Mahendra Bahadur Pandey is not a new name in Nepali politics. An academician and a leader of the Nepal Communist Party, Pandey has been appointed as the Ambassador of Nepal to the People’s Republic of China in April. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and prolonged lockdown, he is yet to fly to Beijing. Amid the lockdown, we sat with the ambassador in Kathmandu to know about his political career, personal life and more.
Childhood in Nuwakot District
Born in May, 1948 in Likhu village council of Nuwakot district, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey is currently living in Koteshwor in Kathmandu since over last three decades. He is one among the five sons and seven daughters of father Fatta Bahadur Pandey and mother Bishnu Maya Pandey. Over the years, his family members are living in different parts of the world, while Pandey lives with his wife Bhim Kumari Thapa and son Wisdom Pandey in Kathmandu. His daughter Liberty Pandey lives in the US.
Having been born in a middle class farmers’ family alike the then Nepali society, Pandey used to study various religious books, particularly Hindu holy books like Chandi, Geeta, Ram Geeta, before his enrollment to school for formal education. Pandey, who had learned mathematics from an early age, was keen in preparing various legal documents. Pandey was admitted to the school only at the age of 14, where he first learned the English alphabets. He was admitted to Bhairavi Middle School in Grade 4. His excellence in knowledge prior to formal admission in school made him so brighter that he was noticeable among other classmates. Pandey, who learned alphabets quiet late as compared to others, later received LLB degree (Bachelors of Law) and holds Masters of Education degree in English from Tribhuvan University. The same brilliant student from Nuwakot later received a three-month course in Conflict Management under Chevening Scholarship of the United Kingdom.
First information about Communist Party from Tibetans
Nuwakot district used to share border with China’s Tibet at that time. After the establishment of Chinese Communist Party’s rule, many Tibetans fled to Nuwakot and started making a living. Pandey shared, “There was a curiosity about why those people are here, and about their lives. Later I learned that their government had ensured all the basic living factors like food, shelter and clothes along with health and education. But they were not allowed to own any private property so.” Considering the living condition of fellow farmers and needy people, he realized Communist Party is better, after which he started reading about stories and other publication of the Chinese Communist Party.
Nuwakokt district had only one secondary school at that period. Pandey was admitted to Tribhuvan Trishuli Higher Secondary School in Grade 8. It was then when 17-year-old Pandey was elected unopposed as the Vice President of All Nepal National Free Student Union. Being influenced by the Chinese Communist Party, Pandey continued both formal education and student politics, following which he was elected President of the Union the very next year.
Participation against Panchayat Regime in School Life
Being active against Panchayat Regime since 1964, Pandey came to the capital city Kathmandu for college studies and stayed in close contact with the Communist Leader Krishna Das. According to Pandey, the Communist Party was in verge of formal split after Tulsi Lal Amatya became party’s General Secretary in 1962. Pandey was not in the group of the then popular leaders Manmohan Adhikari and Pushpa Lal Shrestha.
At a time when Communist leaders were accusing each other of being close to India or Royal Palace, young Pandey stayed close with Krishna Das, who had remained far from both the groups. That is how he participated in the establishment of Nepal Communist Party (Marxist) in 1968 when Das was elected General Secretary. The party had 11 central committee members from different parts of the country.
According to Pandey, he was active in party activities and even published a newspaper named ‘Krantidut’, which was a party mouth-piece. However, their party did not support the then Jhapa Communist Revolution terming it as immature timing. “We were in view that Panchayat regime would end all revolutionaries if violent protest was launched in immature state and without enough good preparation.
Party’s Central Member to Teaching Profession
Along with the journey of central committee member in Nepal Communist Party, Pandey started teaching in Lainchaur School from 1972. The very next year, he passed the written examination of Public Service Commission for the post of Officer. However, he learned that he cannot pass in interview due to the poor police report issued by his home district Nuwakot. He was suggested to write a personal letter to Home Ministry reflecting his aspirations to contribute in national prosperity by supporting Panachayat Regime and King. “Just for the post of Section Officer, I was not ready to support Panchayat Regime, so happily gave up the government job,” Pandey recalled his ambitions. Rather, he was pleased to continue his teaching profession, which later got fixed in country’s oldest Tribhuvan University.
Along with the teaching journey, his political journey continued. They formed a secret group of Professors allegiance to the communist ideology named as “Nucleus” which was engaged in promoting communist ideologies and supporting the elections. He even spent few years in eastern district Illam for the same. Having been dissatisfied with the leadership, he left the mother party and joined Nepal Communist Party (Marxist Leninist) in 1976.
Meanwhile, he got promoted as an Associate Professor in 1990s after facing an interview with guest Professors from India. “It was very difficult to get promoted at that time due to political reasons. I was fortunate to face Indian Professors and passed the interview. I thought I would work in TU just for few years, but at the end, I worked there for 20 years and got retired,” Pandey shared. Besides his teaching career, Pandey has served in various educational institutions, and advocated and contributed for the quality education of Nepal students.
Pandey had to resign from Tribhuvan University to compete in the elections of 1994. But unfortunately, he lost with a margin of minimal votes. However, in the nine-month long government under the Communist rule, Pandey got an opportunity to work as Member Secretary of Social Welfare Council for nine months. At that time, he was already a full-fledged active member in politics.
District Politics after Party-Split
After spending a long time in CPN UML’s education department, Pandey got active in district party politics after party split in 1998. His district Nuwakot suffered a shocking loss so he decided to move back and got active as District Party Secretary. After two years of immense dedication and effort, he got elected as a Member of House of Representatives. He not just won, but also helped another UML member to win from another constituency of the same district. Following the victory, he got the new responsibility as a Chief Whip in the Parliament. From being alternate central member in party’s 6th Convention to central committee member, Pandey never had to look back. He became a Politburo Member in the 8th Convention. Since Politburo is yet to be formed after the unification of CPN UML and CPN Maoist as Nepal Communist Party, Pandey serves as a central committee member for now.
Foreign Minister for 21 months
Mahendra Bahadur Pandey was appointed as Foreign Minister of Nepal in 2014. During his tenure for 21 months, he recalls some of the major activities and achievements starting from his participation in BIMSTEC hosted by Myanmar.
“I knew that it had been 23 years of not holding any dialogue through a separate ministerial level mechanism with India. I invited Indian Foreign Minister to Kathmandu and held the meeting, which took several decisions,” he recalled. It was a time when India and Pakistan had a cold relation while the SAARC Summit had already postponed by a year. “In 2014, we hosted the SAARC Summit. Hand-shake of Indian and Pakistani Prime Minister was highlighted as the major achievement of the summit all over South Asian region. I believe the summit helped to enhance India-Pakistan relationship then,” Pandey expressed delight. Besides, he participated in various international events and contributed to heighten Nepal’s image.
Pandey is outspoken and of candid nature, which easily reflects in conversation with him. He recalls how in his initial ministerial tenure, the then Chinese Ambassador to Nepal asked him about number of times he visited China. “I replied that I have never stepped into China’s soil. I don’t travel without any reason,” he recalls, who later visited Beijing to attend to take part in a bilateral meeting. He invited Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is the current Foreign Minister of China, to Kathmandu and held a successful bilateral meeting.
Pandey is not in favor of requesting or begging anyone for foreign visits without any important reasons. To the surprise of many, Pandey visited China only twice, once during and once after his ministerial tenure. “This time as an ambassador, I might visit few places,” Pandey shared with smile. 73-year-old Pandey looks much younger than his age. “I don’t smoke or drink alcohol. I am far from junk food and only eat home-cooked food. That’s why I am healthy,” Pandey revealed secret of his fitness.
Politics of Coronavirus
Marxists or Communists believe in Science. Pandey believes that scientists and researchers are there to find out about the origin and reasons behind outbreak of coronavirus. “It should not be blamed over anyone or China as the US has been accusing. It is not man-made but a natural pandemic. I am sure the scientists will find out the cure soon,” Pandey remarked. He opined that though the virus was first reported in the Chinese land, but the efforts China made to save the lives of people is highly appreciative. “Many people are questioning about human rights and all considering the lockdowns, but they forget that human life is most important than any other rights. Countries should learn from the measures and efforts put by the Chinese government to contain the deadly virus,” he shared.
“Capitalist countries raise the issue of human rights and relate the human life with economic activities, which is very sad. China’s enforcement of lockdown to save lives is more effective than human rights. There should not be any politics in Coronavirus,” Pandey is clear about the pandemic.
Dispute with India on border issues
Nepal shares border with two giant economies China and India. There is no dispute with China regarding border as the border has been well demarcated, while the Sino-Nepal friendship is based on Treaty of Peace and Friendship.
Nepal’s latest inclusion of the areas like Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhara in the new map has raised a lot of tension with the southern border India. Pandey shared the issue should be resolved through talks between Nepal and India. “There is a particular point in border which is a tri-junction between Nepal, China and India. Once Nepal and India resolve the border dispute, there is a need of tri-nation dialogue. I cannot present China’s views in this matter right now as I am still in Kathmandu,” the newly appointed ambassador remarked. “But I am confident that there is no point for suspect between Nepal and China.”
New roles and responsibilities as Nepali Ambassador to China
Mahendra Bahadur Pandey was appointed as Nepali Ambassador to China in March. Since the Himalayan country imposed the nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 disease, Pandey is still in Kathmandu. Regarding maintaining age-old Sino-Nepal relations, he is clear. “Nepal and China has a friendly and trouble-free relation. My role is to make it stronger, more trustworthy and reliable. Not limited to bilateral relations, we should think about moving ahead together and raising common voice in many international issues as well.”
China is on the way to become the first economy of the world. 21st century is known as Asian century, and China is the one which can lead the Asian century, according to Pandey. He believes Nepal should learn from Chinese science and technology, education, health and development endeavors. “It is normal for a country which is being powerful everyday to help Nepal in its infrastructures development, but we should not expand our hand always, there should be sharing about technology, knowledge and experiences” Pandey says.
Pandey believes Nepal too should create such atmosphere for its development that it can help other countries like China, India and the US in future.