Devendra Raj Pandey er en av de mest annerkjente personene i det nepalske sivilsamfunn, han var minister i interimregjeringa i 1990, og en lederfigur i «Campaign for a Federal Republic in Nepal. Han er kjent som en aktiv samfunnsdebattant, og i dette intervjuet uttaler han seg om den politiske situasjonen i Nepal, sivilsamfunnets rolle og regjeringas fremtidsutsikter. Intervjuet er på Engelsk.
Devendra Raj Pandey was perhaps the most prominent civil society leader to participate in the 2006 Jana Andolan. As a renowned intellectual, and, at various periods, as Minister and Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, he has closely observed Nepal’s politics and economy for decades.
Aditya Adhikari asked him his views on Nepal’s transition and the role civil society can play — and has played — in the public sphere. Pandey: The concept of civil society isn’t as clear as it seems to many people. Civil society has a very critical role to play in any democracy as a mediator between the state and the citizens. Likeminded people with like interests and like vision about the country come together and form associations or work individually either through the media or other organizations to pursue those interests and priorities. In Nepal what happened, especially 2005 onwards, was that civil society became active and played a critical role in a campaign that was no less than a campaign for regime change for the purpose of restructuring the state for the social transformation of the country. I don’t know in how many other countries civil society has been able to play this role. Normally, there is an ongoing state, the rule of law, the constitution. Civil society usually performs their role within that framework. In our country, however, in 2005, 2006 and even now, we’ve had to play a different kind of role. So we get misunderstood at times as being too political. This isn’t surprising because we are political. We are not partisan, party wise, but partisan in favour of democracy, human rights, freedom and social justice. The possibilities of our contribution to this process should be understood in this background. After doing what we did in the name of Citizen’s Movement for Democracy and Peace (CMDP), where I was engaged with my friends, what happened was that after a certain period of time we had to depend on the parties to play their role. We can’t substitute the political parties. But political parties are not playing their role and continue to be a social disappointment. Even in a critical, historic time like now, ordinary people look upon civil society and ask “What are you going to do about this?” I personally think the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections became our destination. Now it is the constitution itself. No dilly dallying in drafting the constitution will be acceptable. We will be able to play some role in ensuring this doesn’t happen because the people also want that. So for the time being we can apply pressure for the timely drafting of the constitution.
Q: During the 2006 Jana Andolan, various civil society groups of different backgrounds came together for a common purpose. Do you think it’s possible to regain that unity? Pandey: There is a simple explanation as to why were able to work together then and why we aren’t now. We all came together under the umbrella of CMDP, whether or not those who are no longer with us may like to admit it. The cause was fighting against Gyanendra’s despotic regime. We did this by supporting the political parties — the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) — and eventually the peace process. There was no difference of opinion there. We were very lucky that we christened our movement loktantra. That gave room for republicans as well as constitutional monarchists to come under the same roof. People used to say to me, “You’re using the word loktantra. It’s fine for now. We’ll see what happens in the future. We will go as far as we can with you.” So republicans thought loktantra meant ganatantra, constitutional monarchists thought loktantra meant there would eventually be some room for the king as well. And frankly at that time I myself did not know that I was going to turn into such a die-hard republican. We all grew into it. Then, the civil society actors in what I call the traditional civil society institutions — Nepal Bar Association, journalist associations, university teachers associations — they were really at a loss as what to do. The mass was not ready to listen to them. The movement was already there, but it wasn’t getting anywhere. At that point, we became the people to hang around with, if you like, to participate in the movement and help the political parties. As events took their course, by which I mean the recalcitrant role of Gyanendra and the rest of them, we became more radicalized. Radicalized in a very positive sense. Unlike the Nepali Congress (NC), we were not going to be satisfied by the reinstatement of the House of Representatives alone. Nor like the UML, which even at that time was only talking about multi-party government. We became radicalized in favour of Constituent Assembly (CA) and state restructuring, which were, by the way, also Maoist agenda. So, on the positive side we created space for ourselves and gained recognition. On the negative side, it became easy for those who didn’t like what we were doing to call us Maoists. But that didn’t happen until Baisakh 11, 2063 (April 24, 2006), the day of Gyanendra’s first speech. That’s when the divisions emerged. Because for many, their demands had been fulfilled. Gyanendra had been controlled; their representatives were back in the seat. For these political interests, the Maoists then became a burden and a threat. They were needed up to a particular point in time, but the establishment parties felt that they had gotten back their state, as it were, and the Maoists were now only a problem. To this day they feel they are a problem. This is not just a mindset, class interests are at work here. Of course, there are genuine concerns here, too. Will the Maoists abide the by the 12-point agreement? Have they really given up arms? But on the other hand, here were parties who were in power for a decade after 1990 and they did nothing. They did not even revisit the constitution once. They created it in a hurry and implemented it in four months. But it was not a complete document by any means. It doesn’t even have a section on decentralization or on issues of oppressed groups and inclusion. It was the Maoists that brought forward these important issues that were not even on the minds of the old parliamentary parties; issues which they knew the Maoists could use to galvanise large groups of people. So the old parties and their supporters were worried.
Q: What are your views on the transition of the Maoists towards becoming a normal political party, especially after the elections? Pandey: We should first cite the progress made. After all, the Maoists are leading the government, which wasn’t something that many people had imagined before the elections. Regardless of how one feels about the Maoists and their agenda, the fact that they are in government is in itself positive to some extent. They now have responsibility to fulfill their promises, not only on the social and economic side, but also to behave like we expect parties to behave in a democratic state. However, there are two principal concerns. First, the other political parties and Kathmandu’s traditional feudal interest groups still haven’t accepted the Maoists. Because of this there have been many difficulties. Every time the Maoists take a controversial decision, without getting into the merits of the case, everyone jumps against them. These interest groups are just looking for opportunities to pounce on the Maoists. Even more worrisome is that the establishment parties have still not accepted the social and economic agenda. One just cannot get away by sidelining it anymore. The second concern is that the Maoists themselves are trapped in tremendous contradictions. They understand the contradictions, it is part of their schooling, but they have been unable to address them. Basically, they have been unable to match their ideology with reality and form a new perspective. They have no option but to accept universal principles of human rights. They can’t say that the choices they have made in the recent past were only tactical, as they have accepted the principles of multi-party democracy since the 12-point agreement. But Marx himself said that it won’t not possible to work for the benefit of the classes that the communists represent by simply accepting human rights and multi-party democracy. According to Marxism, the very class character of the state needs to be changed in favour of the proletariat. This is what the Maoists believe, but the objective reality has forced them to move in a different direction. This is the contradiction. Conflict arose within their party because of this. So the Maoists have the challenges of dealing with conflict within the party, dealing with the state, working together with political parties that have never accepted them and dealing with the international community. And apart from all these considerations of political economy, they haven’t demonstrated much competence and efficiency. But they have a tremendous opportunity to mould their ideology for Nepal’s political and social context and take the country along with them.
Q: Do you see a difference between the functioning of the Maoists now and the other parties when they were in government in the 1990s? Pandey: To some extent, yes, but not to the extent that we’d like to see. Ordinary people have not been able to perceive that this government is different from the ones they suffered under earlier. Its also unclear how much, if at all, corruption has decreased. But on the positive side, it seems that the Maoists are trying to do some things, especially the finance minister. Not just regarding taxation and the budget, but the attempts to mobilize cooperatives and the establishment of programmes for unemployed youth. The moment you do something different, you fall into controversy. It is good to fall into controversy. That means you’re really trying to change certain things and people who feel they get hurt will fight back.
Q: The Maoists have previously been a nationalist party opposed to foreign interference. Do you see contradictions in their handling of the international community? Pandey: You have to make distinctions within the international community. India has a different kind of relationship to Nepal from other donors. India’s position has certainly made things difficult for the Maoists on issues ranging from sensitive areas like army integration to other traditional areas where the Indians don’t want the Maoists to rock the boat too much. Regarding donors, the reality is that even the Maoists can’t get out of their clutches. But the Maoists should be happy. At least the donors are supporting them, unlike the NC and the UML. Donors gave the Maoists support when they were unable to form the government. But on the other hand, if the international aid system is to continue as it has in the past, then the Maoists will not be able to do a darn thing in this country. We do need support from the outside. But the system has to change. Generally international aid as it has operated has not had a constructive role in Nepal’s political process. A proactive international posture in the arena of political governance stifles our national energy and political capital. For example, the drive to send out CA members out to the districts with questionnaires. Has that helped the process? Not at all. First of all, I think it has denigrated our CA members by turning them into enumerators, whereas we have reposed all our faith in them. There are tremendous infirmities in the aid system that the aid wallahs don’t recognize. Even if they recognize them, they cannot do anything about it. Aid is basically a bureaucratic, technocratic process. It’s designed by bureaucrats and technocrats; it’s implemented by bureaucrats and technocrats. There is no match between this process and the political challenge which can be addressed only by the politicians. Who designed this [the CA] survey? It must be some bloody technocrat, whether Nepali or international. The international aid system doesn’t allow us to create our own development strategy. This should be created through politics; bureaucrats are there to fill in details. The aid wallahs don’t strategise themselves. They may talk all they want about their frameworks, but they don’t strategise. Most often they rationalize. They explain away the pitfalls and the lack of successes. What is this talk about governance? Whoever thought of foreigners coming and helping us in governance? How can that be possible? It became possible because they made governance a technocratic agenda. Whereas, in my view, governance goes deep into the country’s political economy. It’s about political interests, class interests, managing conflict and using it in the national interest. This isn’t a technocratic issue. It doesn’t involve creating a library for the parliament or refurbishing the prime minister’s office. That’s what they boil it down to. What that has done is it has stifled the debate here. Aid can’t be constructive at all. Not because they’re all bad people. They’re good people, they mean well, but the system doesn’t allow them to produce the outcomes we need. That is our task and responsibility.
Q: Returning to the topic of civil society, how can it constructively intervene in the current political process? Pandey: Civil society is a part of society and has different interests and aspirations. It isn’t a monolithic entity on a high pedestal. It has its own limitations. Within that, the democratic and progressive sections of civil society can get galvanized. In case we detect a threat that might derail or delay the constitution drafting process inordinately, people will not accept that, and that section of civil society will emerge again to play the very decisive role that it played earlier. And hopefully, the others will also see the light of day — there is no going backwards, one can only go forward. The caveat, however, is that at the end of the day, it is the political parties who will have to do it, not civil society. So I wonder: how can civil society help bring a revolution within the political parties? How do you reconstruct them without joining them? This is an important question. In Nepal we know that many civil society leaders are also members of parties. This is a challenge for them.