Not a single Bhutanese refugee has been repatriated to Bhutan despite 15 rounds of bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan. The joint verification process conducted in 2001 yielded no fruitful results. Bhutan has not been cooperating since then. Chakra Prasad Bastola, former foreign minister of Nepal and a senior Nepali Congress-affiliated leader represented Nepali delegation during bilateral talks between these two countries. While talking to BNS-run Saranarthi Sarokar in Kathmandu, Mr. Bastola highlighted some untold facts about the bilateral talks, and also possibility of forming Non- Resident Bhutanese ( NRB) network. Excerpts:
How do you evaluate the Bhutanese refugee issue?
The Bhutanese refugee issue can be better understood if we analyse it from two view points: one is about the politicians or the political movement, and the other is about the Bhutanese refugees-their settlement, management and living. Although both seem political issues, conspicuously one is political movement and the other is the untold story of the refugees. I feel the condition has arrived that we take the issue on complete different ground. Owing to unsuccessful bilateral talks with Bhutan and fake support from international levels and the neighbouring countries, the Bhutanese movement and the refugee issue have become entirely two different things. It is on the same ground that a mass of Bhutanese people has been resettled in the USA, including other different countries. But it cannot be concluded that the Bhutanese political movement has ended only because the resettlement has occurred.
You had played a significant role from the Nepalese desk on the bilateral talks. Still, they ended up in vain.. Who do you blame for this?
It is not a question about who was not able to do something special. The only thing is the talks couldn’t be fruitful . No government can compel another government to act on the former’s will. Your concern on who had not been able to work specifically is meaningless here.
On which background was that made and how did it become unsuccessful?
It is not my part to comment on which background it was done; it has become more a subject of history. The verification occurred and more than 70% people were proved to be Bhutanese. And on this ground, I feel the verification process proved Bhutan wrong on its thought that the refugees are non Bhutanese. When this claim went wrong, Bhutan neglected to make the dialogues fruitful and conclusive. And not only this, on the pretext of the incident that occurred in the camp in Nepal, the Bhutanese verification team went back and the talks formally ended. After that Nepal could not revivify the talks.
When the verification concluded that a four or five year old born in the refugee camp was a national criminal, many analyses revealed that there were the weaknesses of Nepalese team also.
I have no knowledge about that.
What do you think-should the dead-lock be broken and the talks continue?
That should be the matter of the present government, and the present foreign ministry.
Foreign minister is from your party.
One will not be able to take all the responsibilities of foreign affairs only because he had once been foreign minister. He is not in charge of the past, present and the future. I said that the efforts from the government for further dialogues after the verification process were not carried out wisely. This issue has been certainly overshadowed. I would say that this grave issue should not have been neglected today despite several efforts made by the government in the past.
Often it comes to the media that the Nepalese team goes for the talks with good home works for putting an end to the long run refugee imbroglio but the Bhutanese team tries to get side-lined.
What will it do? Is there any significance if it is so?
How had Bhutanese team been in the talks with the Nepalese team?
When refugee issue is considered with respect to Bhutan, it is a highly placed national policy. They had done this with a view to balancing population. So they made this a national interest and they tried their level best to make their policy effective-may it be with being in bilateral talks, without speaking or keeping themselves away from the talks. With regard to this, there had been indifference on their part.
Not a single person has returned home till date and the third countries have been working for the resettlement of these people. More than 20000 people have already been resettled. How do you take this?
I have understood it quite well. I take it positively. They have gone there on their own will. They are not compelled. And obviously it is better to get resettled than living a life of refugee. Nepal was not able to solve this problem. Bhutan did not take interest. And the Bhutanese refugees and their leaders were not able to take strong initiatives for the same. Living a life of refugee for indefinite time is not appropriate from any sense. So at least being free from all sorts of circumstances, the Bhutanese refugees have reached to a place and situation to start a new life.
Being in Nepal seem more possible in launching democratic movement inside Bhutan. Will resettlement hinder this?
No. the movement is something different. It is more a logical thing and I don’t believe that geographical boundaries play any role for that. The movement inside Bhutan is inevitable.
It is heard that Non-Resident Nepali Organisations have been trying to get the Bhutanese accommodated on them. Is this attempt good? What do you think?
I said that the resettlement of the Bhutanese people in third countries is positive. The Bhutanese should remain as united refugees. Trying to bring them to the category of Non-Resident Nepali is absolutely wrong.
It is also learnt that the Bhutanese have been working towards forming NRB network. If they seek the support from the Nepalese political parties, what role will Nepali Congress play for this?
There is the role of Bhutanese politicians more than Nepali Congress. I have been telling this to them for sometimes. It is the matter to be known to the political activists about their role, the directions they are walking to and the political ideologies. What I think is that they are living a new life and this is not the end of the situation. This is just an intermediate situation and they need to always make decisions keeping in mind the motherland and its future. If it happens they will be able to preserve their Bhutanese identity-may it be that they are not in Bhutan or in Nepal or not having direct influence in present Bhutanese politics. It will help strengthen the democratic future of Bhutan.
(Ramesh Gautam from Norway has transcribed the interview texts from Saranarthi Sarokar, where Bastala talked with Vidhyapati Mishra, the program presenter)