New Delhi: Maoist leader, Nepal’s minister for planning and works and wife of senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai, Hisila Yami, was in Patna last weekend to speak at a seminar organized by India’s ministry of external affairs on relations between the two countries. Yami, the first senior Maoist leader to visit India after the party [the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)] won a significant victory in recent elections in the country, spoke to Mint on a range of issues. Edited excerpts:
Your party has won a big victory in the recent elections. How do you feel?
It’s a very contradictory feeling. When we first entered parliament some months ago, we were welcomed by the same police force that had hunted us only some time before. It was very odd to have the People’s Liberation Army (Maoist) cadres on one side, and the state security on the other side...very interesting to see them interacting with each other and sometimes having the same reactions to events...
So, how do you feel?
I feel very dialectical, I feel like a Durga (a Hindu goddess) with so many hands. On the one hand, the destruction of the old state has to take place, and we have an instrument to do that. But we also have an instrument to construct a new state. Theoretical knowledge on one hand and practical knowledge on the other side. A pen on one side and a danda (stick) on the other. The present situation is very transitional—it requires me to be very dialectical. I have seen the war and I have now seen the peace.
New role: Nepal’s minister for planning and works Hisila Yami says it is in India’s interest to have a stable economic relationship with her country. (Photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP)
Earlier the state was your enemy, and now you are the state?
Yes, but we still have to struggle, even when we are part of the state, to push ahead our agenda, to push aheadNepal.
When will the transition be complete?
When we form the government and we decide the future of the king (Gyanendra).
What are you thinking of doing with him?
The first meeting of theconstituent assembly will decide his future and executethe mandate given to usby the people. We want himto exit gracefully from the Narayanhity palace, that will be good for him. If he doesn’t go, then people will protest and we will not stop people from protesting.
Where could this end?
Another round of people’s movement. He (the king) is already isolated internationally and at home, of course, he has lost all authority to rule.
What about India? Does it support the king?
We should not think of India as a uniform state. There are conservative forces in every party, some of whom still want rajas (kings) and ranis (queens). Gyanendra would certainly look for support from these forces. As for the Indian government, they were the first to welcome the mandate of the people and said they were willing to work with any government in Nepal.
So the king will become a commoner?
Yes, he should be. He should be a commoner.
He has every right to be a businessman, which he was even when he was a prince. So if he wants to be a businessman, we will welcome that.
In India, the kings got privy purses until 1971…
First of all, Gyanendra should have religious rights like any other common man, not like he is now (The Nepalese king is considered God). Nothing beyond that. If he is cooperative, maybe for a certain period he could be given a privy purse (some money as compensation for giving up his right to rule). If he exits honourably, that could be one option, we are flexible. Because after all, it is a big slide for him, to take away all the power and all the privileges that he is enjoying in one go. But he would not be called a king.
So who will be prime minister in the new government?
Whoever is the head of the state, whether in a presidential or prime ministerial system. This is our chairperson Prachanda, who successfully led the people’s war and the peace process and won by a thumping majority in two seats.
But there is no room for a president in the interim constitution?
The government will be headed by a senior leader of our party. We want other parties to join our coalition.
Can that be your husband, Baburam Bhattarai?
How can I say that until my party decides?
The Nepali Congress and the communist parties say they don’t want to join a coalition government.
The Nepali Congress hasn’t said it as clearly as the UML (Communist Party, United Marxist-Leninist) has. We feel that once the Congress joins, the UML will follow. But we will keep the key portfolios, such as home, finance, foreign affairs and defence, plus some development portfolios, but there will be some give and take.
The Americans have you on their Groups of Concern list…
They would still want the Nepali Congress to lead the government; they wanted us to come third or fourth in the elections. But the people have given us a thumping majority.
Does your party have a comfortable relationship with India?
Yes. Many of us spent a lot of time in hiding in India, before the 12-point understanding with the other political parties was brokered by the Indian government in November 2005. I remember one day I was travelling by road from Kathmandu to Delhi—of course I was in disguise—in fashionable attire! We were stopped and the Indian policemen began to question me. I realized that they thought I was being trafficked, so I thanked them for their concern (laughs).
You’ve been minister for planning and works for the past year. A lot of Indian and other businessmen have faced a lot of problems in the last year. What is your message to them?
Our chairperson Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai have clearly spelt out we are for economic development in Nepal. After the political revolution, the next agenda is economic revolution. We want to go ahead with the public-private partnership (PPP) concept. We are pro-investment.
There are a lot of concerns about Indian investment in the hydropower sector?
We had clearly said that the interim government should not undertake any major projects in the transition period, so we had some reservations. However, whatever has been cleared, we will try and see that it is executed carefully… But we are in favour of PPP. That doesn’t mean that we are anti-foreign direct investment.
As for the Indian power companies, if their projects benefit Nepal, then naturally those will continue. I believe it is in India’s interest to have a stable economic relationship with Nepal. I don’t thinkthere is necessarily any conflict of interest with India. In fact, in our election manifesto, we had placed a lot of emphasis on hydropower development. We have this huge potential, so naturally we would like to work with India. It can be a win-win situation forboth countries.
Both sides have been talking like this for many years, but nothing has happened…
I visited Norway after I quit the government a few months ago and I saw how Norway advanced economically with its use of hydropower. They had also invited foreigners, on their terms. We would like to do the same thing.
You would like to do this with India?
Yes, but on our terms.
Your party has said that your relations with India and China will be equidistant. What does that mean?
There is no question of choosing between the two countries. It’s a concrete analysis of a concrete situation. I feel that with the growing economic status of India, you should be more mature and magnanimous. Why should countries like India get hyper and insecure when Nepal starts engaging with China?
The Chinese were very surprised by your victory...
Not only them, everybody was surprised!
Do the Chinese have a problem with the fact that you call yourselves Maoist?
Yes, they do. Especially during the people’s war, they felt very uncomfortable with that name.
Because we were going to war with that name, while they wanted to associate Mao with the current economic boom in China I think (laughs).
Does your country want to revise the 1950 Friendship Treaty with India?
It should be (done), of course. With the restructuring of the state, we should also see the restructuring of the Nepal-India relationship. India has changed and now look at the changes in Nepal after the elections. There are many inconsistencies and archaic clauses in that treaty which do not match with the present times. Such as treating the rivers as common rivers, or the open border.
You don’t want an open border?
At this point of time we feel it should be closely monitored for the stability of both countries.
Prachanda is planning to come to Delhi soon?
Yes, as soon as possible, so that regressive forces don’t start playing games between us (India and Nepal).