Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 30, Dated August 01, 2009
‘We Still Fight, But
With Words, No
Longer With Guns’
50-year-old Hisila Yami alias Comrade
Parvati, Nepal’s most powerful woman
Maoist leader, dispells the myth that
Maoist guerillas are bellicose and unkempt.
She is suave, soft-spoken and smiles
often. Educated in India and England, this
architect taught in a college for 13 years
before going underground during the
Maoists’ 11-year-long armed struggle.
From guerilla camps to becoming Minister
for Tourism to being elected to
Nepal’s Constituent Assembly,
Hisila has had a long and
eventful journey. Despite being
a political heavyweight — a
Member of the Politburo of the Unified
Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPNM),
a former Minister and wife of Baburam
Bhattarai, the ideological fount of the
CPN-M — Hisila wears her identity lightly.
In a smart business suit, a salt-andpepper-
haired Hisila spoke to AMRITA
NANDY-JOSHI of the Nepali Maoists’ transition
from revolution to realpolitik, from
military offensives to political offensives
and the roadblocks faced in between.
Despite years of a violent war, what
brought the Maoists victory in Nepal’s
Constituent Assembly elections?
Our armed struggle was a people’s war.
The people of Nepal had grown intolerant
of a corrupt and inefficient government.
The monarch and other non-left parties
have promoted and taken advantage of
the dominant Hindu belief systems. With
the Army supporting and protecting
monarchy and imperialism, people eventually
saw who stood for what. The CPN-M
declared total war against these forces. We
had even thought of taking over Kathmandu
but we realized that this would not
be appropriate. Besides, we knew how
India and China would have responded.
Meanwhile, the Maoists gained popularity
and our strategy gained momentum
because we delivered what the government
could not. For example, justice was
Kathmandu-centric and archaic. So we
appointed two legal officers, a man and
a woman, to every district. We
started a crude banking system and
cottage industries as well. We almost ran a parallel government.
People knew and appreciated
our values of egalitarianism.
How difficult is it for Maoists
to deal with realpolitik?
Entering a multi-party parliamentary
democracy system is certainly a departure
from certain models of communist revolution.
Yet, in another way, war and
democracy have a dialectical relationship.
Nepal has a rich leftist tradition and
movement, with many shades of red. We
have fully used this to our advantage to
enter the peace process. We are following
the Comprehensive Peace Agreement
(CPA), a timetable for the Maoists
to enter Parliament, lay down arms, join
the Government and participate in the
At the Constituent Assembly (CA)
meetings, I watch our cadre members and
am amazed at how quickly they have
learnt the ropes. Yet, the
struggle is on. We fight now with words and not with guns – we
argue over the expressions to be used in
drafting the Constitution (smiles).
What roadblocks are causing the
Our strongest opposition is from the military
because their supremacy is challenged
in a parliamentary democracy.
They enjoyed impunity under the monarchy
and do not like us for our egalitarian
ideals and the idea of civilian supremacy.
Other non-Marxist parties such as the
Nepali Congress, too, see the military as
their last saviour, and so cling to each
other and to imperialist agents.
The Comprehensive Peace Process
clearly states that the cadres of the People’s
Liberation Army will be integrated
into the Nepal Army. The Army Chief has
overruled this. Since the army’s loyalties
to the monarchy are well known, we suggested
that the terms of generals not be
extended. In fact, new officers were
recruited to the top echelons of the police
and paramilitary forces. We faced no opposition.
Yet, when it came to the Army,
the same idea became untenable. We are
keen to end the impasse and want to be
flexible but our flexibility is not absolute.
Is there democracy within the party?
Internal democracy in the CPN-M is very
strong. Prachanda encourages diversity of
ideas but has the knack of keeping the
team together. There are some who
do not agree with our struggle
within the parliamentary
framework. There are contradictions,
old and new. Yet, we
are all firm that we will not let
realpolitik overcome our
Have you left the path of
armed struggle for good?
We have given up violence
for the time being. In fact, we
want to integrate our People’s
Liberation Army into the
Nepal Army so that our boys
receive good training. To us,
this was part of a restructuring
exercise. The Army is rather
feudal and is resisting this.
If the peace process is long, some cadres may leave us. Some of them
have joined the Terai movement. Even
within our party, some want to go back to
the path of revolution. A philosophical
churning is on, not just within our party
but within other parties as well.
In other South Asian countries, federal
decentralisation has defeated the
collective spirit. How will you ensure
you don’t repeat the mistake?
Federalism helps reach out to every person
in a parliamentary democracy. We
are discussing this at the CA and are
proposing 15 states to accommodate all
communities. Religious and ethnic conflicts
happen in Nepal as well. In the
Terai, there have been clashes between
Hindus and Muslims but things do not
flare up like they do in India.
As Maoists, however, we believe that
as economic development takes over, religious
and ethnic sentiments will wither
away. All three regions of Nepal have to
be economically viable and integrated in
order to keep conflict at bay. There will
have to be an inch-by-inch adjustment.
In the name of culture, religious and
ethnic issues can take the stage. By ensuring
that that workers and peasants have
representation within ethnic groups, we
hope to resolve ethnic and class conflicts.
When we went to war in 1996, our
agenda was a new, democratic revolution.
This stage — the peace process — is
penultimate. The goal is still the total
restructuring of the state.
It is momentous to be part of a
exercise. How are you ensuring that
it is progressive, particularly with
regard to women?
We have been preparing for this moment
for a long time. Women are part of all CA
sub-committees on planning and development.
There are several young women
from the dailt, sherpa, madhesi and Muslim communities representing different
political parties. They are planning land
reforms while keeping the interests
of women, dalits and other marginalised
groups in mind. Inheritance rights will
be re-looked at. The sub-committee
will recommend that inheritance take
place in the name of the mother, daughter
and so on.
As per a Supreme Court ruling, the
‘third sex’ will be a recognised category
of sexual identity. Our forms and other
papers should soon have a box with ‘third
sex’, besides the usual ‘man’ and ‘woman’
options. Nepal’s society is quite liberal
about sexual identities and orientation.
The left, in particular, is tolerant towards
these issues. In fact, Sunil Pant is Nepal’s
first openly gay Member of Parliament.
Yet, women’s struggle against patriarchy
will be long and hard. When my
name was to be registered for elections
to the CA, the officials assumed that I use
my husband’s name and registered me as
Hisila Yami Bhattarai!
At this juncture, what role do you
expect India to play in Nepal?
India’s role should be mature. During the
debate over Army Chief Katawal’s unconstitutional
response, India supported
him and pressurised us to give in to an
Army that has always supported the
monarchy and been status quoist.
The Indian government has declared
the CPI (Maoist) as terrorists and has
banned them. What is your reaction?
Do you have any links to them?
Banning the outfit will not help. Economic
issues should be dealt with
through economic measures. The Indian
Maoist parties concentrate on their own
work. We focus on ours. We do sympathise
How is China reacting to the
developments in Nepal?
China is busy doing business (smiles).