TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW
As Nepal goes through a difficult transition, what is the stand of the country’s Maoists on the important issues that will determine the Future? Nepal’s Maoist leader Prachanda spoke exclusively to CNN-IBN on those issues in an interview on Devil’s Advocate.
Karan Thapar: Now that the interim Government has given itself the power to abolish the monarchy, if the King interferes in politics, don't you think you should withdraw your demand for the immediate abolition of the monarchy?
Prachanda: No, we don't feel that. Although the Parliament has already decided that two-thirds majority of Parliament can abolish the monarchy, in that sense we feel that our demand is justified.
Karan Thapar: So you want Parliament to abolish the monarchy immediately?
Prachanda: Yes, we want that Parliament should take initiative and monarchy should be abolished immediately.
Karan Thapar: But then what is the point of having a constituent Assembly in four or five months’ time. This should be decided by the Assembly.
Prachanda: The constituent Assembly is quite necessary to restructure the whole state. It is not the question related only to the monarchy.
Karan Thapar: But the monarchy is an important part of the structure of Nepal. Surely, this is a decision the Assembly should decide. If you don’t decide this in the Assembly, you are disrespecting the Assembly.
Prachanda: We are not disrespecting the Assembly. We have compromised with other parties that after the election, at the first meeting of the Assembly, we will decide the fate of the monarchy. But during this one-year period, it has been proved that until and unless the monarchy is there, it will create disturbance and try their best to derail the process. Therefore, we try to take initiative.
Karan Thapar: So the problem is that you don’t trust King Gyanendra ?
Prachanda: Exactly. But it is not the question of individuals. It’s the question of this feudal institution that should be abolished.
Karan Thapar: So you are not ready to let the Assembly take this important decision?
Prachanda: Why has the Parliament decided right now that two-thirds majority can abolish the monarchy before the elections?
Karan Thapar: But just because the Assembly has given itself the power does not mean it has to exercise the power?
Prachanda: But the provision is there that if serious disturbance comes from the monarchy, in our assessment, serious disturbance has already occurred through the monarchy.
Karan Thapar: All right. Let me question you on that. On Tuesday, your colleague, Baburam Bhattarai said that he is scared that the King might engineer a coup with the help of the Nepalese Army. He even said that General Katwal, the Army Chief is a foster brother of the King. Is that a real fear or is that Mr Bhattarai’s imagination?
Prachanda: It is an open secret that Mr Katwal has been educated and raised by the Monarch therefore he has the real relation with the Monarch. But right now we feel that they are trying to activate their forces. So that is the danger from that kind of a relation.
Karan Thapar: So you are really scared that the King and Mr Katwal could organize a coup?
Prachanda: No, right now, I don’t think they will organize a coup. In some section of leadership of the Army, we heard that they are trying to do some things.
Karan Thapar: But you are not taking that seriously.
Prachanda: No I don’t think as a whole Army, they will take such an initiative. In the whole history of our political development, the Army has not taken such kind of decision. They also know the overall political consciousness of our masses and people.
Karan Thapar: So you trust the Army and are prepared to trust General Katwal?
Prachanda: It is not a question of trust. Katwal may have some sentiments with the Monarch and you will imagine some kind of disturbance. But on the whole I don’t feel that they will be able to take such an initiative.
Karan Thapar: This is very interesting because on this issue you have a slightly different opinion to your deputy. Mr Bhattarai is rather scared about this. You are not worried.
Prachanda: We have information that in some sections they will try but the will not be able to, that is my point.
Karan Thapar: Though the Prime Minister has not said this officially and formally, many people believe that he would like to retain the monarchy in a ceremonial form, perhaps like the British Queen. Do you believe that is Mr Koirala’s actual position?
Prachanda: Yes, I think five years back I had a regular contact discussion with Mr Koirala and he’s not quite clear about his own position. He vacillates questions of the monarchy and the republic.
Karan Thapar: Is he confused or is he trying to find a clever way of keeping the monarchy?
Prachanda: Previously I thought he was trying to find an artful way of abolishing the monarchy. But in the latter half of the development I think he was trying to find an artful way to save the monarchy.
Karan Thapar: So the Prime Minister is trying to save the monarchy?
Prachanda: Yes, when he says ceremonial monarchy and then he says I want to give some political space to the Monarch, all these things prove that.
Karan Thapar: On Sunday the PM revealed that he had advised King Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras to abdicate in favour of Prince Hridendra. If that were to happen, could the Communist accept a ceremonial monarchy?
Prachanda: It is not a question of Communist. The whole nation will not accept such a ridiculous thing.
Karan Thapar: Not even Prince Hridendra, who is only four or five years old?
Prachanda: Yes, nobody will agree to that.
Karan Thapar: If the constituent Assembly meets and decides to retain the ceremonial monarchy, will the Maoists respect and honour that decision?
Prachanda: We do not believe that kind of a result will come.
Karan Thapar: But if it comes?
Prachanda: If it comes, we will respect what the masses want and we will teach the masses what they did is not correct but we will respect the decision.
Karan Thapar: So you will accept a ceremonial monarchy if the constituent Assembly decides to keep one?
Prachanda: My point is that we will respect the decision and ideologically we will again peacefully try to educate the masses.
Karan Thapar: Peacefully? There will be no arms struggle?
Prachanda: Time and again I have cleared this point that we will respect the decision.
Karan Thapar: The reason I want to clear it again is because at the moment you are demanding immediate abolition. So you will accept a ceremonial monarchy if the constituent Assembly decides to keep one?
Prachanda: Yes. That’s why I’m here. If we do not respect the decision, how can we be part of the elections?
Karan Thapar: That’s interesting because at the same time you want to abolish the monarchy before the Assembly meets but leave that aside. Let us now move on the question on the election of the constituent Assembly. On the 15th of this month, speaking in Kirtipur, you said you don’t even believe it’s likely to happen in December. Given that the election has already been postponed once, are you confident it will be held this year?
Prachanda: We have serious doubt it will be held. We are for the election. As soon as possible, it should be held but because of the experience we have serious suspicion.
Karan Thapar: You are seriously doubting that the election will be held this year?
Prachanda: Yes, we have serious doubt.
Karan Thapar: How much of a responsibility will the that of the Prime Minister?
Prachanda: Main responsibility should be taken by the Prime Minister because when we entered in the negotiation and the agreement, the PM time and again said if I will not be able to hold elections in June, then morally I will not be the PM.
Karan Thapar: Do you think, because he has not been able to hold the elections by June, morally he should step down?
Prachanda: I am not saying that. It’s the PM himself who said this time and again.
Karan Thapar: But you are saying that the responsibility for delay, the failure to hold the election on time is that of the Prime Minister.
Prachanda: Main responsibility is that of the Prime Minister.
Karan Thapar: Why did he fail? Because he does not wants to hold it or is it because he is weak? What is the explanation?
Prachanda: My point is that the Prime Minister and his party could not take the concrete position of the monarchy ad the republic. This vacillation in its political position is the main reason.
Karan Thapar: In your eyes, is the PM vacillating because he is actually trying to find a way of retaining the monarchy and therefore he keeps delaying the elections.
Prachanda: I have serious doubts that the PM wants to retain monarchy and therefore he is trying to play with the situation.
Karan Thapar: How much tension has this introduced in your relationship with the Prime Minister?
Prachanda: There have been many ups and downs, twists and turns in the relationship but yet I think that the relation is not so cold. We are in a warm relation which some times gets very tough as well.
Karan Thapar: Sher Bahadur Doeba, the leader of the Nepali Congress Democratic Party says that the obstacle to holding election with the constituent assembly are the terrorist acts of the Maoists. He blames you.
Prachanda: It is quite wrong. It is Sher Bahadur Doeba himself who doesn’t wants to have elections. For the first time when we entered into this negotiation with Doeba, he is the person who was quite against this election of the Constituent Assembly.
Karan Thapar: Let me put this to you. Suppose the elections do not happen in November-December. How serious will that be for Nepal?
Prachanda: It will be a disaster, I think. Whole political scenario can change in a serious anarchy in this country. I don’t want to imagine the results.
Karan Thapar: If such a disaster happens, can the interim government survive that disaster?
Prachanda: I don’t think so. In that situation, another serious mass movement should be organised and we will be with the masses.
Karan Thapar: When you say that another mass movement should be organised, are you talking about a return to arms struggle?
Prachanda: Not at all. It will be a peaceful mass movement.
Karan Thapar: If you are going to organize a peaceful mass movement, does that mean also that you will leave the interim government?
Prachanda: When we will be forced to go into a serious mass movement, at that time we will abandon the interim government. We will be out of the government, but will be in the legislature.
Karan Thapar: So you will be in the Parliament but leave the interim government?
Prachanda: Yes. That’s right.
Karan Thapar: So let me repeat, what you are saying, that if there are no elections in the constituent assembly in November or December, it will (a) be a disaster in Nepal, (b) you will launch a mass movement and (c) and at that point you will leave the interim government.
Prachanda: Yes. Exactly. We will leave the interim government but will retain in the Parliament and we will handle the mass movement in a peaceful way.
Karan Thapar: Mr Prachanda lets talk about your party of the Maoists. You have agreed to surrender your arms, to out your combatants in camps, to return or cease property and discipline the young communist league. Your critics say that on all these issues, you are cheating. Tell me, are your cadres not refusing to obey your orders or are you only too happy for your orders not to be obeyed.
Prachanda: I want to make it clear that we have not surrendered our arms. We have agreed to integrate both the armies on a new basis.
Karan Thapar: Let me explore that. E N Martin the United Nations Special Representative says that 30,850 Maoist combatants have registered in camps, but only 2,855 arms have been handed it. That is a huge discrepancy. Are you holding back your arms?
Prachanda: The data is incorrect. I think it is somewhere close to 3000.
Karan Thapar: But look at the difference, thirty thousand combatants and just three thousand weapons. Where are the other weapons?
Prachanda: Yes, it is a serious question and time and again I’ve tried to make it clear that our comrades are not all armed with modern weapons. They have been armed with grenade, crude bombs and the likes.
Karan Thapar: Have you surrendered everything? Or are you hiding some stock?
Prachanda: Yes, we have stored all the bombs, grenades, guns and everything. We have in fact registered all the arms and explosives.
Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you what Nankishore Punj the leader of your Maoist army said. He said, “If we detect more arms in the future that are presently out of our memory and control, then we will inform the UN monitors.” How can you not remember where your arms are? It sounds as if you are cheating.
Prachanda: Its not a question of cheating. When we were in the war, we remained in the rural areas, jungles and scattered in different parts of the country. We did not have a really disciplined barrack like that.
Karan Thapar: So you cant remember where your arms are?
Prachanda: The arms may have gone missing in few places.
Karan Thapar: Alright. Let me put in something else to you. E N Martin says that instead of surrendering and registering in camps, your combatants have instead joined the young communist league. In that place, even boys under 18 have been registered.
Prachanda: You have to understand the whole phenomena of communist league. You should go back to the question on the paramilitary forces we have organised during the conflict.
Karan Thapar: Have you moved your Maoist Army combatants into the League?
Prachanda: No that’s not true. However in the league, some combatants are there who were the commanders in PLA. But we have not kept this any secret.
Karan Thapar: These combatants who have joined the young communist league—are they indulging in violence? Because the Prime Minister has gone on record to say that the Young Communist League is like a ‘young criminal league.’
Prachanda: I am sure he must have been out of his mind when he said such a thing. It is a serious charge that they have made. Later on when we discussed it with the PM he said he was sorry for the comment.
Karan Thapar: Did he apologise to you? Did he actually used the word ‘sorry’?
Prachanda: Not exactly. But by his explanation he sounded apologetic. He said it was due to an emotional outburst and the given situations that he said such a thing.
Karan Thapar: Its not just the PM who accuses the Young Communist League of indulging in violence, extortion and intimidation. Sher Bahadur Doeba also says similar things. Many of the members of the Seven Party Alliance too feel the same. Are you using the Young Communist League to intimidate or to threaten?
Prachanda: In my opinion people are exaggerating the whole issue.
Karan Thapar: By saying they are exaggerating, you are hinting that there may be little truth, but they are exaggerating it.
Prachanda: There may have been small incidents, but we are trying to minimize any kind of violence.
Karan Thapar: So do you accept there have been such instances?
Karan Thapar: You also told Former President Jimmy Carter that you would correct the ‘mistakes’ of the Young Communist League. So that means you clearly accept those mistakes?
Prachanda: When we were there at the Central Community meeting, I myself said that we will have to minimise such kinds of incidents. But mainly and basically what communist league is doing is correct because they are building roads, plating trees and doing much public work.
Karan Thapar: People say, Prachanda if orders about returning seized land, Maoist leaders disregard him. Do your local cadres disregard your orders?
Prachanda: No it is not the case. Returning the land is a very sensitive question. We have initiated from the Western districts of Nepal. But we still have to settle the question of settlement of peasants.
Karan Thapar: Can people trust Prachanda to do what he says.
Prachanda: They trust and they should trust. We have initiated the process and this is again a very sensitive issue that we have to decide the settlement of peasants.
Karan Thapar: So what you are saying is: Give me time, I will surrender seized property.
Prachanda: It needs some time.
Karan Thapar: But you will fulfill the commitment to surrender seized property? Is that a promise?
Prachanda: Yes that’s a promise.
Karan Thapar: And you will also ensure that the Young Communist League do not indulge in violence, that’s another promise.
Prachanda: Yes that’s a promise. But you should also see that many a times provocation leads to such things. Like it happened in the Tarai region of the Madhesis, when our comrades were provoked into violence.
Karan Thapar: But will you exercise control, now? Will you keep telling them not to indulge in violence?
Prachanda: Yes, very much.
Karan Thapar: My last question is, when the elections to the constituent assembly take place, if you don’t get a majority, will you accept a minority role or will you boycott the Assembly.
Prachanda: We will respect the decision. We may be in the minority and we will struggle ideologically and politically.
Karan Thapar: But will you accept the minority position if that is the outcome.
Prachanda: We must have to accept it.
Karan Thapar: Thank you Mr Prachanda for this candid interview.