Baburam Bhattarai, 50, the ideologue and No. 2 leader of the Maoist insurgents in Nepal, was interviewed by e-mail on July 20 by Chitra Tiwari, a Washington-based analyst of South Asian affairs.
Mr. Bhattarai was briefly stripped of his powerful position but has returned to his original post as a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist after a power struggle with Maoist chief Prachanda. He scanned an accompanying signature and attached it to his replies to confirm their authenticity.
Question: It was reported several months ago that you were purged from all positions of responsibility by your party. Now you appear to be active in an international public relations campaign. Has your party restored you to your previous positions?
Answer: It is true that a serious inner-party struggle had developed within our party over important ideological and political questions. The core issue was the question of defense, application and development of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as a scientific tool to change the social world in the 21st century. To be more specific, the question of dictatorship and democracy, both with respect to the party and society at large, was at the center of the debate. In strategic terms it was the vexed question of developing a new model of proletarian or socialist democracy devoid of distortions of the Stalin era, and in a tactical or immediate sense, it was the question of pursuing a correct political line to abolish feudal monarchical autocracy and complete bourgeois democratic revolution in the country.
Our party has recently resolved to grapple with these ideological and political questions in a unified and principled manner. I have now been rehabilitated to my earlier position in the Standing Committee of the Politburo.
Q: It was reported that you met Indian political leaders in New Delhi. Whom did you meet with and what have you achieved from those meetings? Did you contact representatives of other foreign governments and agencies, particularly China, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Nations? If so, what was their response?
A: Yes, I was deputed by the party, along with other comrades, to have dialogue with different political forces, both inside and outside Nepal, for a just and forward-looking political solution to the problems. As we are still in the process of engagement of different kinds with the important political players that have stakes in Nepal, it may not be opportune to divulge the details yet. But this much I can share with you: Almost all the national and international forces now realize that there can be no viable and sustainable political solution without our active participation in the whole process. This has certainly motivated our party to play an even more constructive and responsible role in the days to come for peace, democracy and progress in Nepal.
Q: Do you sincerely believe you can prevail over King Gyanendra’s army to establish a Maoist republic and sustain the revolutionary regime at a time when the regional and international situation is not favorable to your cause?
A: It is not only our sincere belief but the real apprehension of even our opponents, like the U.S. ambassador to Nepal, that the revolutionary forces may any time overrun the tottering royal regime. Almost all the independent observers in recent times have testified that the effective control of the royal government does not extend even a few kilometers from the capital city or the heavily fortified military barracks elsewhere in the country. The royal army has been completely reduced to the defensive, and would have collapsed much earlier if it were not buttressed by external military aid, particularly from the U.S.A., India, the UK and others.
Despite this, we are not attempting a final military victory right now, but are working for a negotiated political settlement either directly for a democratic republic or for the election to a constituent assembly.
That is basically for two reasons. First, given the vacillation of a large section of the urban and rural middle classes toward revolutionary change, we find it prudent to go through the substage of a democratic republic.
Second, due to the sensitive geopolitical setting of the country sandwiched between the two huge states of India and China, and both hostile to a revolutionary change we feel constrained to settle for a compromise solution acceptable to all.
Q: It appears that parliamentary parties and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) are bridging the gap. Are you hopeful of the formalization of a party-Maoist united front against the monarchy?
A: The latest royal coup d’etat of February 1 seems to have finally woken the parliamentary parties to the reality that the monarchical autocracy backed by the traditional royal army is the biggest impediment to any form of democracy, and goaded them to make a common cause with the Maoist revolutionaries against the monarchy. We, on our part, have been pleading for this anti-monarchy united front for the past several years.
The recent decision of the seven-party alliance to fight for “full-fledged democracy” is definitely a positive step forward, and it has opened a good possibility of forging a working alliance with us against the monarchy.
However, there is a lot of confusion and inconsistency in their road map of starting with the restoration of parliament and ending in an election to a constituent assembly. They seem to have more of a legalist approach than a political approach to the vexed problem. Nevertheless, we are hopeful we can work out a common minimum democratic agenda once we sit down for talks. Our party has already called for formal talks between the two sides, and we are waiting for their positive response.
Q: Political parties have also called upon your party to renounce armed struggle as a condition for a party-Maoist working alliance to fight the monarchy. Do you see it as a possibility?
A: No, they have not called upon us to renounce armed struggle per se, but merely to desist from any form of physical attacks against the unarmed persons. Our party leadership has already issued standing orders to the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) and the armed militia not to resort to any form of armed actions against anybody except for the royal armed forces. This has created a conducive environment for joint movement against the monarchy.
Even the parliamentary parties now seem to realize that without the existence of the PLA to take on the royal army, they might have to face greater repression from the royal regime. However, we recognize certain practical difficulties, at least in initial stages, to coordinate the two entirely different streams of the armed and the unarmed movement against a common target. But we are confident that technicalities can be sorted out in a cordial manner.
Q: How would you convince those who are concerned in view of the activities of your out-of-control militia that you will not accept the result of the constituent assembly election if its results go against your party’s expectation?
A: First, it would be gross exaggeration to say that our militia is “out of control.” Certainly there have been some grave mistakes, but the party leadership has profusely apologized for the serious error of judgment on the part of our lower level cadres and punished them. But, as a whole, the PLA and the militia is under the effective control of the party and is quite motivated and disciplined.
Second, we have publicly made a commitment time and again that we are ready to negotiate on the question of management of the armed forces of both the sides during the period of election to the constituent assembly, and we will accept the result of a free and fair election to the constituent assembly, whatever the result may be.
Q: Critics who say your party has not yet clearly amended its manifesto in favor of multiparty system view your commitment to democracy with suspicion. How would you convince the international community that CPN (Maoist) means no harm to democracy, peace and stability in Nepal? How do you define your version of multiparty democracy?
A: Given the bitter experiences of the practice of people’s or socialist democracy in the erstwhile socialist countries, we can appreciate this “once bitten, twice shy” syndrome. Some of the key components of the bourgeois form of democracy, namely multiparty competition, periodic elections, universal franchise, rule of law, freedom of the press and speech, etc., however, seem to enjoy wider validity. We have, therefore, sought to incorporate these characteristics in the future democratic setup in the country.
As for the particular question of a multiparty system, we have time and again reiterated our commitment to it and incorporated it in our official resolutions adopted by the Central Committee. You can particularly find this in the well-known resolution “On the Development of Democracy in the 21st Century” adopted in June 2003.
Q: Finally, if the party-Maoist united front does not materialize, do you see any possibility of the resumption of peace talks with King Gyanendra?
A: We are quite hopeful that a broad united front against the monarchy will materialize soon. In case the leadership of the parliamentary parties once again capitulates before the autocratic monarchy, it will be our bounden duty to lead the people in their long-drawn fight against the feudal monarchy and complete the democratic revolution. We don’t see any possibility of peace talks with the king in the near future. That would be a gross betrayal to the democratic aspirations of the people.