Dr. Shekhar Koirala, who played a key role in the signing of the 12-point agreement of 2005 between the then seven-party alliance and the Maoists in New Delhi, India, has been one of the important figures in the peace process of Nepal. A witness to all formal and informal agreements between late Girija Prasad Koirala and UCPN-Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, Dr. Shekhar Koirala is still active in the parleys among the political parties. Born in the Koirala family as the son of late Keshav Prasad Koirala and Nona Koirala, Dr. Shekhar Koirala is now the central working committee member of the party and a Constituent Assembly member. An outspoken and busy leader of NC, Koirala talked to Bishnu Gautam & Rajesh Dahal of The Rising Nepal on the latest political and other issues. Excerpts:
A day after the political parties agreed on 11 provinces, the agreement was dragged to controversies, especially by the United Democratic Madhesi Front and UCPN-Maoist, two key parties of the four-party agreement. Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai termed the agreement as a preliminary one. How would you analyse the current political situation of Nepal?
Signing agreements and defying them has been the old habit of the Maoists. They have shown these characteristics in relation to all agreements, right from the 12-point pact. This time also the two parties have backtracked from the agreements on the pressure of some groups. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML also made a mistake by not documenting and signing the agreement. NC trusted the Maoists and UDMF and made an oral deal. The Prime Minister said that the deal was preliminary but that is not the reality. It is a complete deal. If the agreement for ‘11-provinces’ is a preliminary deal then the agreement on form of governance is also a part of that preliminary deal. NC has also compromised on the form of governance. The Maoists have failed to uphold the political morale since the 12 point deal, by striking deals and not abiding by them. These sorts of activities will deepen the political crisis.
When the political parties are facing a crisis of confidence among them, do you see the possibility of maintaining consensus among the parties?
No force can move ahead by pushing other forces towards the wall in the present situation. All views of the NC could also not be included in the new constitution. We are trying to reach a consensus to draft a new constitution that will be acceptable to all sectors and forces. If the deal is preliminary as said by the Prime Minister, the Maoists should understand that the deals on the issues of governance system, election system and judiciary system are also preliminary. The NC is compromising on the issues of state restructuring and governance system to promulgate the constitution. If the Maoists term the deal as preliminary, NC will take its original stand in the line of party policy.
Now only a week is left to promulgate the new constitution and the parties are breaching the agreements reached earlier. What do you think: will the country get a new constitution within May 27?
The process to amend the Article 70 of the interim constitution has begun in order to meet the deadline of May 27. If we succeed to reach a consensus in a joint meeting of the Unified Madhesi Front and Broader Madhesi Alliance, we will succeed to promulgate the first draft of the constitution. But, I am still doubtful about the first draft being public by May 27. The country is in a critical situation. Some forces are trying to puzzle the NC but the NC is trying to give continuity to the consensus culture to draft the constitution and save the nation.
People have started making post-May 27 predictions in case the country fails to have the new constitution. If the parties fail to promulgate the new constitution within the deadline, what will be the situation?
We have no moral power to extend the Constituent Assembly (CA) tenure because of a verdict of the Supreme Court. But politics does not happen in a vacuum. If the parties fail to promulgate the constitution by May 27, the interim constitution will be continued. The CA will be dismissed but the president, vice-president, the prime minister and Council of Ministers will continue to function under the interim constitution. So, the parties should be careful to promulgate the first draft of the constitution within the deadline to convert the CA into a Parliament after the expiry of the CA term. In my personal opinion, if the parties succeed to identify the number of provinces, the matters of name and territory of the provinces will be solved by developing a special principle, but the parties should agree on such special principle first and let the Federal Commission to decide the rest on the basis of the principle.
The parties have agreed for large central and provincial parliaments. What do you think about the number, will such large parliaments be suitable for Nepal?
We committed mistake while forming the CA with 601 members. Now, again the parties are trying to make a strong central parliament as they agreed to have 371 lawmakers in the bicameral central parliament. Also the seats allocated for the proportionally elected lawmakers are high. In my opinion, 70 to 80 per cent directly elected lawmakers and 20 to 30 per cent proportionally elected ones will be suitable for the Nepal. The country now cannot give up the proportional election system. However, the parties and leaders should be careful while electing the lawmakers from the proportional system. They should establish the system.
The NC is blamed for failing to bring in a clear map about state restructuring and it finally agreed on 11 provinces. How do you think that this number will be suitable for Nepal?
The economic and natural resources are not only the resources of the provinces. Rising deforestation and uncontrolled utilisation of natural resources will pose a threat to Tarai region after 20 years. There is a danger that our Terai region will become a desert if we continue to exploit the resources recklessly. Human resources are also important for the provinces. The caste based identity is essential for the federal system but we should also give priority to the equal distribution of all types of resources. Without identity and only capacity based federal system never gives the solution. If we fail to recognise the identification, the federal system will not function.
The Madhes based parties are now demanding 10 or 14 provinces. They are also demanding ‘One Madhes one province’. How do you analyse the situation?
The interest of Madhesi Front does not reflect the interest of entire Madhes. They should also consider the interests of other Madhesi people. I am also a Madhesi. The matters will not be solved if the friends of Madhesi Front do not understand the reality. They should understand that all Madhesi people are Nepali and all Madhes is Nepal. They should understand that all castes, ethnic groups, Dalit communities and Pahadi based Madhesis and others who are living in Madhes are Madhesis. So, NC is demanding identity based multi provinces in the Tarai region to solve the problems of Madhes. Therefore, four to five provinces are suitable for the Madhes.
Can you see any chance that the Madhes-based parties will agree on multiple provinces for the Madhes?
The multi-identity based federal structure is essential to establish the rights of the people in Madhes and the Madhes based parties should understand this reality. The parties had agreed for five representatives in the Upper House from each province. If four to five provinces are established in the Madhes, it will have 20 to 25 lawmakers in the upper house. If we establish one or two provinces in Madhes, only five to ten lawmakers will represent Madhes in the upper house. To have less number of lawmakers and chief ministers is to lose the bargaining power. But our Madhesi friends have not realised this. So, I want to say that the Madhesi Front should understand the reality.
Many people say that growing activities of the foreign forces have had a direct impact in the constitution drafting process. What is your view about such arguments?
Naturally, interests of the foreign forces increase when the country is weak. As we failed to maintain political stability, the foreign forces increased their interest in Nepal. Again, our geographical situation is also responsible for such growing interests of the foreign forces. India worries about possible anti-Indian activities of the extremist Muslim elements from Nepal. Likewise, China fears whether any anti-One-China activity will take place in Nepal. We should address such concerns of our neighbours. We have good relations with both India and China and other countries and we should maintain them. The number of Christians has been on the rise in Nepal in the recent years. Their number has increased because poor Nepalese were forced to follow Christianity under financial pressure. Nepali Congress has been raising the issue of religious freedom from 1959. Now the country has become secular and the people are free to follow their own religion. But religious freedom does not mean that religion of an individual could be converted forcefully by giving him money. We should tell the EU and the US not to meddle in our internal affairs. If we make a delay in telling them this, we will be in a difficult situation. If any agency is providing fund to convert Hindus into Christians, that must be checked.
Nepali Congress could send only two ministers in the present government. It is said that NC has been unable to send the names of other ministers in the cabinet due to internal rift. Is that true?
It is not true. There is no rift as is reported about our party. Only a few individuals of the party have opposed it. We have sent the names of two and we have no plan to send other names. We sent two ministers from our party as per the five-point agreement to give consensus form to the present government. Two NC ministers are enough to give consensus form to this government and NC is confident that the five-point agreement would be followed by all. Soon an NC-led government will be formed as per the 5-point agreement. After the formation of the new government, the two ministers of the party will be called back.
NC is going to lead the new government amidst rifts within the party. Who do you think will lead the government?
There is no any dispute; the next consensus government will be formed under the parliamentary party leader of NC. If a new person becomes the PP leader by the time of the formation of the new government, obviously he will lead the government.