Minister for Information and Communications Jay Prakash Gupta had played a crucial role in forging an alliance between the UCPN (Maoist) and the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF). This ultimately led to the election of Dr Baburam Bhattarai as the prime minister. However, Gupta has been vocal in criticizing the Bhattarai-led government. Republica´s Kiran Chapagain and Gani Ansari caught up with Gupta at his official residence in
Pulchowk Tuesday morning to elicit his views. Excerpts:
How do you evaluate the functioning of the government?
There are several challenges and the government is yet to deal with core issues.
What are the core issues?
The prime minister has been busy in an image-building exercise. The main issue is to implement the UDMF´s agreement with his party. Some of the commitments in the agreement were supposed to have been implemented within 15 days. For instance, we had agreed to table a bill on inclusion in the legislative parliament. But no meeting has taken place as yet to discuss the issues.
There are other major demands and issues involving Madhes. The government has not yet taken any initiative to address them. The prime minister should have taken the lead but he has not paid any attention in this regard. We have raised this issue with the prime minister time and again. But to no avail.
The Madhesi alliance and the Maoists were supposed to amend the latter´s proposal on peace process immediately. What is the progress?
Yes, we were supposed to resolve the outstanding issues outlined in the agreement. Firstly, those issues have not even been settled in principle. Unless these issues are resolved, the peace plan endorsed by the Maoist central committee can not be acted upon.
As the alliance holds the key to stability of the current government, it can exert pressure on the Maoists to act in accordance with the four-point deal.
Thirdly, the Special Committee headed by the prime minister has failed to meet regularly, except the ritual meeting on September 1. The 15-day timeframe has already elapsed. The prime minister himself had committed to complete these tasks within three months. But there has been little progress. So, I think the current government is not functioning as it should have been. Now there is a question over why there has been no progress. The prime minister should have taken the lead.
Why did you turn down the prime minister´s offer to be the government´s spokesperson?
I refused to be the government´s spokesperson not because I wanted to express my dissatisfaction. I have already been government spokesperson thrice so far. What I have been seeing for the last few years is that the government spokesperson has been working like the prime minister´s personal staff. I do not qualify for that role.
You were absent at the function organized to unveil the government´s relief package. Was that also an expression of your dissatisfaction?
My absence was not the outcome of my dissatisfaction. However, there was no homework among the coalition partners in preparing the relief package. The prime minister presented the package prepared by government officials at the last moment. So, the relief package did not look like one. It looked like the government´s programs and policies. It did not focus on immediate relief. We gave our suggestions but didn´t want to stand in the way. Other leaders from the alliance were present at the function. So, it does not mean that we disown the relief package.
You played a vital role in forming the current coalition. And now, you have been publicly saying that the government has failed. Why so?
I don´t have any personal dissatisfaction at the way the government is functioning.
Have you advised the prime minister not to attend the UN General Assembly to be held in New York?
The prime minister should not have prioritized his visit to New York. His party has postponed its central committee meeting because the prime minister would be out of the country. Thirty to 35 days out of the set 45 days would be wasted. I urged him to rethink his decision to attend the UN general assembly as it is not as important under the given circumstances.
If the government fails to make progress in the peace process, the present coalition would lose its legitimacy. What do you have to say in this regard?
Perhaps. I am not opposing such a handsome, soft-spoken and well-educated prime minister but I am telling the truth.
Will the UDMF quit the government if there is no progress in the peace process within the stipulated 45 days?
If any leader is entrapped by the illusion that he has the authority to exercise arbitrary powers, a situation will arise for the alliance to reconsider its support to the government ( INTERVIEW IN REPUBLICA)