Baburam Bhattarai and Prachanda have been the two distinctive faces of the Maoist movement in Nepal, each playing a vital role in his own way to catapult the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) into political eminence. For most, it’s difficult to think of one without the other—Bhattarai is cerebral and circumspect, Prachanda is impetuous and a man of action. Yet deep animosity has punctuated their 14-year relationship, often a result of their disagreement over the line the Maoists should follow. Last week, their once-famed camaraderie came under strain following Maoist chief Prachanda’s public declaration that India wanted to instal party ideologue Bhattarai as Nepal’s prime minister.
Bhattarai responded mildly, hoping Prachanda, as is his wont, would retract the accusation. Predictably, the Maoist chief issued a correction, ending, for the moment, the speculation about a split in the UCPN-M. Their public spat echoed their far more serious falling out in 2004-5. Then Prachanda had called Bhattarai an Indian agent, and the Maoist ideologue dubbed his chief pro-palace. Ultimately, though, Bhattarai’s line prevailed: the Maoists decided to cooperate with the democratic forces against the king and announced the end of their insurgency.
Despite the pause in the verbal duel between Bhattarai and Prachanda, the party is yet to determine its future course of action. In this exclusive interview to Manoj Dahal in Kathmandu, Bhattarai talks about his differences with Prachanda, the need to work with India, and his party’s blind anti-Indian nationalism. Excerpts:
What’s your reaction to Prachanda’s accusation that you are India’s man and New Delhi wants you to take over as Nepal’s prime minister?
Prachanda has recently corrected the statement that was attributed to him and printed in the press, in which he had said India had proposed my name as Nepal’s prime minister. He is now saying some Indians want me to become prime minister and others are proposing his name (for the post). As he has already corrected the statement attributed to him earlier, I do not need to say anything at this juncture. Let us go by what he has said in the corrected statement.
Nevertheless, Prachanda’s statement shows his level of distrust towards India. As an ideologue of the Maoist party for many years, could you explain why he distrusts India?
As Marxists, we are not against India. Actually, we need to take India in confidence and promote a culture in which mutual cooperation can take place. Of course, we have a class feature or character that may influence our outlook. But let me say with full sincerity that that we are not against Indians in general, though we are certainly against the Indian ruling class which is playing with, and working against Nepal’s interests. Anti-Indian nationalism has always prevailed in Nepal. But blind nationalism does not work. I have always been in favour of a rational debate and consensus, but there are people in my party as well as other parties who are followers of blind nationalism. Anti-Indian venom is the result of such blind nationalism.
Is Prachanda’s distrust of India valid?
There are several unequal treaties between India and Nepal, including the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, and we have demanded these be scrapped or suitably amended as per the understanding reached between the two sides. There are several differences between India and Nepal and we need to sit together and resolve such issues. But these differences and (our) dissatisfaction should be ventilated and addressed in an appropriate manner.
You too have been critical of India in the past. Is it correct to describe India as a hegemonic or imperialist force?
Imperialist power is an economic terminology. Its connotation should be seen and understood in that context. In other words, India as an imperialist power means it is expanding its market beyond its boundaries, in the world outside.
This isn’t the first time you and Prachanda have gone public with your differences. Five years ago, you were banished to a labour camp (a punitive measure). Can you say something about that incident?
Almost without exception, there are people in our party as well as other political parties who are against India, but I have and will always stand for national consensus. If you become weak, there would be neighbours wanting to play against you. So it’s necessary to become strong, and that is possible only if you build national consensus. Correcting ourselves is more appropriate than just blaming India. I am accused time and again of supporting India. But all I’ve done and advocated is that we settle our international issues, disputes or confrontation ourselves. As I told you earlier, our leaders who follow blind nationalism blame India and other international forces for almost everything.
So then, what’s your problem with Prachanda? Is it on account of what he has said about India or the manner of his speaking?
A leader should be diplomatic and political when he speaks. We shouldn’t be blaming India in a loose manner. We should be able to put across our differences in a polite but clear manner, and seek resolution to the best of our national interest.
Is this the reason for your difference with Prachanda then?
You can draw your own conclusion.
Have the Maoists worked for democracy after the peace process?
We should work together with other political parties until we complete the task of promulgating a new constitution. That’s why national consensus is Nepal’s biggest political necessity. There are two currents in our party, or let us say in the Communist Movement here. I have been supporting the Pushpa Lal stream which favoured pursuing the democratic path to achieve our goals. (While Pushpa Lal Shrestha (1924-78) worked for consolidation of democratic forces and working together with them, Kesharjung Rayamajhi wanted Nepali Communists to work with the palace. In fact, Prachanda’s willingness to work with the king prior to the February 2005 takeover is being seen as his keenness to pursue the Rayamajhi legacy).
What shape will your difference with Prachanda take in due course?
I’ve always been in favour of political parties working together on the basis of consensus. That is very, very necessary for the success of the peace process and for writing the constitution on time. Any differences that come in the way of politics of consensus may not be in the nation’s interest. But you must also accept that differences occur within all political parties. Do not take what has happened in the Maoist party as an unusual development. But I will continue to raise issues that I think is in the nation’s interest.
What kind of role do you expect India to play in Nepal?
We need to have balanced relations with India. Because of the geopolitical situation, eco-politics and our cultural relations, we always need to have balanced relations with India.
With just little more than four months left for framing the new constitution, what do you think should be the Maoists’ approach towards other parties in the country?
It’s not only essential but important to work together with other political parties. Otherwise, we can’t finish this task. We cannot perform it alone. We have to join hands with other parliamentarian forces. There is no point blaming individuals or parties. We need to manage our internal differences in an honest and genuine way.