'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
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
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)