Mr Nepal says that he wants to unify the country
Nepal's new centre-left Prime Minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, says he plans to reverse the previous government's decision to sack the country's army chief. He was giving his first interview since taking up his post to Rabindra Mishra, editor of the BBC's Nepali service. The following are excerpts from the interview.
Q: The previous government collapsed over the move to dismiss the army chief. The dispute has not died down yet. How are you going to address the issue? Will your government revoke the dismissal move?
A: Our party had dubbed the previous government's decision wrong. So, there is no question of endorsing it. Obviously, it is clear that the army chief Rookmangud Katawal will continue in office.
Q: Will the move to dismiss him be revoked or not?
A: I have already said that he will remain in office.
Q: But the confusion remains. The person whom the previous government appointed acting chief of the army has been claiming in interviews that he is still the chief.
A: This will be resolved after the cabinet takes its full shape. We will wind up the issue on the basis of the consensus of the parties. We did object earlier, because the move was taken without a consensus. We maintained that a unilateral move in defiance of the other coalition partners was not warranted.
Q: You emphasised consensus. In your address to the nation you also said that the consensus would be your top priority. What is the basis of such a consensus?
A: One basis is the conclusion of the peace process. The other is the framing of the constitution in the stipulated time. There is no alternative to moving ahead together.
Q: But the Maoist party, which is the largest party in the constituent assembly, has made it clear that it would not co-operate with your government. What will you do?
A: What can we do now that they left on their own? They stepped down themselves.
Q: They have been insisting on reversing the president's move [to retain the "dismissed" chief of the army] to clear way for a consensus.
A: They thought the president's move was wrong. Others did not agree. They should not be so intransigent that all others should concur with them.
Q: Well, they pulled you up to this point through their sheer intransigence. Didn't they?
A: No, no. It could be the other way round too. Didn't we pull them up to this point from Delhi or Rolpa [a remote district in Nepal]? Anyway, let us leave such issues. We came to this point together in view of the pressing circumstances.
Q: Senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai said in an interview with us that the peace process and constitutional process have both been derailed. What do you do now?
A: No, they have not derailed. I have not got the impression that it is their official view. The parties in the parliament and the election process should realise that they should respect the number. The Maoists have the support of 238, whereas the other side has garnered 359 members of the parliament.
Q: Are you feeling comfortable with that number on your side?
A: Yes I am. Did not you listen to what others said in the parliament?
Q: Yes, we did. But it also being mentioned that you had lost from two constituencies. You had resigned as general secretary of the party. Less than a year later, the president of another party pushed for you as prime minister. Didn't you feel uneasy?
A: There are so many people in this country. But why do they go for me? Anybody or any party leader could have been proposed. But there must be some reasons that they go for me. Why it is that I am sought after even when I am reluctant? It is because they think you are needed. Why did they make me the head of the constitution drafting committee despite me losing the elections? When I rejected the offer to be nominated to the constituent assembly, the Maoist chairman Prachanda himself wrote to me and held talks with me for three hours to persuade me to accept the offer. I did not go to anybody with folded hands.
Q: But Prachanda said that you turned out to be a "poison tree".
A: Well, people say such things when they lose temper. They lose sense in anger.
Q: Instead of bowing to pressure to become the prime minister, you could have told the Maoists to continue in office for the sake of avoiding any threat to the peace process.
A: That would have been foolishness. How can [my party] the UML say that it is not fit to lead the government when other parties looked upon the UML to don the mantle of leadership. Why should we shake our legs?
Q: Madhav Nepal had also been seen as a leader with shaky legs.
A: No, I am known as a person who does not bow to anyone, who does not make unfair compromises, does not mortgage his conscience, beliefs and self-respect. Madhav Nepal does not humiliate others, nor does he tolerate it from others.
Q: Didn't you appoint finance minister Surendra Pandey under pressure from party chairman Jhalnath Khanal?
A: No, not at all. I felt his necessity in the cabinet. That's all.
Q: Then how did you feel it necessary to have a sociology degree holder as your finance minister?
A: These arrangements are for the time being only.
Q: So, the portfolios can change after the cabinet is expanded?
A: Yes. I have told all that this is a makeshift arrangement only.
Q: In your address to the nation, you mentioned that you have a programme for socio-economic transformation. What is that programme?
A: We have been discussing a common minimum programme. The government will run on the basis of it.
Q: What are your three priorities?
A: Taking the peace process to a positive conclusion, framing a new constitution within the stipulated time and addressing the people's needs and concerns.
Q: Prachanda pledged exactly the same when he assumed office. He had to quit in nine months. How long will you last?
A: Going by the commitment of the parties that supported me, this government will remain in office until a new constitution is framed and a new government under new elections is put in place.
Q: How do you plan to take the Maoists into your confidence?
A: Through flexible and good dealings.
Q: This reminds one of former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala who was criticised for being too flexible in the name of preventing the peace process from being derailed. He also signed a deal with the ethnic parties in the Terai [region] to provide for a single autonomous region for the entire Terai. Are you going to implement that deal?
A: You can go into it to understand what is mentioned there.
Q: "Autonomous Madhes [Terai]" region is written there.
A: Its interpretation is subject to debate.
Q: Why is it that every prime minister and other party leaders use ambigious words which later become controversial?
A: The Madhesi leaders have also said that they are open to discussion. The key is to address the sentiments of the Madhesh and the people of all classes and tiers.
Q: But you and the Madhesi leaders differ on how to go about it?
A: Yes, we need to harmonise our views. That is where lies the test of the good leaders. To untangle the knots.
Q: But you may need to remain in office for the integration and the management of the Maoist combatants so as to take the peace process to a conclusion. If you do not oblige the Maoists, you may face a situation where you can not avoid leaving office. Then how can you achieve your goal?
A: I don't think such a situation will arise.
Q: Are you really confident of doing it?
A: If we don't do it, who will? Outsiders?
Q: People have lost faith in your generation of leadership.
A: No. If they had lost faith in us, would the monarchy have been overthrown? Would people have come to the streets in such a large number?
Q: Wasn't that all because of the Maoists?
A: If that is the case, were the rest of us a mere spectator?
Q: Republic, federalism etc. Weren't all these Maoist agenda?
A: Those were the agenda of the founder of the Nepal Communist Party, the late Pushpa Lal. They had been incorporated in the manifesto of the Communist Party at the time of its inception in 1949.
Q: You failed since then, but the Maoists did it within 10 years.
A: Well, King Gyanendra created the conditions. Just as I should thank [Maoist leader] Pushpa Kamal Dahal [Prachanda] for paving the way for me to assume the prime minister's office, Gyanendra should be thanked for creating conditions for the republic.
Q: Thank whom? King Gyanendra or India?
A: It was mainly because of the Nepalese people. The international community also deserves thanks. But the support of the international community alone would not suffice without the people's involvement.
Q: Girija Prasad Koirala and Prachanda had been criticised for letting unhindered access to foreign, especially Indian, ambassadors. Are you going to follow them?
A: I will keep cordial relations with all, without compromising the nation's dignity.
Q: Do you see the need for a mechanism to regulate the ambassadors' meeting with the prime minister?
A: Well, is that our top priority? Or the constitution making and peace process? But I am not for aping the foreigners.
Q: But the fact is that prime minister has met the Indian ambassador three or four times in a week during crisis times.
A: These are all the things of the past. Now we need to move ahead in a balanced manner.
Q: Are you ready to direct ambassadors to come through the foreign ministry if they wanted to meet you?
A: Don't try to commit me on such issues, especially in the present transitional period. There is certainly bound to be a difference between a full-fledged prime minister of a majority government and head of a coalition government in a transitional period. But I will in no way do anything that undermines Nepal's self-respect and dignity.
Q: But decisions are said to have been influenced by the outsiders during the transition.
A: We have to make our decisions ourselves. Madhav Nepal does not deviate from this.
Q: How should the people feel the difference now that a new prime minister has assumed office?
A: By his performance. Immediately after I took office, I ordered the garbage of Kathmandu to be cleared. On a single day, 22 trucks of garbage were cleared.
Q: Anything else?
A: I have ordered the police to behave well with the people, manage the traffic jams, properly deal with media persons. I am also aware of the need to do something quickly on Koshi floods, load-shedding [power cuts], etc. I have also planned to erect a republic monument in the heart of Kathmandu.
Q: Isn't providing the essentials to the people at fair price more important?
A: Well, there are many important things in their own right. But at least do something.
Q: The Maoists collected huge revenue. Will you do something substantive with that money?
A: If they had done it, they deserve thanks.
Q: You have vowed to continue the positive woks of the previous government. Could you list them?
A: Revenue collection, for instance. We also achieved good results when we were in a minority government, 15 years ago.
Q: Lastly, anything that you think you must tell the Nepali people?
A: It is our common duty to build the country. Together, we can make Nepal a beautiful country of the world.