April 13, 2009
Four days ago I interviewed Matrika Prasad Yadav, the leader of the newest off-shoot of the Maoist regime, the CPN (Maoist) party. One of Nepal's most controversial leaders, he's a man who speaks his mind -- a thorn in the side of Prachanda’s Unified Maoist Party –- a colorful wild cannon to some but a serious threat to many others. I spoke to him in Lazimpat.
DUNHAM: You are well known in Nepal but people in the West are just beginning to take note of your leadership in the new CPN (Maoist) party. So I would like to begin with a few background questions regarding your childhood and early years. Let’s begin with here were you born.
YADAV: I was born in Sabaila VDC -5, in Dhanusha district [southeastern Terai].
DUNHAM: What did your parents do?
YADAV: My father was a small businessman and he was also involved in farming. When he suffered losses in his business, he became a laborer.
DUNHAM: What was your childhood like? Was it easy? Was it difficult?
YADAV: My early years were very easy but after 13 years of age my life was a troubled one
DUNHAM: Where did you go to school?
YADAV: I studied in my village. But I had to leave school in grade 8. My father and my brother were falsely accused and jailed by the landlords, the local government and police. After 5 years I resumed my studies in Katari, [Udayaur district] and completed my SLC from there. I did my I. Ed [Intermediate Education] on the Siraha Campus in Siraha.
DUNHAM: What were your father and brother accused of?
YADAV: Robbery. The authorities confiscated all the things from our house and produced them as evidence – as the items obtained from the alleged robbery. That is how they made the false case against us. And this happened right in front of my eyes.
DUNHAM: Who was accusing them? Who were the people who were setting your family up?
YADAV: The local government and landlords.
DUNHAM: Was that when you were 13?
DUNHAM: So you had to quit school and go to work at 13 to help your family?
YADAV: It is not only to help the family. The society was harassing me for being a robber’s son, which I could not tolerate.
DUNHAM: Where did you go?
YADAV: I left my home without informing my family where I was going. I went to India. There, I worked as a dish-washer and cook’s assistant. Then I thought about the condition of my brother and mother so I came back home. I worked as a laborer for a rich businessman for awhile. A year-and-a-half later, my father was released from jail. I started to help him in his business and other manual labor. I also resumed school.
DUNHAM: Were these landlords and business people from the hilly region?
YADAV: They were from Terai.
DUNHAM: When your father was falsely accused, who was the PM at that time?
YADAV: I don’t remember who was the PM at the time.
DUNHAM: When was the first time you realized that Madeshi were discriminated against?
YADAV: I had already felt discriminated when I was 10-12 years old. Our village was dominated by hilly landlords and the discrimination from the Madeshi landlords was also equally present there.
DUNHAM: How did discrimination first evidence itself? Was it from other kids in school?
YADAV: Discrimination was everywhere: in the village, in the school, during sports activites -- wherever there were rich people. The son of the hilly landlords dominated us socially and the Madhesi landlords dominated us economically.
DUNHAM: In what sense were you discriminated against. Did the other kids gang up against you?
YADAV: Not only economic discrimination but also caste discrimination. The hill people discriminated against us on a caste basis and on an economic basis. And the Madeshi landlords discriminated against us economically.
DUNHAM: Did this domination prompt you to get into politics?
DUNHAM: When did you say to yourself, “I want to join this political group?”
YADAV: That started in 1971. I didn’t have much political insight at that time. My village was dominated by Nepali Congress presence. So I originally thought of myself as being part of NC. My first name, Matrika, was also the first name of Matrika Prashad Koirala, a former NC prime minister so, as a young kid, that also made me partial to the NC party.
DUNHAM: How old were you at that time?
YADAV: I think I was 13.
DUNHAM: When did you have your first encounter with the ideology of the Maoists? When did you become actively involved with the Maoists?
YADAV: When BP Koirala introduced the policy of reconciliation in 1976-77, I thought to myself that Congress was not going to bring revolution to the country, so I broke with the party. I thought that the monarchy was the most dangerous institution imaginable in Nepal. So I looked for a party that would reflect my revolutionary instincts. In 1977-8, I took membership with the Nepal Communist Party, Fourth National Congress. The principles of the Fourth National Congress are the same ones still adhered to by the CPN-Maoist [Matrika’s new party].
I had a very deep feeling that, without the eradication of the monarchy, the real emancipation of the Nepali people was impossible.
DUNHAM: So the elimination of the monarchy was the driving force behind your political affiliations at that time?
YADAV: Yes, the abolishment of the monarchy, but not limited to just that. Caste and class discrimination also needed to be abolished.
DUNHAM: Skipping ahead a few years, what were you doing when the insurgency began in the mid-1990s? Did you go underground?
YADAV: I was already underground even before the people’s revolution started. I had been jailed several times during the Panchayat system. But during the revolution, yes, I was working underground. I was arrested and imprisoned twice.
DUNHAM: Were you arrested for political agitation? What were the charges brought against you?
YADAV: I was a member of an opposition political party during the Panchayat system. I was also of the opinion that the monarchy and the Panchayat systems needed to be abolished. These charges were leveled against me. But on top of that, I was charged with crimes like murder, robbery, and possession of arms and ammunition.
During the People’s Revolution, I was even accused of incidences that occurred while I was in police custody! I was accused of so many things, even when I was in jail. I was accused of crimes committed in areas in which I had never been. Since I was a member of Central Party, being accused of crimes I didn’t commit, I took it lightly. My statements to the police and courts of that time reflected my willingness to shoulder the responsibility, morally, of the party line. I used these opportunities to repeat the goals of the Maoists. So most of the charges against me were crimes against the state.
One time I was even arrested for drug-related crimes.
DUNHAM: You resigned your position as Forestry Minister in September 2008. What were the events that led up to the resignation? What is your version?
YADAV: The CPN (Maoist) party, during the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, were the leading force. It was not the Seven-Party-Alliance who represented mainstream politics. We represented mainstream politics. It was the other parties who had to accept our demends – no the other way around. The demands for a ConstitutionalAssembly, a republic state and federalism were our demands.
Coming back to your question, a team of five members of the CPN(Maoist) party were appointed cabinet members during the time that GP Koirala was Prime Minister. I was named Minister of Forestry. What I encountered at that time was heavy intervention from various national and international elements -- wrong doing on their part was widespread. When I objected to these various forms of interference, nobody helped me.
Let me give one example – that of the sandalwood controversy. Everyone was involved in the smuggling of red sandalwood, from the Prime Minister, to his daughter, to the Home Minister, to the Finance Minister – all were implicated. I personally oversaw the arrests of perpetrators and the inspection of the stolen sandalwood, sometimes late at night if necessary. What I discovered was that the police were actually involved, escorting the smuggled woods to the China border. The army was involved too. They were replacing real sandalwood with utiis [a red wood that could be confused with sandalwood], to be sent across the border into China.
In short, I got no support to help stop the smuggling. I got no support to further the main agendas of our party, including the declaration of martyrs and making public the status of the disappeared. There was rampant corruption from top to bottom. All the parties were also involved with illegal deforestation, including members from my own party. I protested against all of this, time and again, to no avail. Even my own party did not support my efforts. Therefore, I resigned from the cabinet.
DUNHAM: So that is why you finally decided to resign? There was not just a single event, but rather a series of events that led to this decision?
YADAV: I was not satisfied with anyone, including my own leaders.
DUNHAM: W hat are the deficiencies in the United Maoist Party that prompted you to create your own party?
YADAV: First, the people had voted for the Maoists because they wanted an end to the endless cycle of corruption, black market and smuggling. The people also believed that, after the Maoists took control, all citizens would have proportionate representation and enjoy equal rights -- especially among those who had been discriminated against on the basis of class, caste, region and sex. These were the slogans of our party for 10 years, which was the basis of our people’s revolution. But it became clear to me that our party leadership was not ready to implement what was promised in the slogans.
Those killed during the revolution were to be declared martyrs. The party promised to make public the status of the disappeared. The party promised treatment to and respectful rehabilitation of the wounded and disabled. The party promised compensation to the martyred families. The party failed in these promises. They did not take steps to emancipate the people. They did not do anything that required the immediate attention of the government.
In my view, as well as in the view of the public, our party ceased to look different from the other parties -- the Congress party or the UML party.
It was then that I came to the conclusion that – rather than just sit back and witness all this wrong-doing – it would be better to reorganize and fight for the rights of the people. So I started to reorganize the Maoist Party.
There are three major necessary elements required to achieve revolution: party leadership, army [PLA] and the rank and file cadres.
The old Maoist party, the United CPN (Maoist) party, failed in all three of the those areas. The party abandoned the main principle on which the ten-year people’s revolution was based. Today, the party is taking a reformist line and abandoning the revolutionary line. This is why I decided to reorganize the party.
Also, I was against the decision to merge with the Unity Center Mashal. It was an unnecessary compromise of Maoist principles. After all, the Unity Center Mashal was against the 10 years of people’s revolution and cursed the revolution; they were cowards, and ran away from the revolution.
Finally, our party used to operated on collective decision-making and a personal responsibility system. But now, Prachanda makes the decisions and we are expected to follow him without questioning him, just like GP Koirala’s authoritative leadership in the Nepali Congress party.
DUNHAM: So, you have this new party and Nepal has about one year between now and the deadline for the new constitution that is, supposedly, being written. What would you like your party like to achieve with in this next year?
YADAV: Our role will be to make people aware based upon our assessment of the current situation and our examination of the party leaders’ commitments.
First, I don’t think the constitution will be written. Second, even if the constitution is written it will not represent what the people really want. In response to this, it is our plan to strengthen our organization and exert pressure to create a representative constitution.
DUNHAM: Will this be in the form of political rallies, speeches? How are you going to implement the goal of strengthening the organization and informing the people?
YADAV: We will help people understand what is going on in the political arena, then organize them to create pressure against the government. We will carry out peaceful protests.
DUNHAM: Will you inform through the media, newspapers printed materials?
YADAV: We will utilize all means and we will also conduct mass demonstrations. And if the government attempts to suppress our movement, we will strike back with similar means.
DUNHAM: You are from Madesh; I know this issue is very close to you. What do you want to see for the Madeshi people in the future and how do your party’s ideas vary form the Madeshi Forum?
YADAV: Not only of the Madeshi people, all Nepali citizens including the various castes and indigenous communities -- all have four problems. The first is internal colonialism created by the Gorkhali state. The second is indirect external colonialism or neo-colonialism. The third are the class-related problems of economic domination and discrimination. The fourth is cast discrimination based on the theosophy of Manu, the Aryan root race. Both the hilly people and Madeshi people have these four problems. Neither the hilly nor the Madeshi people will be truly free unti these four problems have been eliminated
Madeshi people are different in one aspect. It is wrong when people say that the Madeshi came from India. There are historical documents and other types of evidence that assert that the Madeshi people have had a long term connection with this land. But the problem of Nepali identity is a unique problem among the Madeshi people.
To solve all these kind of problem we need the right of self-determination, self-governance-- federal states with a proportional representation system. That will solve the problem of the both the Madeshi and hilly people.
As for the Forum: There are many differences between the Forum and my party. The Forum wants to replace the rule and domination of hilly landlords with Madeshi landlords. My party is against any kind of domination of the people, regardless of whether or not they are of hilly or Madeshi origin. That is where our difference lies.
DUNHAM: What is the difference between internal and external colonialism?
YADAV: There are several countries that are directly involved, are intervening and are dictating all aspect of life in Nepal -- that is external colonialism. Internal colonialism refers the Gorkhali and the Khash, whe were expansionists. They expanded Ghorka but they did not unite it.
DUNHAM: Unification versus fragmentation is a key debate here in Nepal. I was struck a couple of months ago by the organizational powers and the determination of the Tharu people. They have risen as a unit and made their voice heard. Do you support that kind of movement demonstrated by the Tharus?
YADAV: We support them, but with a few reservations.
DUNHAM: What would they be?
YADAV: I have issued a press release that illustrates my views about the Tharu movement.
The whole country is protesting. Every protest has its negative and positive sides. Our party supports and looks favorably on the efforts of people who have no rights. When Ghorkha was expanding, a lot of nations’ identities were lost; in their place Khash, Brahmin and hilly feudal nationalism was imposed. Now, the feudal monarchy has ended, but Khash, Brahmin and hilly feudal nationalism remains. Without elimination of this feudal nationalism and until a common nationalism is created, freedom from caste and class is not possible. The discriminated castes and classes are making a mistake when they accept the nationality of those who are dominators and oppressors – the same people who have deprived Madeshi and indigenous people of their national identity. Those who are revolutionary in words but opportunists and super-nationalists in practice -- Khash, Brahmin, hilly feudal nationalists – are trying to create a rift between the stateless, identity-less communities. Instead of division and rift, those stateless and identity-less communities should stick together, respect each other’s rights and identities, and checkmate the conspiracies, and fight as one body to secure their rights. Our party is in favor of the right to have self-determination and supports the struggle of the Tharu community in their movement to achieve self-determination and identity. We request, however, that you remain aware of the conspiracies of the reactionary rulers, which would divide and conquer the powerless and identity-less. We would like to warn the government and other groups who are making decisions without first evaluating the ground realities – and without consulting the people in question – that such actions will invite conflict in this country, ridicule from the outside world, and force Nepal back into civil war.
DUNHAM: What about the Dalits? At this point in time, they don’t seem to be as well organized as the Tharus or some of the other ethnic groups. Do you support the Dalit movement?
YADAV: They are organizing, but their leaders are not being honest. Leaders from every community focus more on their own interest than the community as a whole – the community they claim to represent. It is the same in every community: the Madeshi, the indigenous people, the hilly people, the Tharus, the Dalits – all these groups attempt to unite, but the leaders always betray them. This is the truth that we need to seriously discuss.
DUNHAM: I read a article on bonded labor a few days ago. Some of the ex-bonded laborers are now trying to get back their jobs as bonded laborers. What happened was that after they were “freed”, they couldn’t find jobs. The government had not provided them with a support system or alternatives to the work they had left behind. It’s a very sad statement about a government not watching out for the most vulnerable people.
YADAV: What you read is absolutely correct. During the 10 years of the people’s revolution, the landlords and the government and the local landlords thought that the Kamaiyas would capture their land and they panicked because the revolution was in the ascendancy and the Kamaiyas were raising their voice as well. So, they made a preemptive strike – they just announced the bonded laborers were free – without and furth planning or follow-up. Therefore I do not call it “freedom.” I call it an act to move those Kamaiyas from the house to the road – left abandoned on the road to suffer further injustice and hardship. They had no opportunity and now they have no alternative but to try to return to their old bondage. They have returned as Kamlaries, as servants in dire condition. But the government does not care about that. The government does not care about anything.
I/NGOs have misused a lot of money in under the pretext of helping the Kamaiyas. But most of the money has not reached the Kamaiyas.
When I was a minister, I was of the view that the Kamaiyas should be allotted enough land to be able to be self-sufficient. I raised this issue in the cabinet, time and again. We discussed many times but nobody listen to me. I raised this issue when I was Minister of Forestry and also when I was Minister of Land Reform.
DUNHAM: So by throwing them out onto the open road, the government was, essentially, giving them the freedom to die.
YADAV: They were left to die.