Interview with Jaya Prakash Gupta
‘Nothing except one Madhes’
Jaya Prakash Gupta, former minister of information and communication, is currently co-chairperson and spokesperson of the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) which led the Madhes Andolan. Gupta earned a postgraduate degree in political science from Tribhuvan University. He joined politics as a university student. Prior to the founding of the MPRF, he was a central committee member of the Nepali Congress (NC). He has been twice elected to the House of Representatives from Saptari-2 and 1 in 2051 and 2056 respectively on an NC ticket.
Gupta spoke to the Post‘s Kamal Raj Sigdel on the telephone from Biratnagar on issues concerning the future course of his party, which has emerged as a new force in Nepali politics.
Q: MPRF has emerged as a new force. What role will it play in the new political make-up?
Gupta: Our major concern is presenting our case at the CA. We have declared Nepal a republic; that is okay. But there are two major issues left to be resolved. One is federalism, and the other is loktantra. The main challenges are creation of federal states and devolution of power, which will determine the political status of federal states. Secondly, we must establish true loktantra which is really inclusive and proportionate. So declaring Nepal a republic alone is not the political end. The MPRF will take up these two issues seriously.
Q: Will you join a Maoist-led government if your conditions are fulfilled?
Gupta: The Maoists have the largest number of seats in the CA. Now they should take the initiative to form the next government. We have some conditions, though. The party that approaches us about joining a new government should be committed to “one Madhes one pradesh”.
Similarly, it should promise that the rights of the new federal states would be ensured. It should also implement earlier agreements on a time-bound basis. Then only can we collaborate. The new leading party should also agree that the new prime minister will be elected by a simple majority. And for that to happen, we must amend the Interim Constitution. I hope the Maoists make public their opinion on these issues. If they agree to our conditions, we may support the Maoists but we will not be responsible for anything. We will support them on the floor to form a government of their choice, but we will not be part of it. Our support will be conditional.
Q: What do you think is the solution to the present political deadlock?
Gupta: I am of the opinion that there should be proper checks and balances. The positions of both president and prime minister cannot be held by one party. So far as the president is concerned, I think there is no complication. A simple majority can elect the president no matter who it is. But the main question is who will be the prime minister.
The major reason behind the current deadlock is the constitutional provision which states that the prime minister will be elected on the basis of political consensus among the SPA partners or through a two-thirds majority.
I think the Maoists understand this well and they will agree to amend the Interim Constitution to make it possible for a simple majority to elect the prime minister. Now it is the Maoists who should take the initiative. We will help them in this task.
Q: There are still some armed groups operating in the tarai with different missions. What is your party’s stand on them?
Gupta: We had made it very clear at the time we signed the eight-point agreement with the government that the armed bands operating in the tarai should be invited to a dialogue. And that the government should create a conducive environment for them to agree to talk. We had asked the government to drop all the cases filed against the armed bands and grant them a general amnesty. We had asked the government to come up with a broader Comprehensive Peace Agreement proposal and then hold political dialogues. Unfortunately, the government did not listen to our requests. As a result, the people in the tarai are being hit from two sides – the government and the armed groups.
Q: What are the demands of the armed groups operating in the tarai? How do you justify their struggle?
Gupta: I do agree that most of the demands have been fulfilled. For instance, the republic has been established and the outlaw bands, too, are happy. They are also satisfied with the Madhesis’ participation in the CA elections. But their demand for a separate and sovereign state, which is not practical, has not yet been fulfilled. What we believe is that if the government comes up with a CPA proposal and assures them that their demands would be fulfilled through the CA, they may renounce violence and join peaceful politics.
Q: It seems the next issue on the agenda would be demarcating the federal states. What is your party’s model?
Gupta: We believe that the federal states should not be divided on the basis of caste. Its basis should be regional. There are some bases such as similar geography, similar language, similar entrepreneurship, similar transport facility, ease of governance and the like. Accordingly, our demand is “one Madhes one pradesh”. And it will be “one pahad one pradesh”.
Q: Will the other communities living in the tarai agree to your demand?
Gupta: Yes. There are two-three parallel ideas regarding federation. We say one Madhes one pradesh, those in the far west are speaking of Karnali Pradesh. There are some who advocate caste-based federal states such as Khambuwan, Limbuwan, Tharuwan, Kochila and others. There are religious groups also. I believe there will be a “state restructuring commission” which will discuss these issues. There will be a set criteria for establishing states based on what is practiced in other countries.
Q: How do you justify your claim to the whole southern belt? Don’t you think this will set off another conflict?
Gupta: We stand firm on this demand. We have been saying this to guarantee that the native people have a say in their state. For example, if a Kochila state is formed because the Kochi people who make up 19 percent of the state’s population have demanded it, the actual rulers will be the other 81 percent of the people. Similarly, in Tharuwan, Tharus comprise only 30 percent of the population. If the region is declared a Tharu state, the other 70 percent will be the actual rulers. It will not be Tharuwan in reality, but only in name. So we are against the idea of dividing Madhes; it must be one state. If it is divided, no one will have a say.
Q: How are the tarai parties coordinating among themselves?
Gupta: During the movement, we acted together; but we failed to maintain that unity during the CA election. We do have some differences. But at a recently held meeting, we have agreed that we will work together in the CA to defend our common agenda.
Q: What are the major differences among the tarai-based political parties?
Gupta: The differences are related to the model of the future federal structure and the powers of the prime minister and the president. The TMDP and the Sadbhavana Party insist that they want a Westminster model of democracy.
Q: Does that mean that the Front has outlived its utility?
Gupta: That was formed before the Madhesi movement. It is nonfunctional now, but we have agreed to revive it.
Q: Upendra Yadav has remarked that a new government could be formed even without the Maoists. What does this mean?
Gupta: We are of the opinion that the Maoists should form the next government; but if it fails to do so, there are other options. Being the largest party, they should lead; but since they do not have a two-thirds majority, they must form a consensus government. The MPRF will not support a government without consensus because such a government, we believe, will only create conflicts. So there is no alternative to forming a consensus government.
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