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'We should not be a haughty big brother to Nepal'

Devi Prasad Tripathi
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July 10, 2006

Devi Prasad Tripathi, general secretary, Nationalist Congress Party, has been associated with Nepal since his days as a student leader at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University

At JNU, he had Baburam Bhattarai, who later became the second most important Maoist leader in Nepal, as his college mate and friend.

Tripathi, along with Communist Party of India-Marxist MP Sitaram Yechuri, was assigned to Nepal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] to help negotiate the 12-point agreement between the Nepalese political parties and the Maoists, an agreement that hastened King Gyanendra's downfall.

On April 29, 2006, when Yechuri and Tripathi entered the reinstated Nepal parliament, they were accorded a standing ovation for their efforts to forge peace in the troubled kingdom.

In an exclusive interview with Jabir Musthar, Professor Tripathi, who was once an adviser to then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, explains his interest in Nepal politics, and how he first met Nepal's Maoist leader Prachanda.

The political uprising and the resultant developments in Nepal have once again focused the world's attention on Prachanda. You are one of the few politicians in India, along with Sitaram Yechuri, who is said to have close contact with the Maoist leaders in Nepal. How did this relationship begin?

I was the first politician from India to meet with Prachanda. It was before Sitaram Yechuri met him. The history of my interest in Nepal issues and my contacts with its leaders runs back to my student days.

The number two Maoist leader in Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai, was my college mate at JNU, and we were good friends. Even before that, I was attracted by the legendary Nepali leader V P Koirala and had a good relationship with him during my days at Allahabad University. I still have a very good relationship with almost every party and its leaders in Nepal.

What were your college days with Dr Bhattarai on the JNU campus like?

They were politically eventful days. There used to be frequent discussions and classes on various political and international issues on the campus. We used to attend almost all those discussions. Bhattarai was highly studious and politically motivated at the same time.

He was attracted by Marxism and the idea of revolution from the early days itself. He used to be actively involved in human rights and civil liberty issues. I can say he was always active on the people front.

So you knew Prachanda through Bhattarai?

Yeah, in a way. It was a gradual and inevitable development that I came to know Prachanda and meet him.

My close contact with Nepal is not restricted to the Maoists alone. I am perhaps the only political activist from India who has an active contact and constant communication with different political outfits and its leaders in Nepal.

When did you first meet Prachanda?

December 26, 2005 -- it is for the first time that I reveal this date to any media -- at a locality which I would like to keep secret, but in India.

Baburam Bhattarai also was with me and it was a long discussion as we were meeting for the first time.

Was the meeting a revelation for you?

Definitely. I was terribly impressed by his personality. It was such an open and warm discussion. His views were quite convincing, his willingness for peace and his initiative towards the democratic process a revelation. We talked about a whole range of issues in Nepal in detail.

It was the first time that I realised the Maoists were ready for the democratic process to start and willing to put down their arms.

There was no dogmatism in his approach. He appeared quite practical and wanting to reinstate democracy in the country.

Our discussion went to the warm extent of me suggesting his name being retained as Pushpa Kamal Dahal, which is his real name, instead of Prachanda, which carries an aura of fear around it. The whole discussion was a pleasant revelation for me.

Did you make any effort to continue with the relationship after that meeting?

I did. He too kept some emissaries between us to continue our communication. I used to contact him through these representatives and take the discussion for the peace process ahead. This also facilitated further meetings between us in India and outside as a peace-loving representative from the neighbouring country.

It was during the second meeting in India that Sitaram Yechuri came to meet him for the first time.

When was this, and what was the outcome?

This time the meeting was at my house. Besides Sitaram, Bhattarai also was there with him. The discussion, like the previous one, was long and elaborate. Though he had met Bhattarai earlier, Yechuri was meeting Prachanda for the first time.

It was this discussion which led to our visit to Nepal as representatives of India to discuss the peace process. It was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who suggested that I be included in the team to Nepal after he heard from Yechuri about my close contact with the Maoist leaders.

Knowing both leaders closely and personally, did you find any difference of opinion between Prachanda and Bhattarai (the two men are said to have fallen out a couple of years ago; they have patched up since)?

I didn't find any major difference of opinion between the two. Now even if there was some differences, that is only part of the way of functioning of the Maoist party. They used to sort it out ideologically.

What about the warm reception you got in Nepal?

It was the first time political leaders from India received a full standing ovation from the Nepal parliament. We held talks with leaders of all the different political parties separately besides the Maoist leaders. I am sure the discussions helped the peace process take shape in a great way.

Do you think our foreign policy towards Nepal is undergoing a change for the better?

In a way, yes. There is an important thing to be mentioned at this point. It may not be fair for me to say this, but our attitude towards Nepal so far was not the best possible. The infamous 'Big brother' attitude brought about some inevitable damage and that clearly reflected in the relationship between the two countries.

The present Indian ambassador to Nepal, Mr Shivshankar Mukherjee, is doing a very good job. He should be applauded for this. The diplomatic relationship with Nepal is quite delicate. We should not pose as a haughty big brother to them.

Only when we show magnanimity and grace, give them the required respect and space, will they start to take us into account and show the willingness to listen to us wholeheartedly.

Things are moving in the right direction now and the government deserves credit for this.

The Maoists have now shown willingness to take the path of competitive politics. From your experience with them, do you think they are ready to compromise, which is a must for a practical solution for the issue?

I definitely think so. They are already coming to terms with several realities and are on the way to reaching a practical and just solution for the long crisis. They genuinely would like to see Nepal as a democratic republic as early as possible.

Did you discuss the prospect of United Nations mediation in the peace process?

India may not prefer an international third party in this matter.

How do you think China is watching the political developments in Nepal?

China doesn't seem to be on the scene now. It is India's intervention and involvement that is being discussed in Nepal. We should understand that more than a land-locked country, Nepal is also an India-locked country!

Do you see any political implications for the Maoists in India from the developments in Nepal?

In a way. But the Maoism in Nepal has no direct connection with the Maoism in India. At the same time the new developments will compel the Maoists here to leave their arms as they will be ideologically isolated now.

What about King Gyanendra's loyalists in Nepal?

His support is coming down drastically nowadays. I understand Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras are completely discredited.

Do you think the Maoists will get a majority after the election?

The Maoists are a substantial force in Nepal. At this stage we can't say who will get the majority. If a fair, democratic election gives the Maoists a mandate and puts them in power, that is it. We have got to respect it.

More reports from Nepal

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