People's War for Competitive Democracy
an interview with Prachanda by
www.zmag.org, February 09, 2006
Bespectacled and greying, 52-year-old
Prachanda looks and sounds distinctly professorial. His measured
tone and quiet demeanour bear no resemblance to the fearsome descriptions
propagated by his royalist detractors. When I met up with him
at an undisclosed location, he spoke for more than an hour-and-a-half
on a wide range of topics concerning the situation in Nepal, its
international ramifications, and the theoretical problems confronting
the communist movement in the 21st century, which have led the
Maoists to embrace multiparty democracy. Excerpts:
In your party plenum last August, you
took a momentous decision - to participate in multiparty democracy.
If you were going to accept multiparty democracy after 10 years
of "people's war," why go about this in a roundabout
Prachanda: Three years ago we decided
that the key question of the 21st century is how to develop democracy.
This meant the negative and positive lessons of the 20th century
have to be synthesised for us to move ahead. And we decided we
must go in for political competition. Without political competition,
a mechanical or metaphysical attitude will be there, without competition
we will not be able to go forward. This was a unanimous decision.
Last August, we took serious decisions on how practically to build
unity with the parliamentary political parties. We don't believe
that the peoples' war we initiated was against, or mainly against,
multiparty democracy. It was mainly against feudal autocracy,
against the feudal structure.
Is this decision a recognition by you
of the impossibility of seizing power through armed struggle?
Here there is not only one question. There
is a specificity to the political and military balance in today's
world. The second thing to be seen is the experience of the 20th
century. Third, there is the particular class, political, and
power balance in Nepal. It is by taking these three together that
we came to our conclusion. We are talking of multiparty democracy
within a specific constitutional framework that is anti-feudal
and anti-imperialist. That is why armed struggle is also necessary,
and unity in action with other political parties against the monarchy
is also a necessity. The socio-economic change we are fighting
for is against feudalism and imperialism and it is within the
context of that struggle that we are talking of multiparty democracy.
If the king says the steps he took last
year were wrong and allows free and fair elections under the present
Constitution, the Maoists will not take part? Is a new constitutional
framework a pre-condition for taking part in elections?
Yes, you can put it that way. If the king
says I was wrong, now come on, let us sit across the table, and
then he talks of a free and fair election to a constitutional
assembly, we will be ready. Our bottom line is the election of
a constitutional assembly, that too under international supervision,
either by the United Nations or some other international mediation
acceptable to all. Under those circumstances, we will go in for
elections and accept whatever the peoples' verdict is. But if
the king says make an interim government and hold elections, we
will not come forward.
Is your alliance with the parties tactical
rather than strategic? When the monarchy is weakened or defeated,
might you turn against them?
It is not like this. Our decision on multiparty
democracy is a strategically, theoretically developed position,
that in a communist state, democracy is a necessity. We are telling
the parties that we should end not only the autocratic monarchy
but monarchy itself. After that, in the multiparty democracy which
comes - interim government, constitutional assembly and democratic
republic - we are ready to have peaceful competition with you
all. Of course, people still have a doubt about us because we
have an army. And they ask whether we will abandon our arms after
the constitutional assembly. We have said we are ready to reorganise
our army and we are ready to make a new Nepal army also. We are
talking of a democratic republic and our understanding with the
parties is that the way to realise this is the constituent assembly.
At that time, any other party would be free to call for a ceremonial
monarchy, some may be for constitutional monarchy - such a thing
is possible with the seven parties.
But whatever the outcome, you are ready
to accept it?
We are. This we are saying in clear-cut
Your recent ceasefire did a lot to
improve the image of the Maoists, which had been damaged by incidents
like the Madi bus blast. What was the logic behind that ceasefire
and when might you declare another one?
We called our ceasefire basing ourselves
on the whole political situation because on our side too some
mistakes were increasing, from below, in the implementation of
our policy and plan. Mistakes were happening such as the Madi
bomb blast. Our relationship was getting worse with the middle
class. We were saying things from the top but still this was not
being implemented. So we wanted the middle classes to be with
us, and put out our political message to the broad masses in a
new way. We also wanted to tell the international community that
Gyanendra is not a monarch, these are autocratic elements more
keen on bloodshed than anybody else. For these reasons we decided
to go for a ceasefire. As for the specific timing, the U.N. General
Assembly was going to be held and the so-called king was going
to go there and say he was for peace and democracy. We thought
a ceasefire is one way politically to hit him. We also wanted
to tell the international community we were different from the
way we were being projected. When we ended the ceasefire, we clearly
stated that if a forward-looking atmosphere for a political solution
emerges, we can again announce a ceasefire. But now, that situation
does not obtain.
Are you prepared to join together with
the parliamentary parties, with Mr. Koirala and Madhav Nepal,
and go and talk face-to-face with the king to discuss the future
If there is unanimous understanding with
the parties that we should talk to the king, we will go. We are
not prepared to meet the king alone, and we are requesting the
parties that they also not go alone. Nothing will come of it.
Only if we act collectively can we achieve anything.
Rather than the Maoists calling a seven-day
bandh against the municipal elections, wouldn't it have been better
for you and the parties to have given a joint call for boycott?
I agree. When the 12-point agreement was
reached with the parties last year, there was a second understanding
that within a week or two we would issue a joint statement appealing
to the masses to boycott elections and stage mass demonstrations.
But that has not proved possible.
Because the parties' leadership is a little
hesitant. They are perhaps a little afraid that if they join with
the Maoists and issue a joint statement for boycott, there could
be greater repression on them.
Some feel the Maoists' military actions
are reducing the political space for the parliamentary parties.
For example, a few days before their big demonstration in Kathmandu,
you attacked a police station in Thankot and the king imposed
curfew. Can't you act in a way that increases your political space
but does not squeeze the parties?
I agree a way has to be found. This is
a serious and complicated question. When the 12-point agreement
was reached, there was need for continuous interaction between
us and them. Only then could we establish some synchronicity between
their movement and ours. This did not happen. Despite this, we
told the parties that whether we stage actions or not, the king
is going to move against you. Even if we had done nothing in Thankot,
curfew would have been imposed anyway.
Does the king control the Royal Nepal
Army or does it control the King?
This is a very interesting question. Right
now, in fact, this is precisely what we are discussing within
our party and outside. Until now, it seemed the balance was 50-50.
Sometimes the RNA controls the king, and sometimes the king controls
the RNA. But it seems as if we are now going towards a situation
where the RNA is in the driving seat. This seems to be the emerging
situation but we cannot say this with facts. One thing is clear.
Gyanendra became king after the royal massacre - and it is clear
that without the RNA, that massacre could never have happened.
So there is no question of his going beyond the script dictated
by the RNA.
What kind of guarantees can you give
in the run-up to any constitutional assembly election that your
People's Liberation Army will not place obstacles in the way of
We understand the parties have reservations
about us and our army. So we made a proposal to them that you
rehabilitate parliament, we will support you. A two-thirds majority
of MPs is with the Nepali Congress, UML, and smaller parties.
Call a meeting and declare that parliament has been reinstated
and that what Gyanendra is doing is illegitimate. Do this and
then set up a multiparty government with the main aim of elections
for a constitutional assembly. In this restoration of parliament,
the king would be illegal, and we will come for negotiations with
your leadership. Under your leadership, we will be in the interim
government. As for the RNA, you should appeal to the democratic
elements within it by saying the king has violated the constitution,
you come over to this side, this is the legal government and it
is your responsibility to support it. And then the king should
be given an ultimatum of a week or two to agree to elections for
a constitutional assembly. If he doesn't agree, we would then
abolish the monarchy. And we would tell the international community
this is the legitimate government. Please stop recognising or
Under such a situation, the RNA's democratic
elements will be there, and so will the PLA, so we will organise
the army as a new Nepal army. At that point, the problem will
not be our weapons. The problem of arms and weapons is with the
RNA, which for 250 years has been loyal to the feudal lords. Our
army has only been around for 10 years. This is not a problem.
If there is a political solution, we are prepared to change that
too. This is the first proposal that we have put forward. We will
abolish the monarchy, there will be an insurrection, and then
we will have the peaceful reorganisation of the army.
What you are proposing is that the
parliamentary parties stage a revolution!
This is one way to deal with this problem
and we are seriously putting it forward. It is revolutionary,
it is viable, it is possible. This is our first proposal but you
are right, the parties are not ready for this. The second way
is also what we have been discussing, that the U.N. or some other
credible body supervises things. The RNA will be in the barracks
and the PLA will also be under supervision. Both armies and arms
will be under international supervision and will not enter the
fray. Then there will be elections for a constitutional assembly.
Our army will not interfere in the process.
What form will this international supervision
take? Will it include foreign troops?
No troops. There can be a militia or police,
which we create only for election purposes.
Who will be part of this militia?
We have not gone into such details - perhaps
cadres of the different parties, but all without firearms, to
manage security for the elections. So there will be elections
for the assembly and whatever verdict comes, it is on that basis
that the army has to be reorganised. If the republic result comes,
then the RNA's generals and commanders will have to go and the
interim government would appoint as generals officers who are
loyal to democratic values. If a constitutional monarchy wins,
then there is the danger that the old generals will remain. So
my point is that the army can be changed.
But you concede there is a history,
which is why the parties are suspicious...
Yes there is, but we are talking about
this too. There have been attacks by us on them, and we had seized
property. Whatever had been taken from the Congress leadership
has been returned - land and property - UML leadership too. So
we are trying to build an understanding. If the parties' leaders
say that in the past the Maoists attacked us, then we can also
say that the RNA army was deployed against us when you were in
government and so many of our comrades were killed.
Whatever we may have done, the other side
did so much more and this also has to be accounted for. But if
we start talking like this, we will not be able to solve the major
problem. If we have to make a breakthrough, then we should both
review our history. We have to review our mistakes but you have
to as well, because we have a common enemy - feudal aristocracy.
We have to defeat this enemy and in consonance with democratic
values we have to reorganise the army and state.