Narayan Kaji Shrestha is one of the top leaders of CPN-Maoist Centre, whose Chairman is now Prime Minister. Shrestha, who is considered a close ally of Prime Minister Prachanda, says his party is not in favour of allowing naturalised citizens to become president. The former foreign minister talked to Onlinekhabar recently on the citizenship debate and the recent visit of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee.
Is the government preparing to register a proposal to amend the Constitution to make it possible for naturalised citizens to become president?
The Maoist Centre has not adopted such a policy, and it will not do so in the future. Our party chief is also the Prime Minister, and we cannot in our right mind decide to propose an amendment to allow naturalised citizens to claim top positions of the state such as that of the president. Our chairman has already made it clear, no such proposal will be presented.
But what about the leaked proposal?
I am still trying to understand what the leaked proposal is all about. I want to make it clear to you that just a few days ago, I took up the issues with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister told me the proposal was beyond his imagination. I have also publicly said an amendment proposal along those lines is next to impossible. It is not going to happen.
A few weeks ago, there were reports that the government is going to propose that Hindi be given the status of national language. But later the report turned out to be false. Are reports on the citizenship ‘proposal’ also false in a similar fashion?
False reports have been doing the rounds frequently. Yes we have never discussed the said proposal on the status of Hindi. The reports came at a time when a language commission had already been formed with a mandate to advise the government on its linguistic policy. So this was also beyond our imagination.
So you think that the demand that naturalised citizens be allowed to claim top state posts is not that of the Madheshi parties?
I have no information about Madheshi parties raising the issue during formal talks. Some of the leaders have already said publicly that it is not their demand. Upendra Yadavji has also said it is not his demand.
But there are those who say that the Interim Constitution had already cleared the road for naturalised citizens to become president. They say that all they are asking for is that parties revert to the provisions of the interim constitution.
The first thing we need to consider even before getting into the details is that the Madheshi people themselves are against this demand. For that reason, one cannot say that the Madheshi people want their rights restored.
There are only a handful of people who are being guided by their vested interests, all they want to do is to weaken our sovereignty. This is not the demand of the Madheshi people.
Second, the Interim Constitution was not clear on the issue. The new constitution is clear on it.
Although you were not a member of the Constituent Assembly, you did play an important role in framing the new Constitution. What were the reasons political parties decided to create a list of posts that naturalised citizens should not be given?
There is no doubt that naturalised citizens are also citizens. But we must not forget that they are ‘naturalised’. I think that the provision to open all doors to naturalised citizens is not in the interest of Nepal’s sovereignty and its independence. You must also remember that children of naturalised citizens are eligible to get citizenship by decent. So this provision gives a sense of justice.
Leaders from India and Nepal swear by the ‘roti-betii’ relationship between the two countries. In the Terai, there are many women who have left their families in India to settle with their Nepali husbands. Is there a need to question their loyalty?
We have no other restriction on those people. They are free to do whatever they want. But running the affairs of the state is a serious matter, there has to be certain procedures to this.
You say that the demand is not of the Madheshi people, the government also does not own up to it. So whose demand is it anyway? Is it India’s demand?
This is an issue our Indian friends have raised without much thought. This shows double standards on their part. Our Indian friends who are now in power raised the issue of naturalised citizenship to bar Sonia Gandhi from becoming Prime Minister, despite the fact that the Indian Constitution has no such restrictions. I don’t know why there’s a hue and cry over Nepal putting in place constitutional restrictions.
I would like to ask our Indian friends, if this is not the Madheshi people’s demand, then why are they so interested in it?
Talking of India, let’s get to the recently-concluded visit of President Pranab Mukherjee. He publicly commented on Nepal’s Constitution. He even went to the extent of telling political leaders what to do about the Constitution. What do you make of this?
There are two facets to this issue. First, it would be naive to expect that the visit would help make qualitative improvement in bilateral ties. India has an executive Prime Minister who commands a strong majority. The president is jut ceremonial.
Second, an Indian president came to Nepal after 18 years. This is something that needs to be taken on a positive note. However, during the visit, the Indian government’s perspective on Nepal became more clear than ever. What the Indian President did to interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs was not something good.
You are also a former foreign minister. Don’t you think the government should have spoken out about Mukherjee’s remarks?
Looking at the position the government is now in, one cannot expect it to speak out. What is important is to observe the behaviour of our leaders after the visit.
You regularly tweet criticising the official stand of your party. Don’t you think this is a violation of party discipline?
Let me make it clear. I do not criticise the party’s official decisions. But I do comment when leaders resort to doing things beyond the party’s decisions, and those that are against our national interest.
What is your take on the government’s decision to declare a public holiday during Mukherjee’s visit?
The party and the government are not one and the same. Even those who swear by the parliamentary system have a tradition of organising meetings, and giving suggestions and criticising the government. But we are a force that has not completely accepted the parliamentary system.
So I am of the view that the party should take formal decisions on important issues. I think it is one area where we have not done well in the past. There is no rule that says that the party should blindly say yes to anything the government says.