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July 07, 2006

Communist Party of India-Marxist Politbureau member Sitaram Yechuri has played a major role in recent political developments in Nepal. He has been in touch with Maoist leader Prachanda, who virtually dictates terms to the new coalition government cobbled together by Nepalese political parties in their bid to keep King Gyanendra out of power and reduce him to a mere figurehead who endorses the decisions taken by the people's government.

After waging a ten-year battle against the kingdom of Nepal, Prachanda has been travelling around explaining to his cadres the Maoists' decision to join mainstream politics and rules out his return to the jungles.

Yechuri, on his part as a friend of the people of the Himalayan state, is mediating to sort out the difficulties between the ruling coalition and the Maoists as and when he is called upon to help.

In an exclusive interview with Senior Associate Editor Onkar Singh in New Delhi, Yechuri explained why democracy is now an integral element of revolutionary Communist strategy and reiterated the CPI-M's support for the Manmohan Singh [Images] government.

What prompted you to visit Nepal recently?

The main reason for my visit was the invitation sent by the new government in power and also by the Maoist leadership that they have reached a new stage of equality after the big struggle for ten long years under the leadership of Prachanda.

They have reached a stage where they want to have a new road map, as the earlier road map that they had has already been covered. The talks between the Maoists and the government has produced an eight-point agreement and that includes what the composition of the constituent assembly would be. What would be its final look and how various groups would be represented in the constituent assembly. These are nitty-gritty that need to be sorted out.

The second issue is the code of conduct that they had agreed upon under which the Maoists would stop their activities which include extortion, movement with arms etc and the government on its part would release all the Maoists in jail which has already been done. All the laws enacted by the previous government which gave powers to the army to attack the Maoists will now be repealed.

The third issue relates to the composition of the interim government. Then there is the issue of arms management of the Maoists.

But one thought that they had agreed to let the United Nations supervise the arms management?

Yes, this is the first option but more options have come up in the last few weeks. The second option is the merger of both armies (the Royal Nepal Army and the Maoist army). The third option is that both the armies remain (as separate entities) but are under the command of one general. The last option is that they (the Maoist forces) are converted into some kind of paramilitary force.

These are issues on which decisions have to be taken. Differences between the seven-party alliance government and the Maoists have arisen. That is why they wanted to consult us. I had a long meeting with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and then two long meetings with Maoist leader Prachanda.

He was accompanied by some of his key aides. The discussions were fruitful. He understood the problem of the credibility of the Maoists. He immediately ordered his cadre to refrain from any armed activity and stop the Jan Adalats that were seen as a parallel administrative setup.

To be fair to him I must admit that his order had a very salutary effect on the situation. The government on its part has done the needful to write to the UN for arms management. So the thaw between the Maoists and the government in power has come about. Now they would sit together and sort out other issues.

Prachanda has emerged as a mysterious character with some many stories being woven around his persona.

It is very natural when someone who has been hounded and hunted for ten years emerges from the jungles as a hero of the people that some stories would be woven around his personality. Since he survived the most difficult time of his life, there are bound to be stories about how he survived etc.

How do you assess him as a politician and an underground leader?

During my few meetings with him in the last one year or so, I got the impression that he is an extremely pragmatic leader who understood the needs of the time. Marxism teaches you to be pragmatic. He has shifted from the earlier stand and has moved away in no uncertain terms.

What is more significant is his declaration that he would not like to go back to the jungles. They have decided to be part of the democratic mainstream accepting multi-party democracy and competitive politics.

Does he believe the king should either live as a commoner or leave the country?

Yes, that is his opinion and he makes no bones about it. In fact, he says, the Maoists want to convert Nepal into people's republic. He is willing to go along with the majority decision of the constituent assembly but he would definitely place his opinion about the king before the constituent assembly.

Do you see a change in his personality from the time you met him for the first time?

I would not say that there is any change in his personality except that there is definite change in his thinking and this is reflected in the political statements or positions that he has been taking in the last few weeks.

At one stage he would not even listen. He was not just ready to talk but he has changed now and is willing to lend an ear. He has come around to talk and realises the importance of talking to the political parties.

The change has been slow but it has galvanised the people of Nepal. He realised that the king was ruling on the basis of the disunity amongst the political parties. He understood that so long as there was a triangle between the king, political parties and the Maoists the king would remain supreme.

The two other ends came together and that signalled the end of the monarchy in Nepal.

Where do you fit in?

There are two angles from which we fit into the overall scheme of things. Our party had played a very important role in 1990 in the restoration of democracy in Nepal. Not only did we take part in this we helped the two pillars of democracy -- the king and the parliament -- come together.

Then we played our role in unifying various Communist groups in Nepal. We believe that the Naxal groups should renounce violence and join the mainstream of politics.

The Naxalite movement was born out of a split in the CPI-M in 1967. The CPI-ML (Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist) was formed in 1969 and they chose the path of their own liking. But this is not the right path. They should come back to the mainstream and try to change society.

When joining the mainstream, Prachanda made a significant statement that the resolutions of the 21st century cannot be the replicas of the 20th century. The import of the statement is that in the 21st century you have to go by the input of democracy as an element of Communist strategy for socialist change.

Whereas in the 20th century, democracy was not a part of the input in any of the Communist countries -- be it Russia [Images], China, Cuba etc. As time advanced democracy became a part of the right of the people and a forum for expression for the politically oppressed people of their choice.

So democracy has become something that is not possible to separate from revolutionary strategy.

Does Prachanda regret the Maoist killings?

I do not know if the stage for retrospection has come as yet but it would come sooner or later.

The world is going to watch the election in Nepal with interest.

Already the Americans have started saying they would not approve of any government involving the Maoists. The Americans got elections conducted in Palestine and now they say they do not recognise Hamas (which won the election). The same thing is happening in the case of Nepal.

Will the Manmohan Singh government in India complete its term because every now and then the Left keeps threatening to withdraw support?

The present government will complete its term.

There is no question of bringing down the government.

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