Nepali Congress leader Dr. Shekhar Koirala, elected as lawmaker from Morang district, was insisting on the need to avert the present situation, urging the party leaders to accommodate the Madheshi leaders in the process. Dr. Koirala spoke to NEW SPOTLIGT on the future political scenario, given the current political unrest. Excerpts:
What will be the role of Nepali Congress?
Nepali Congress will play the role of a responsible opposition. In democracy, the role of opposition is very important. Party president Sushil Koirala has already made it clear.
It is reported that NC leader Sushil Koirala broke the gentlemen's agreement among the three parties. How do you look at this?
We don’t know about the gentlemen's agreement. Nepali Congress party believes in institutional decisions. NC leader Koirala has made it clear.
Don’t you realize how Koirala's decision to contest the PM's election damaged the image of NC?
It is a misunderstanding. Koirala’s prestige has been enhanced following his own decision to contest the elections.
But you are going to lose the positions of president, vice president, speaker and so on. Don’t you think it will affect your party?
Nepali Congress believes in principles of liberal democracy. We did not fight elections for any position.
Some are saying that the future of NC is doomed after the new equation. How do you look at this?
Nepali Congress can thrive now as we always come out strongly when we play the role of opposition.
What will be your stand on Madhesh?
We have tabled the constitutional amendment bill in parliament. It is up to the ruling coalition to decide. Even the last time, CPN-UML vehemently opposed the demands of Madhesh. Let’s see how they will act now.
Do you think Madheshi issues will be settled?
We need to address their genuine demands. We have to settle the issues by amending the new constitution. We need to take the Madheshi on board the political process. Otherwise, we cannot implement the constitution.
It is said that Koirala filed his nomination under the Indian pressure. How do you look at this?
There is no doubt that Nepali Congress has been maintaining cordial relations with India. So far as the support of India is concerned, the results spoke the volume. There was a blockade during the tenure of Koirala and he did not pay an official visit to India. Following the installation of the new prime minister in power, the disruption in the border movement has eased.
Will NC contest the elections for CA?
Nepali Congress files the candidacy for the post of president. As prime minister Oli has made it clear that he will accommodate NC, our candidate will win the elections.
Some Congress members blame you for breaking the three party agreement. What do you say?
How can a small fish like me can make and break coalitions. It is the decision of the party to stay in the opposition benches. The decision cannot be taken on the basis of who will get what but whether we can save the future of our party or not.
How do you see the present political situation given the ongoing Madhesh agitation and short supply due to disruption of border points by Madheshis?
There are three issues. They are Nepal-India relations, the New Constitution and on-going political agitation in Madhesh. You can put all three in one basket or look at them separately to take stock of the situation. But you will find the same result. When the draft of the constitution was finalized, there remained just the three leaders of Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist. Our leaders even discarded Bijaya Kumar Gacchchadar from the alliance.
Who do you blame for the present crisis?
I blame our political leadership. Although Madhesh-based parties were in agitation with certain demands, leaders of the three parties did not find it even necessary to initiate dialogues with them. I have to frankly admit the fact that they were completely sidelined. As they were launching the agitation in Madhesh, our leaders did not find time to address it. As soon as four parties announced the border of federal provinces, the agitation started. When we finalized seven provinces, we addressed the issue raised by Pahadis, but we ignored Madheshis and Tharus. We dropped the aspirations of Madheshis and Tharus. It fueled the agitation in Tharu areas and Madhesh, with almost 40 deaths and hundreds of injuries. We have to condemn the bad things.
What role did you play as an NC member?
I have been stressing the need for dialogue to end the crisis and agitation. Nobody listened to us and directed the constitution writing process should be put on the fast track approach. The approach of three leaders badly hurt the Madheshis and Tharus. They launched more than 45 days of agitation, paralyzing life in the Terai. However, our eyes opened only after Madheshis imposed blockade in borders and stopped vehicles. This hurt Kathmandu badly. The supply of petroleum products dwindled and then we indulged in seeing India here in the mess.
How do you assess the views of the government and other parties regarding the ‘undeclared blockade' by India?
At a time when our party leaders are facing the political troubles created by Madheshis, we have dragged India in our politics. Whether you term it an obstruction, undeclared blockade, economic blockade or disruption, it is our inability to deal with it in a diplomatic manner. The government should have sent special representatives and high level delegations to negotiate with India. The second important thing is that politicians based in Kathmandu have to change their glasses to look at the Terai Madhesh. The leaders of three parties still see Madhesh through their old looking glass, connecting it with India. They have shown the immaturity -- whether the Madhesh exists or not, they have completely undermined Madhesis' presence in Nepal. These views of three leaders injected the rebellion in Madhesh.
What will be the consequences?
I am very much worried about the ongoing process. If the agitation continues, it may encourage a kind of ethnic conflict in Nepal. It is gradually heading towards becoming a conflict between Madheshis and Pahadis. Not anywhere in the history of Nepal, this kind of scenario appeared in the south. We need to change our approach to look at Madhesh. After going through the present scenario, our leaders also seem to have realized this.
Where do we have messed with India?
First is our failure to deal with the relations through diplomacy. Our political leaders visited India and gave verbal assurances to Indian politicians and establishment that they will respond to the genuine concerns of all the groups. Even during the visit of Indian prime minister and high government officials, our top leaders gave certain verbal assurances to them. However, they completely undermined the suggestions and words given by them. India, which remains a part of all the political changes, feels hurt. As a big and neighboring country, it is natural for India to feel that. Another thing is that Nepal has to change its looking glass. Our political mistake is our failure to address the Madheshi issue and reach out to Madhesh. Madheshis were talking about the identity and we did not listen to it.
At a time when you are saying the Madheshi agitation is a mass movement, the leaders of the major political parties, Sushil Koirala, K.P. Oli and Prachanda, are terming it as an India-backed agitation, an agitation of small groups of landlords and so on, how do you look at this?
This is their mistake, they are looking at it from the old glasses. The dynamics of Madhesh has changed, so as the social class. I understand the communist anti-India stand and the linking of the terai crisis with India. However, I don’t understand the stand taken by Prime Minister Koirala who represents Banke district. We are in a fiasco. All the leaders are issuing provocative statements against Madheshis and it will not give any good results for us.
What will be the implications?
The current Madhesh agitation would have long term social, political and economic implications in Nepal. It will affect us for a long time to come.
Then why didn’t the parties fulfill the demands by Madheshis and make constitution through a fast track?
The government has to fulfill the demands of withdrawal of armed police, curfew, declared those killed as martyrs, provide compensation for the victims, provide treatment to injured and release those arrested during the agitation. As the government has already tabled the constitution amendment bill for making the provisions for constituencies on the basis of population, proportional representation in all state positions and demarcation of constituencies, the agitating parties also need to show a certain flexibility. So far as the delineation of provinces is concerned, we have to wait for a few months to see the recommendation of state restructuring commission.
Madheshis and Tharus have been saying that you addressed the boundary issues of the hill people within a week, why did the three parties not apply a similar process for Madhesh? What do you say?
I have been saying that the decision of the three party leaders to change the boundary of far-west and mid-west immediately and keep hidden the demands of Madhesh will create problems. There is a widespread feeling in terai that the leaders of hills are biased against the Madheshis. This is unfortunate. As we now have a new constitution, Madheshi leaders should give certain time to settle the things. There is no option before us other than to change the boundary as per the demand of Madhesh and other groups. Madheshi leaders also know this.
What do you think are the major issues of Madheshis?
They have these issues: proportional inclusion, electoral constituencies on the basis of population, boundary of provinces and citizenship. One of the contentious issues is the issue of boundary. The bill presented by the government addressed the two issues and we can settle the issue of provinces on the basis of expert committee. So far as the citizenship issue is concerned, there is certain complication on certain issue. I want to see Madheshi Morcha should also join the Legislature Parliament to pass the bill. There is the need to address Tharus and Janjatis also, so there is the need of certain time. Problems will arise again if we go hurriedly -- I want to see Madheshi leaders to participate in the process.
How do you see their demand to go for the status quo on federalism?
It is very difficult now as the constitution has already been promulgated. Even if you go for the status quo, there is the need to give the terms of reference for experts. It is possible if we give mandate for six to nine provinces. We need to give this responsibility to experts. There are many disputed areas including five districts. We have to push this.
You have been representing Madhesh and living in Madhesh for a long time. How do you look at the long-term implications of the present politics?
If we fail to address the problems, there is a possibility of long ethnic conflicts unfolding as different forces have been playing in Nepal. We need to settle the issue of provinces as soon as possible and address the Madheshi demands. The country is heading towards a dangerous situation. The country is in volcanic state. If we are unable to manage the aspirations, some see Nepal breaking away like Yugoslavia and some are predicting it will be Afghanistan. Nothing is impossible.
If you see the situation is so grim, why are the so-called three leaders undermining it?
This is what surprises me. I have been repeatedly saying this to all the top leaders. Nobody listens to me. They are unable to see the ground reality. Our leaders do not think beyond their districts. Oli is concerned with Jhapa, Deubaji is with Kailali and Kanchanpur and Prachanda with Chitwan. There is no one to think about the whole of Nepal. Bhim Rawal and Sitaula are also there looking at things similarly. Baglung was divided but the leaders immediately fulfilled the demand. After the election of the prime minister, I will visit my constituency.