Ganesh Rai recently retired from Nepal Police after serving the force for over 30 years. Rai, who was appointed Kathmandu’s Traffic Police chief in September 2011, was one of the officers who oversaw the road expansion drive in Kathmandu during Baburam Bhattarai’s tenure in office as Prime Minister. Rai, who was later promoted to AIG, retired from service just a few months ago. Onlinekhabar caught up with the former policeman-turned politician to talk to him about his political career and why he joined Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti.
After being involved in the Police for more than three decades, you are now in politics. Did you ever think that you would take up politics?
I had never thought that I would become a politician; even during my years as a college student, I never gave it a thought. In fact, I had not made up my mind to become a politician even on the day I was to retire from the force. I think my entry into Naya Shakti is one of the many unplanned things that have happened in my life.
What attracted you to Naya Shakti?
Nepal Police is an organisation in which members need to work closely with different political parties, as well as the public in general. As officers, we have a fair idea about the country’s political situation, and what each political party is up to. On top of that, I also got to see how things worked during the Panchayat days, and what happened during the People’s Movements and the agitation in Madhesh. That is why I am up to date on the political situation of the country.
As officers, we have a fair idea about the country’s political situation, and what each political party is up to.
But, the main reason I agreed to join Naya Shakti was that Dr Baburam Bhattarai, with whom Dr Bhai Kaji Tiwari and I worked together for expanding roads in Kathmandu, invited me to join his party. If you remember, we were able to implement a law that had been shelved for over 30 years. We faced a lot of obstacles, even members of the ruling party had to be detained. But we could achieve a lot because of the leadership Dr Bhattarai gave to the project. In course of the road expansion drive, I got to work closely with PM Bhattarai, and we developed very cordial ties. “We should work together to develop this country,” Dr Bhattarai used to tell me. But I had not imagined that he would form a new political party.
His forming of a new political party and my retirement from service happened around the same time. If I had retired a bit earlier or he’d delayed the campaign to form a new party, I may not have joined the party. So the time factor also played a crucial role.
I don’t think there would have been any possibility of that happening. I am not someone who has had political ambitions. His (Bhattarai’s) personality and our past record of working together made me take the decision.
During your tenure in office, you worked with different Prime Ministers. Why was Bhattarai special?
Before Bhattarai, I had the opportunity to work with Prime Ministers from the Nepali Congress and UML. But only Dr Bhattarai listened to what other people had to say. If you could convince him, he would throw his weight behind you. Take for example the road expansion drive, he showed ownership of the project.
“If you could convince him, he would throw his weight behind you.”
During the expansion drive properties belonging to big names were demolished. The Prime Minister must have received a lot of calls from influential people to stop the campaign, but he did not listen. He could have told me, Ganeshji I am under pressure, please slow down. But he did not.
But don’t you think this was the city chiefs’ job that the Prime Minister did?
The guidelines on how much space one has to leave for the road was prepared 30 years ago. But no one — not even the King nor the political parties who came to power dared to implement the guidelines. By the time Bhattarai became Prime Minister, things had already moved beyond the municipality level. It had to be dealt with by the country’s CEO, the Prime Minister. Dr Bhattarai risked his own political career to back the road expansion campaign.
Dr Bhattarai is going to launch his party soon. There is a risk that it might not succeed.
Yes. The party may not be successful during the election. That is why Bhattarai is different. He quit the political party which he was part of for 40 years; it was the same party that made him Prime Minister. He’s starting from scratch. There are many leaders who stay in their party even when they do not agree with what it stands for, they prefer to stay in the party and struggle. But Bhattarai had the courage to leave and start another party.
“Yes of course, things are not easy at times. But my main motive is to work for the people and the country. Other things do not matter.”
What will you do if the party fails?
The risk of failure should not stop people from doing what they believe is right. If I were not with the party, I would have stayed home or tried farming. But I am here because Naya Shakti offers a ray of hope as it has a political vision.
What is your role in the party?
I am just an ordinary campaigner. I am not looking for a formal post. I have already established myself in the public sphere. For someone like me who has just retired from the police after serving there for 30 years, position does not mean anything.
How is your typical day like?
At least for now, we do not have regular tasks. We have recently setup a new office, and the space we have is not enough for everyone. So we remain in touch regularly, and go to places the party wants us to go to.
How has the experience been like? In the police, your juniors listened to you and obeyed orders. But as a political leader, do you not have to listen to what the people at the grassroots have to say?
Yes of course, things are not easy at times. But my main motive is to work for the people and the country. Other things do not matter. The modern police is different from what we had in the past. Police personnel of this day and age do listen to the people (laughs). But yes, we need to listen to people if we are in politics.
Who trains leaders like you about the party’s ideology?
We haven’t had formal classes. But during our meetings with Dr Bhattarai, we discuss everything. The party does not have a prescribed ideology. It is still in the works. The party is like a melting pot of different ideologies. After sometime, the pot will boil, and everyone will start thinking along similar lines.
Do you have any reservations about the party’s stand on any issue?
Yes I do. We have campaigners who were part of the Maoist party in the past, and there are others who have never been with the Maoist party. So it is only natural that our ways of looking at things are different from theirs. But all of us would have to understand that and learn from each other.
“Naya Shakti believes that there are three clusters in Nepal (Khas-Arya, Madheshi and Janjatis). We need to have equal representation of all three clusters at all levels.”
You are now a politician. What vision do you have for the country?
During my term in office, I had the opportunity to travel to many developed countries. During every visit, I used to think that Nepal is richer in resources than this country, but why are we still underdeveloped? I realised that it was leadership that mattered. Look at Singapore and Malaysia, good leadership is what made the difference there.
Second, we must understand that there is caste-based discrimination in Nepal. Naya Shakti believes that there are three clusters in Nepal (Khas-Arya, Madheshi and Janjatis). We need to have equal representation of all three clusters at all levels. Just because some castes faced discrimination, they should not think of discriminating others. Oppression is not an answer to oppression.
You brought up the issue of caste. Do you think Dr Bhattarai invited you to join Naya Shakti because you are from the Janjati cluster?
(Laughs..) You ask this question to Dr Bhattrai.
There are many who say that Dr Bhattarai lobbied in your favour when you were denied a promotion.
No, no. If you look at the entire episode, you would see that I was a victim of injustice. I was in the number two position on the merit list, but then Home Minister Bamdev Gautam and secretary Surya Silwal did not want me promoted to AIG. I was promoted only after I lodged a formal appeal against the decision.