“Noble ends need noble means” (Nepali Times interview with Kul Gautam)

Nepali Times: Your book goes against the dominant narrative that the Maoists are a force for change. Aren’t you being unfair in your negative assessment of the Maoist movement in Nepal?

Kul Chandra Gautam: Yes, the Maoists have certainly been a force for change. But much of the change they advocate has been negative – glorification of so-called revolutionary violence, inciting people to destroy democratic institutions, fomenting communal discorddisrupting children’s education — all in pursuit of a globally failed and discredited ideology. The Maoists raised issues of entrenched inequity, injustice, discrimination and exploitation in Nepali society, as I write in my book, but the solutions they proposed were mostly arbitrary, coercive, divisive, violent and undemocratic. The solutions required kangaroo courts, physical threats, and even elimination of opponents or those who disagreed with them. The book documents how the many progressive-sounding slogans used by the Maoists were deeply deceptive and concludes that, on balance, the so-called people’s war was perhaps 10 per cent blessing and 90 per cent curse for the people of Nepal.

You are critical of the role of international community, particularly the UN in Nepal’s constitution-building and peace process. But you were among the first people to propose a UN involvement.

I remain a strong believer of the UN and enlightened multilateralism in international relations. I am proud of my advocacy for UN’s support for Nepal’s peace process, consolidation of democracy, development and human rights. Indeed, the UN played a very constructive role in highlighting and preventing violations of human rights by both government security forces and by the Maoists in the early years of the peace process. The presence of UNMIN was very reassuring to the people of Nepal that the Comprehensive Peace Accord would be honoured by all sides, and that the UN would be an honest broker if the parties to the conflict violated it.

The UN and other international donors to Nepal were keen to ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of the poor, vulnerable and historically marginalised. I strongly share and support this laudable objective. Where many of my former UN colleagues and European donors and diplomats erred was in their inability to distinguish between progressive-sounding slogans of certain groups like the Maoists and activists of various ethnic and regional groups whose analysis was often convincing, but whose policy prescriptions were deeply flawed. Many Western diplomats were swayed by the views of some articulate columnists, writers and analysts who presented Nepali society as sharply divided between progressive and regressive camps. Naturally, they wanted to be on the side of the so-called progressives and gave them undue benefit of doubt.

In the ‘Deception and delusion of the international community’ I give examples of how the international community misjudged Nepal’s complex social dynamics and ended up unwittingly supporting certain policies in Nepal that they would not accept or apply in their own countries.

Do you think your being seen as anti-Maoist undermined your credibility as a mediator during the peace process?

I never pretended to be a mediator, but wanted to play a constructive role in the peace process, and more importantly in post-conflict reconstruction and development. Perhaps my candid views were seen as partisan by some, but I know many considered them principled. My public criticism of the Maoists helped restrain them from some adventurism, and alerted others, including the UN and some donors, to be more circumspect in not subscribing to the simplistic characterisation of Nepali society as sharply polarised between the Kathmandu elite and the oppressed.

Yet you maintain a positive outlook on Nepal’s future. Given the current context, how realistic are those hopes?

Nepal has all the ingredients needed to become a just and prosperous nation. It is endowed with natural resources, spectacular beauty, a hard-working people, a strategic location between two of the world’s largest economies, and very supportive development partners. Holding us back has been the excessive focus on political experiments of various types, and the neglect of economic issues. Most Nepalis no longer believe that discredited ideologies offer any magic solution to their problems. They want pragmatic policies, good governance, rule of law and encouragement of entrepreneurship. With the exposure and better education, I see Nepal getting ready for economic takeoff. Ultra-nationalism hinders development, and distortions created by cartels and syndicates discourage competition, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Why couldn’t our media or public intellectuals challenge a harmful discourse that endorsed violence and helped impunity?

The Maoists were very clever in projecting themselves as the champions of the poor and the marginalised. They portrayed all those who disagreed with them as feudal elites. They said revolutionary violence was necessary to fight what they considered structural violence of the state. They were able to persuade Dalits, certain Janajatis, Madhesis, and even some leftist intellectuals that their noble ends justified violent means. Curiously, even some members of the international community bought this argument. Nepal’s moderate media and public intellectuals were unable to counter this narrative for fear of being portrayed as politically incorrect. I happen to believe that all noble objectives should be pursued using noble means.

Violence can bring temporary change, but in a democracy lasting change can only happen through peaceful means. I believe Nepalis have also come to that conclusion.