Gentle Giant : Padma Ratna Tuladhar

August 26, 2013 , by Sewa Bhattarai, Leave your thoughts
Gentle Giant : Padma Ratna Tuladhar » My Dreams Mag

Padma Ratna Tuladhar is an independent leftist leader who has lived through the Rana regime, the Panchayat, and the constitutional monarchy, and fought the last two. In his role as facilitator, he was instrumental in bringing the Maoists to mainstream politics in 2006. He has been a vocal champion of indigenous languages and cultures throughout his career. 


Let us begin with your boyhood. You were active in politics since a very young age. How would today’s youth compare to that?

I was born during the Rana regime. Those were times when citizens of the city gathered by thousands and went to receive the King Tribhuvan on his return from India. I remember running behind the jeeps of Nepali Congress, which had a flag with four stars, with other children. I was barely ten. Those were politically charged times, and devoid of the atmosphere, it is not possible for the youth of today to be active from so early on.

You have always been an advocate of indigenous language and culture.

Not an advocate, but more of an activist. When I was young, we were not allowed to speak freely or write poetry, especially not in native languages. I saw poets of indigenous language, like Chittadhar Hridaya, Siddhi Charan Shrestha, Kedar Man Byathit, and others, persecuted. It inspired me to work for indigenous languages.

When I was studying in Tri-Chandra College, my college had a literary magazine. It was called “light” in English and “Jyoti” in Nepali. When I went to them and asked to include writings in Newari, they refused. So some of us got together and published a separate magazine in Newari: “Ja:” meaning light.

Sadly, today parents themselves encourage children to learn Nepali and English instead of their native tongue, so that children can get better opportunities.

Why do you think is it important to conserve culture and language?

Nepal is called a country of “unity in diversity”, but nothing other than Nepali language is promoted by the state apparatus. If Nepal is such a diverse fulbari (garden), shouldn’t the TV and radios play some Newar, Maithili, Tamang and Gurung songs?

What can we do to promote indigenous languages?

We need to translate our ideals into policies. In the Panchayat regime and before, Nepali was the only language recognized by the state. After 1990, other languages were recognized as “Rashtriya Bhasa” but Nepali was the only “Rashtra Bhasa”, which was still discriminating. In the current constitution, all languages are recognized equally. But still, all the textbooks are in Nepali, so how can we call the languages equal?

Padma Ratna Tuladhar

Why are textbooks important?

Research tells us that children learn faster when taught in their mother tongue. These days, we talk of children’s rights, and learning in their native tongue is a fundamental right of children. If it is not possible to teach children entirely in native language, we must make at least one textbook available at primary level in native language. If not in all languages, then at least in major languages.

Are ethnic states required for this? 

Identity is important, but single ethnicity based states are neither possible nor desirable. Those who promote single ethnicity based federalism are only trying to fish in muddy waters.

To change track, let us talk about your role as a negotiator between the government and the Maoists before 2006. How come you, among all leaders, were trusted by both sides?

I don’t know, it may have been my image as an independent human rights activist who couldn’t say no. When the Maoists were still underground, then PM Sher Bahadur Deuba used to call me and say “We need to talk to them, please facilitate it.” His overtures were reported in the media. And then the Maoists would call me, tell me what they wanted from the government, and I would convey it to the government. That is how I grew into the role of a negotiator.

But you had done something similar before, during the 1990 revolution.

Indeed I had. Back then, there were more than a dozen left parties, apart from NC and UML, fighting the Panchayat separately. They were not even on speaking terms then, but realized that if they did not unify, they would not make headway. Everyone said the left parties would come together if Padma Ratna asked them, but I was not so confident. But when I invited them over to my house, they all came. In my drawing room, over cups of tea, the leaders of twelve left parties agreed to unite.


How did the unity with NC happen?

I suggested we invite Ganesh Man Singh, and everyone agreed. I gave him a phone call, and within twenty minutes he was here. He must have walked over with his cane. I remember we brought a chair for him, although all leaders were sitting on the floor. After one of us proposed unity with NC, I still remember him saying that it was the happiest moment of his life, since Congress as well as communists trusted him. After that incident, everyone credited me for uniting NC and the left.

You have been a part of so many revolutions, right from the Rana age. What is your reflection of them?

I find that revolutions are always led by political leaders. If the people rise spontaneously, it will only be a disorganized mob without a definite direction. For a revolution to be successful, it needs direction from persons with vision.

Coming back to the present times, you and so many others worked hard to bring Maoists into the mainstream. But even after such historic achievements, the parties let people down by now addressing their concerns. Why is that so?

This is just the latest episode in an old trend in Nepali politics. After every revolution, there has been a compromise, followed by anarchy, inflation, and impunity. The democracy in 1950 supposedly got rid of Rana oligarchy, but Mohan Shumsher Rana became the next PM, and people felt that Rana oligarchy was better than that. After 1990, we thought we had contained the monarchy, but it re-emerged stronger than ever before, making people wish for good old Panchayat. And after 2006, in any other country the monarch would have been killed or exiled. But we gave a palace for Gyanendra to live in, and it is like he is not gone at all, just biding his time. The resulting anarchy has many pining for monarchy.

The problem with our leaders is that they lack unity and purpose after a revolution achieves its aim. If they worked with as much determination in government as in the revolution, we would not be in this state.

How can this trend be changed?

Leaders who led great revolutions have proved incapable of performing tasks of governance. The youth must take over the mantle. They can be successful if they avoid the mistakes of their predecessors, and work in unity for greater good.

Padma Ratna Tuladhar


Among the things that leaders of our generation have been unable to accomplish is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Do you have a model for it in mind?

The TRC will appoint unbiased people who are not afraid to speak out against anyone as commissioners. The commissioners should bring together victims and perpetrators, and discuss evidence to get at the truth.

Will the TRC pardon every case?

TRC’s purpose is to find the truth, not grant blanket amnesty. But ultimately, as its name suggests, its aim is to get both sides to reconcile. In some cases, two sides may be unable to reconcile. The commission is not a judicial one, so it cannot take punitive action. The commission will recommend punishment for the guilty to the court of law.

But now there are several protests from victims who want war-era cases processed right now.

We have all read the peace agreement. It states that war crimes will be handled by the TRC. If victims start seeking justice in normal court of law, Maoists could also bring up cases like poet Krishna Sen Icchuk, who was tortured and died in captivity. Their concerns are valid too. Processing war-era cases right now would be opening Pandora’s Box. Instead, leaders should hurry up and set up the TRC.

Do you think Nepali polity is inclusive?

Just yesterday, a group of female politicians from all parties came to me to ask for support in ensuring 33% female representation in the constitution, since there are rumours that the reservation would be cut down to 22%. If Nepali polity was truly inclusive, would they need to seek reservation? We have had a sea change in our political system, but truly inclusive policies are yet to come.

Do you have any wishes?

I have always been without ambitions. In my sixties, I announced my retirement from active, elected politics. One day when I was in Pokhara, Prachanda called me urgently. I flew over and went straight from the airport to his house, where he offered me the post of speaker at the parliament. I turned him down gently, reminding him that I was not a constitutional or legal expert, and that I had retired. Madhav Kumar Nepal also asked me to contest the last election, but I did not. However, politics is not something that you can run away from, and I and Daman Nath Dhungana still work in an informal capacity to facilitate cooperation between parties.

Please tell us something memorable from your career. Padma Ratna Tuladhar

When the Maoists were still underground, people doubted their existence. Many thought I myself was Prachanda, and three Indian newspapers even printed my photo alongside news of Prachanda. (Laughs)

Were you ever disillusioned from politics?

No, never. Truth is bitter, but we cannot turn away from it. When I went to Malaysia, a Nepali recognized me on the roads and invited me over. Eighty migrant workers shared a single room, and after protests, they had gotten two rooms. Their passports were confiscated, and their movements restricted. Their plight made me cry, but turning away is not an option. Only by being politically active can we improve their lives.

What happy memories do you have of your career?

I have had good personal relations with all the major leaders of our times: from Ganeshman to Dilliraman, Sher Bahadur, Madan Bhandari, Prachanda, Baburam, to countless others. I look back on it with gladness. Also, the changes in our political system—from a monarchy to a republic—happened peacefully. It was unique, and the world has appreciated it. I am proud of this model achievement.

I have always worked for the rights of all marginalized people, from women, dalits, migrants, to indigenous peoples, and against oppression. I was jailed many times for that. During the Panchayat regime, I contested an election standing for multi-party system, and won. I am an ordinary person, not even a member of a political party. And yet, I contributed to such historic achievements in the country through my work, though it may be a small measure. That makes me glad. If I could do it, anyone can.




Interview was conducted by: Sewa Bhattarai
Photographer: Bikkil Sthapit

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Categorised in: Retro Chic