Interview with Lok Raj Baral

Let the Maoists conduct the show

Lok Raj Baral, senior professor at the Central Department of Political Science, Tribhuvan University is one of the leading political analysts in Nepal. He, as an outspoken leader of civil society, witnessed the evolution of Nepali democracy through its all stages from under the tyranny of the Rana oligarchs, and Panchayat to the post-1990 constitutional monarchy and up to today's federal democratic republic, and during these years he was arrested many times by the government for his pro-democratic activities. He now heads the Nepal Center for Contemporary Studies.

Speaking with Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post Baral says the parties have no alternative but to collaborate and cooperate with each other. He says the Maoists have got the mandate, hence, deserve a fair chance to run the show.


Q: How do you assess the political developments in the past one year?

Baral: I think, to be fair enough, things are moving on the right direction. Now we have to see how the parties manage the show for drafting the new constitution.


Q: Do you think that they will be able to draft the constitution given the widening differences?

Baral: As far as the issues are concerned, I don't think there will be any difference because all are committed to federalism, republican order and popular sovereignty. As far as the division of constituent states for federalism is concerned, this has to be sorted out by them. But they have differences on power-sharing.


Q: How do you analyze the fear that the parties seem to harbor of the Maoists?

Baral: We should not be suspicious of the Maoists because they have got people's mandate. Nor can we pass any judgment against them. We have to test and give them a fair chance to conduct the show. So far as issues of sharing power are concerned, not a single party can run this country. They must have some kind of cooperation.

The NC could have allowed the Maoists to form the government and they could have waited for some time ….

I think there must be proper balance among them. The Maoists could have the post of an executive head and any other party can have the post of nominal president. But the intention should be clear. They should not create the post of president just to harass the government.


Q: Do you think that NC's insistence on amendment has some ill intention?

Baral: There are mutual and perceptual threats. The Maoists think the NC wants to amend the constitution and create the post of president just to harass them. Others think the Maoists will have free hand, they will destroy us ….


Q: You mean the doubts are groundless.

Baral: It takes time. In course of time they will have to change because it is very difficult for the former rebels to transform immediately into open politics.

Q: There is a widespread fear that the Maoists are thinking of establishing a one-party dictatorship. 

Baral: Now you must admit that it is highly left-dominated politics. But I don't think the country will slip into one-party dictatorship because the Maoists have changed their position, the way they have committed to the peace process … they have postures; there are levels like Marxism or Leninism etc but they cannot go out because the reality of the country would not allow them.


Q: What will be the role of tarai politics in the coming days? 

Baral: Emergence of regional party is a new reality. That is why the so-called national parties like the NC and the UML have lost their constituencies. The conventional approach of running a political party has gone now.


Q: What are the major challenges after the declaration of the republic?

Baral: The immediate challenge is to maintain unity among political forces. The next challenge is to ensure good governance…. Unless we have very effective governance and unless we try to address the problems of the people, they will be, in course of time, disappointed, which means again there will be a serious problem of ownership of the new order. The people should own and defend the constitution. Economic challenge is also going to be a serious one….


Q: Are you optimistic that the declaration of republic will put the country onto the right track?

Baral: Republic is one part. Actually, for the last two years, there was no king. Now we have entered into a new phase; in that our parties should be alert that they should do everything for the empowerment of the people. If that is not the case, the republic will only be an empty slogan, nothing else.


Q: After the declaration of republic, alongside the constitution writing process, there seems to be two major knots or problems: army integration and federal states' division. How do you analyze these problems?

Baral: As far as army integration is concerned, I don't think it is a big problem because they have agreed…. If you look into the agreement, they have said "integration"; they have not said "integration into the army"…. They will create another kind of force. So integration means not actually into the army itself.


Q: They have also agreed to have mass recruitment of the Madhesis.

Baral: Mass recruitment means open recruitments/competition, which suggests the Madhesis will not be debarred from entering into the services. This does not mean all the masses will be there.


Q: There is another issue of One-Madhes-one-Prades, which seems to create a political hurdle. How do you analyze this?

Baral: That is one of the problems. But no homework has been done seriously and that is the problem. There should be serious engagement of tarai leaders. We should sit together to sort out all our differences.

I don't think this is going to be a big issue because Madhes alone is not a homogeneous entity now. Tharuwan, Bhavar Pradhes and others don't accept "one-Madhes-one-Pradhes" concept. We should try to find out a settlement in which all will have a share and will agree on that.


Q: Do you foresee any Indian political party playing a nasty role in our internal affairs?

Baral: I don't think so. We give unnecessary importance to the foreign powers, actually. I don't think India is going to burn its finger on such issues, like One Madhes one Pradhes or this or that.


Q: It has been almost proved that some Indian political parties were meddling, fudging some parties during the election time.

Baral: No no. [Laughter…] It is not only Madhesi parties but all parties ... it is very difficult to say [laughter…].


Q: Some of the leaders from the tarai have been saying this.

Baral: I don't know about it. They accuse each other. But who gets what [laughter…] from whom is very difficult, [laughter…] but they accuse each other [laughter…].


Q: But in recent days, foreign diplomats have been criticized for breaching diplomatic protocol, especially Indian diplomat.

Baral: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Because all the time it cannot use its card, if the people and parties are really united and are working together, and if they have a common agenda I don't think that it is going to dictate on any thing. But if you are dividing yourself, if India feels that Nepal's development will pose threats to its own security, in that situation, of course, India will exercise. Otherwise, I don't think they will do that.

But because of the visibility of the diplomats and others these days, they come out very openly. Chinese ambassador also spoke, Indian ambassador also spoke, American ambassador … all these foreign diplomats have become much more vocal. That's why many people think that there is interference. We should try to check that. That is why I am taking about institutionalization, institutionalization of foreign ministry; there should be proper channels to take these issues. If some foreign diplomats want to take up some issues, they should go through a proper channel. Here, what happens is, even for small thing, they go straight to the highest level. [Source: The Kathmandu Post, June 30, 2008]


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