Madhes Andolan. A graduate in political science from the Institute of Oriental Science, Russia, Tripathi plunged into politics by joining the leftist movement while still a student at Amrit Science College, Tribhuvan University.

Tripathi spoke to Puran P Bista and Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post on a range of issues concerning his party's future plans and role in the soon-to-be-formed government, constitutional amendment, army integration, Madhesi agenda in the CA and armed outfits operating in the tarai.


Q: The Madhesi parties, including yours, have become a new political force. What will be your party's future move?

Tripathi: Though a small and newly established party, it faced the CA election as a challenge. What we have is the mandate we received from our people not to join the new government, but to focus on the constitution-making process. So we are here not to govern but to secure the rights of the Madhesi people.

Our role will be like that of a facilitator. Our party has made it clear that the CPN (Maoist), which has emerged as the largest party in the CA, should form the next government. However, given the constant wrangling among the parties, what we fear is that valuable time will be spent on other matters instead of the main agenda – writing a new constitution. The only way to come out of the current impasse is to amend the Interim Constitution in a package. There should be no further lingering on minor issues.

Q: What do you mean by package?

Tripathi: The Interim Constitution has now posed new hurdles. It has also posed constraints on forming a new government. It needs to be amended to incorporate the agreement reached between the Madhesi Front and the government. There are a number of things that need to be changed. The term "SPA" should be removed from the Interim Constitution. The list of names of the then parliamentarians contained in the Interim Constitution should be struck off.

Similarly, there should be a new provision to allow a simple majority to form a government and select the president. There should be a constitutional guarantee — which is possible through an amendment — of the autonomous status of all the federal states and all their rights should be secured. Regarding restructuring of the national army, the government has expressed its commitment — in the agreement reached with us — to mass recruitment and inclusive representation of Madhesis. These things should be put down in black and white. All this should be solved in a package.

Q: What do you mean by mass recruitment? It has been interpreted differently by different people.

Tripathi: It is clearly written in our agreement. There are 93,000 troops in the Nepal Army, and only 854 of them are Madhesis. Similarly, in the Maoist PLA — though we are not demanding that Madhesis be enlisted in it too — there is not even 1 percent representation of Madhesis. What we are saying is that the army's ethnic composition reflect the population. Madhesis should be proportionately represented in the national army. And that is possible only through mass recruitment. This means the entry of Madhesis should not be on an individual basis. Separate battalions consisting of Madhesis should be raised.

Q: It is said that Madhesi youth are not very keen on joining the security forces. Some months ago when vacancies in the security forces were announced, only a very few Madhesi youth turned up.

Tripathi: That is a wrong interpretation. If they are recruited individually, then it is sure that they are going to be tortured during training. This is the reason why many Madhesi recruits fled from boot camp. This is what we have seen and experienced so far. So we want a separate battalion of Madhesis only. I believe Madhesis have proved their strength and capability to fight. If we were to ask them to prove that again, there would be a big disaster in the country. They can push this country into a very difficult situation. Therefore, we speak of mass recruitment.

Q: What is your stand on army integration? Do you say that the Maoists PLA should be integrated into the Nepal Army (NA) or be managed by creating a separate force?

Tripathi: We don't believe in either army. Neither the NA nor the PLA is our army. We don't have any interest in integration or whatever. Our concern is that there should be proportional representation of Madhesis in the national army.

Q: Can the Maoists form a government alone?

Tripathi: The Maoists can lead the new government, and the rest can join it. This is the mandate. In our case, we don't have the mandate to be part of the government. Therefore, we don't want to be directly involved in the soon-to-be-formed government.

Q: Are you talking with the tarai parties to work together in the CA?

Tripathi: We had a meeting recently. We have agreed to finalize common points regarding Madhesi issues, and we will move together.

Q: The country is now in stagnation. What is your road map?

Tripathi: We say that the Maoists should take the initiative to form a new government. But so far the Maoists have made no move in that direction. The main problem is the sharing of power among the three major parties.

Q: Is it okay with your party to give the Maoists a chance to rule with all executive posts in their hands?

Tripathi: The parties are trying to prevent the Maoists from coming to power because they fear that they might impose a communist regime. But what I believe is that the people will not tolerate another dictatorship. The people will wipe out those forces that go against their wishes.

Q: But the YCL has been throwing its weight around and the people are just standing by.

Tripathi: The Maoist leaders themselves have been talking about correcting the behavior of their YCL cadres.

Q: Is correction enough? Or are you calling for dissolving the YCL?

Tripathi: No, we cannot ask them to dismantle the YCL because any party can have a sister organization. We don't have that right. But if someone uses force in politics, the people will not tolerate that. Dahal once had appealed to his cadres, "Be Gandhi for a week." This means the YCL is indeed a group which believes in violence.

Q: Despite the Maoist leadership's frequent appeals, YCL cadres have not become Gandhis. What scenario do you foresee in the days to come?

Tripathi: It is difficult to democratize armed forces. We must help them in that transformation process. But the intention of those who are in charge of them should be honest. No one should use them to grab power. I believe the Maoists will correct themselves.

Q: Why are the tarai parties demanding "one Madhes one pradesh" which is virtually impossible?

Tripathi: We believe that the tarai should be accepted as a single geographical unit. We acknowledge that there is diversity within the unit. [According to the census of 2001] the population makeup is 8 percent Tharu, 8 percent Muslim, 12 percent Pahadi, 13.5 percent Dalit and others. So we don't want to end one phase of discrimination and start another. How to guarantee the equal participation of all the communities is a crucial question. But this is an affair of the tarai and others should not interfere in it.

Q: Do you think that federal states will be formed after a new constitution has been written?

Tripathi: Given the current bickering, I don't think they will do it within the stipulated time. So what we are saying is let's amend the Interim Constitution in a package. Let us start right away. If we don't do that, this squabbling will certainly create hurdles.

Q: What do you have to say about the current debate over selecting a president? The Maoists have proposed that someone from the civil society should be chosen.

Tripathi: We don't have any objection to this. Dahal, Koirala or anyone can be the president.

(The Kathmandu Post, June 9, 2008)

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