Padma Ratna Tuladhar is a renowned personality in the Nepalese political and civil society circles. As an active civil society member and human rights activist, Tuladhar has played a vital role in the ongoing peace process of Nepal. He had carried out his part as a facilitator between the political parties following the parliamentary democracy and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). He has also made significant contribution in the protection and promotion of the Nepal Bhasha and the Nepal Sambat. He has been lobbying hard for the recognition of the Nepal Sambat as a national Sambat for the past three decades.
Talking to Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal, he has called on all the major political parties to work as per the spirit of the 12-point agreement and the historic Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in order to bring the current peace process to a logical conclusion. He has also emphasized the need for the government to form a high-level special committee to make a recommendation on the issue of the era. Excerpts:
You have been lobbying hard for the recognition of the Nepal Sambat as a national era since long. The new government has given due recognition to it. Would you highlight the Nepal Sambat, please?
It is believed that the Nepal Sambat had been introduced to the country during the reign of Raghav Dev, who was the last king of the Lichhavi period. In the then feudalistic and suppressive society, the general people had been burdened with debts. It is said that a Shankhadhar Sankhwa had relieved the poor of all debts. The Nepal Sambat was begun to commemorate that landmark event.
Historic documents show that the Nepal Sambat had been in practice continuously for more than 800 years. When Prithvi Narayan Shah took over Kathmandu Valley, which was known as Nepal, he brought the Sat Sambat into practice. During the time of Rana Prime Minister Chandra Shumshere, the Bikram Sambat was introduced. The era had been brought into practice by an Indian Maharajah. Because of suppression by the autocratic Rana regime, nobody was able to raise voices in favour of the Nepal Sambat. Prem Bahadur Kansakar had been exiled to India for his efforts to restore the Nepal Sambat.
With the passage of time, the entire Newar community of the valley had begun to forget the Nepal Sambat. They celebrated Maha Puja (worship of self) the next day after Laxmi Puja. They would only exchange New Year greetings. The Nepal Sambat was limited just to wall calendars.
Following the democratic movement of 2051, the people of Kathmandu started taking the initiative to restore it. An organisation called Chasopaso was formed at the initiative of cultural expert Satya Mohan Joshi, litterateurs Kedar Man Byathit and Dhunswa Sayami, and Kedar Nath Neupane. The organisation aimed to promote the era as a national era. The movement also suffered a setback during the Panchayat period. Many other people had to face problems for their participation in the campaign for the Nepal Sambat.
After the success of the popular movement in 1990, the movement for the restoration of the Nepal Sambat started gaining ground. Various organisations, including Mankakhal, were established to help revive the country’s original era.
The credit for promoting the Nepal Sambat goes to those Brahamins and astrologers, who continued mentioning it in wall calendars. Had they not mentioned it in their calendars, nobody would have known about it.
How do you think it should be implemented?
In my opinion, the Nepal Sambat should be practised for religious and cultural activities, while the internationally recognised Anno Domini (A.D.) needs to be used as an official era. Because the Nepal Sambat is based on the lunar calendar, its practice would not make any difference to the religious and cultural activities and festivals. However, it could affect the festivals and events such as Bishket Jatra of Bhaktapur and the Maghesakranti that are based on the Bikram Sambat.
What sort of impact will the new era have on the Nepalese society?
I do not think that the restoration of the new era will have adverse impact on our society. This is because most of our religious and cultural events, including the Dashain and Tihar festivals, are celebrated on the basis of lunar calendar. There may be some people who have wrong conception that the Nepal Sambat belongs just to the Newar community. This is the era of all the Nepalese. As our original era, it is our national pride.
Although the Maoist-led government has made the announcement of recognition of the Nepal Sambat as a national era, leaders of the different political parties were not against it. Shankhadhar Sakhwa was declared a national luminary by the Nepali Congress government led by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the then Culture Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali of the CPN (UML) were also very positive about recognizing it as a national era.
Since we still do not know all about Shankhadhar Sankhwa, he and his works could be a subject matter for conducting further researches.
As all of us are committed to making a new Nepal, the government has to hold discussions regarding the new Sambat with the representatives of all the political parties. There should be a political consensus in this regard, too. Then, the government should form a high-level task force to formulate necessary policies on it. With the implementation of the new era, the existing Bikram Sambat will be replaced gradually.
Being a civil society leader and peace committee member, how do you assess the country’s peace process?
Despite minor problems, the peace process has been moving ahead smoothly. With the end of the 240-year-old monarchy, Nepal has now become a republican state. This important achievement has been made as per the agreements reached between the then Seven party Alliance (SPA) and the CPN (Maoist). The political parties still have bigger responsibilities to shoulder in order to bring the ongoing peace process to a logical conclusion. So, they must be serious about maintaining harmony and understanding among them for making the peace process a success.
The parties have been unable to form a high-level political mechanism to gear up the peace process. The issue of integrating the Maoist armies is still undecided. The entire peace process can be obstructed if the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is not managed. On the basis of their personal choices, the Maoist armies should be integrated into the Nepal Army and Armed Police Force or into the proposed border security force and industrial security force. Some of the Maoist armies commanders such as Ananta and Prabhakar have chosen to join politics. Several others may also come to politics.
International experts often warn us that the country will not have permanent peace if the PLA men are not adjusted well. We should learn a lesson from South Africa where criminal activities are taking place even years after the end of insurgency.
It has widely been realised that the civil society in Nepal has now become passive. What is your observation?
The civil society had played a major role during the movement for Loktantra. But the political parties have failed to give due recognisition to the civil society. As per the provision of the interim constitution, the Council of Ministers had to nominate 26 members to the Constituent Assembly from the civil society. But, it nominated just five or six persons as representatives of the civil society. Personally, I was not interested to be nominated as a CA member. However, there were several colleagues like Daman Nath Dhungana who could play more important roles in CA.
I think, the political parties should not forget the spirit of the people’s democratic movement.
Finally, how do you see the country’s present human rights situation?
Although we have signed a number of international conventions and declarations on human rights, we have been unable to end the state of impunity in practice. Women’s issues have not yet to be addressed. We do not have inclusive policy. We cannot provide education to the children in their mother tongues. Similarly, we are not free from bandhs and strikes. Such activities often violate the people’s right to movement. We should come up with public awareness programmes.