S D Muni, considered to be one of the India’s foremost experts on Nepal, is a familiar figure in political circles here. Having completed his PhD on Nepal’s foreign policy in 1972, he taught for over 30 years at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and published a number of books on Nepal, including one on the Maoist insurgency in 2003. He is currently Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS). He was recently in Kathmandu on a research visit, during which Aditya Adhikari and Pranab Kharel of The Kathmandu Post met him to solicit his views on Nepal’s current political crisis, India’s policy regarding Nepal, and his views on perceptions towards him in Kathmandu.
(Muni is here in Kathmandu and Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao also arrived to force Nepal to sign controversial India-Nepal strip map that has nothing about Kaalapani and Susta and a huge portion of Nepal's land is shown in India. The other treaty that Rao is forcing is handing over all the people whom the terrorists and rapist Indians say they are criminal. first of all the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Rakesh Sood should be handed over to Interpol for their crime and rape against Nepalese on the borders and terrorizing the whole South Asia. The third issue oi Indian priests who loot the Nepalese and have been running hotels in India from the money of Nepal. Their loot should be immediately stopped and they should be kicked out of Nepal.)
Q: What are causes of the current problems in the peace process?
Muni: What has gone wrong is that once the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections took place, the basic consensus eroded. The elections were seen more as one for Parliament than for a CA. It was seen as a power exercise; the question was who would get to lead. Very unfortunately, the power sharing arrangement couldn’t be worked out. I still don’t buy that the principles [of the peace process] have been thrown out; people still talk about them, at least. What has really driven the parties apart from each other is the differences over power sharing. This happened because nobody expected the Maoists to get the number of seats that they did. Unfortunately the numbers they got were large, but not large enough to get an absolute majority. The interim Prime Minister G.P. Koirala refused to hand over power for four months or so, largely because he was thinking of ways to keep the Maoists out of power or under control. The Nepali Congress, in particular, was sure that it would remain in power. If the Maoists had gotten 50 seats less than they did, perhaps they would have managed to keep the Maoists on the fringe. The power arrangements still haven’t been settled since then.
Q: Do you feel that the process can’t move forward unless this arrangement is settled?
Muni: This is my fear. Politicians being politicians are wedded more to power and patronage, than to changing societies. In any case, the NC and the UML are not committed to an agenda to change society. And the Maoists are unduly, seriously committed to one. They don’t want to compromise on what they think should be the vision for the country. They have been very inept in understanding the reality that their emergence has not been digested, nor been reconciled to by the others. It is as much their responsibility to take others along, as much as the others responsibility to see that the Maoists get their feel in the politics of Nepal. Mainstreaming is not simply laying down arms. The Maoists need to feel a stake in the new system, which the other parties aren’t allowing them. Unless you have a stake, you can’t care less.
We have all been saying that the Maoists shouldn’t have opened all the fronts. They are total novices in managing the power components of a democratic political structure. They have never done it before. The vision that they developed in 10 years, they wanted to complete in a year. They antagonised the judiciary, the media, and the Army; that doesn’t work in a democratic structure. And I think they’ve gotten the shock of their lives.
Q: So you think the Maoists made a mistake in trying to sack (former) Chief of Army Staff Rookmangud Katawal?
Muni: Whatever General Katawal did was not all right. He needed to be put in his place. On the three or four counts on which he was asked to provide an explanation, he did not do it in a proper way. More than that, he went around town making political statements. If the same situation had arisen in India, the Army chief would go, not the cabinet. A very undemocratic precedent has been set. The political parties argue that if they hadn’t stopped the Maoists, they would have taken over power, but that is frankly all bullshit. If you’re saying that by integrating 5,000 people into an armed force of 100,000, the 5,000 will take over the entire Army, you’re talking rubbish.
Q: Do you have views on how the peace process could be brought back on track?
Muni: Today you have a very unfortunate situation. I am very worried about it. Anybody who is concerned about Nepal’s stability, security and progress should be worried about it. This situation is almost akin to the situation of 1994, when the Maoists had a minority group of 9 in parliament, but were nonetheless the third largest party after the NC and UML. These two parties united to suppress the Maoists and keep them on the margins, which drove them to 1996. If elections had taken place in 1994, and the Maoists had contested them and won some seats in parliament, at least the people’s war resolution would have been delayed. This situation exists today: the two mainstream parties have joined hands to marginalise them. But they cannot repeat the old story. There are solid reasons for that.
Q: What are the reasons?
Muni: Everybody is talking of two options. First, drive the Maoists to the wall. If need be, unleash the Army on them, with the help of India or the US. To my mind, this is a non-option. If India thinks the Maoists can be eliminated, then they should have been eliminated by 2005. What India or the US can do at best is provide arms, training, and political support. The fighting will have to be done by General Gurung’s men. In this situation, the Maoists would go to the international community as the people bring wronged, not as people wronging others. On the other hand, the Maoists say that they can go back to war and take over. But if they could, they would have taken over. Why did they talk to the political parties? Because they knew that the gun was not succeed in capturing the state and retaining it.
The other option is to evolve and recreate the consensus that is broken down. This is the only option left if Nepal is to be stable. Nepal must finish the task which it has taken. Many political leaders here are saying that we made a mistake in bringing the Maoists along. That is nonsense. Look at the Maoist organisation. It is an elite, educated Brahmin leadership, leading the marginalized Janajati, Madhesi, Tharu, and Dalit people. The bulk of the Maoists are a group of people who have felt that the Nepali state has been exploitative for years. This leadership has given them hope. You can throw this leadership out. You can eliminate Baburam and Prachanda either politically or physically. But these groups, which consist of over 40% of your population, have risen. Can you address this militarily?
Q: How is the Indian foreign policy establishment looking at Nepal right now?
Muni: There are two things I want to say. One, this India factor, which everyone is obsessed with, is exaggerated and is a result of the lack of unity in the political centre in Nepal. To give an example, King Mahendra was very clear about what he wanted to do. He couldn’t care less about India. For ten long years, there was no Indian interference, except for supporting what the King was doing. This was possible because the political centre in Nepal was united and focused. Also, the political centre was united on April 21, 2006, when Mr. Karan Singh came here and King Gyanendra passed the first declaration, which the political parties refused to accept. India wanted the declaration to be accepted by all the parties, tried its best to have it accepted. But it could not. After that, India did not want UNMIN in Nepal. But UNMIN came to Nepal. The real problem is not in India; it is here. India, as well as China and the US, will have their own strategic objectives here. They can become successful only because you are porous. If you are not porous, it won’t work.
Second, India is a huge country. On Nepal itself, there are diverse stakeholders. Many people don’t know this, but I will tell you a story that I saw unfold very closely. In 1989, Rajiv Gandhi took a certain decision and said that the trade treaty had not been renewed, therefore only two outlets [at the Nepal-India border] would be kept open. This created lots of problems here. In India, there were four sets of people that I know of that went to Rajiv Gandhi to say that what you’re doing is wrong. These groups included the Shankaracharyas, who said don’t do this because Nepal has a Hindu monarchy; old princely houses, who have matrimonial relations with the Shahs and Ranas here; the Army chief, General Sharma, who said that his Gurkha soldiers were suffering; and the business community, who went and said they were being affected.
So the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has a Nepal policy. The Defence Ministry has a Nepal policy. The parties in which these old princely houses have good representation - the Congress, the BJP - have a Nepal policy. The actual policy that emerges is a synthesis depending on who is strong at what point in time. In addition, a major concern overriding all this is India’s security interest.
I have been writing that there is a new Nepal in transition. India, because of these various players, has been playing a kind of chessboard politics - placing people in different positions who can serve its interests. This chessboard politics is no longer relevant in Nepal. I think India should reorient its policy to the larger people’s interest. If you do this, then you will have a Nepal that is stable and progressing, and in the long run would cater to all Indian interests.
Q: Some people here accuse you of being prejudiced in favour of the Maoists.
Muni: I am very angry at these accusations. People here do not know my background. I heard yesterday that they still call me a RAW agent. I started working on Nepal in 1967. I have written four books on Nepal. I first came here in 1968, when B.P Koirala was being released. Girija Koirala took me to the Koirala niwas in Biratnagar; we flew together. That established our first relationship. Many people in Nepal don’t know this. They only know that Baburam Bhattarai was a student in JNU. They do not know that I was Sujata Koirala’s local guardian in Delhi. They don’t know that we were about to admit Prakash Koirala into JNU as a student. They don’t know that B.P. Koirala visited my house in JNU three or four times, and I must have visited him half a dozen times. They don’t know that Pushpalal and Sahana Pradhan - at that time she was not a politician, she was a teacher - visited my house for dinner in the 1970s. They don’t know that Rishikesh Shah and I were great friends. They don’t know that in 1990, Rishikesh Shah and I were at the forefront of articulating the views of the first Jana Andolan. I was not a politician, so we didn’t come into the movement like Yechury or D.P. Tripathy or Chandrasekhar, but we intellectually tried to challenge the monarchy. I was committed to democracy. It is because of this that the palace started to call me a RAW agent. They wanted to discredit my academic credentials.
Yes, I have been a republican. I was one in 1968, in 1991 and in 2005. If by that, you derive only the conclusion that I am a Maoist, please go ahead.
Q: What are your current academic focuses?
Muni: I have just finished a book India’s Foreign Policy: The Democracy Dimension. India has joined the International League for Democracy. We have been at the forefront of promoting democracy all over the world since 2002, since the Community for Democracy was established. I thought we should analyse how India’s policy on the ground has worked in favour of democracy or against it in other countries. The only area where India has been very active is in the immediate neighbourhood, from Afghanistan to Myanmar. That’s what the book is about. There is a lot about Nepal in it. The book will come out next month. The book is being published by Cambridge University Press, India.
The other book I have finished is SAARC: The Emerging Dimensions. This is an edited volume. The third book that is in progress in Singapore is on South Asian perceptions of Rising China.