Madam Deuba Speaks Her Heart and Mind

Wife of Nepal’s Sacked PM on green signals of Feb royal takeover [Photos of this post will not be displayed] By Dinesh Wagle

Arjoo Deuba on garden

Arju, pic by Wagle, on her fate and luck, on her marriage with Sher Bahadur Deuba, on Kathmandu elites, on Democracy, on on Feb 1, on December and January. United We Blog! Exclusive

Arju Deuba has seen both highs and lows of life in a dramatic way. In those care free days of early and late 20s her life, Arju Rana never thought that one day in life she would be the wife of a man (and become Deuba) who would become Prime Minster of Nepal for three times and be ousted unceremoniously in all occasions. She wasn’t even thinking of her marriage. An independent and talented girl, she used to earn money and blow that up instantly. Hanging around Thamel, the tourist hub in Kathmandu, and spending thousand of rupees (that she earned) shopping verities of clothes was her lifestyle.

But that was then when she used to roam around Thamel and other hubs of Kathmandu with her friends having fun, shopping apparels, and sometime, “distributing” money. “There was no value of money for me,” she remembers those days, “It realized the value for money only when I gave birth to my son.” That moment, having a child, is what she considers as the highest point of her life. And the lowest? “Now,” she says, “My husband is charged of corruption which he never did. I am going through lowest point in my life.”

One day she found herself engaged with a top and powerful politician, the home minister. Within a year of her marriage with that man, the home minister became the Prime Minster. “I was so naïve that I didn’t know much about politics,” now when her husband is in judicial custody charged of corruption (which the Deuba family says is total false), you can’t see the same naïve Arju. She is much more mature and seems to have gained mastery over politics. When she talks about politics, she talks in such a measured way that you will have difficulties finding words to challenge her arguments.

Even though she comes from elite Rana family of Kathmandu, you can see a very much democratic Ajru in her. She talks democracy and, thanks to Sher Bahadur Deuba, has gained greater understandings about Nepal over the years. Arju tries to dissociate herself with the elites of Kathamandu and wants to associate herself with general Nepalis.

Her husband is in custody, Arju lives in her Budhanilakantha bungalow with her son, mother, father in law. We at
United We Blog! were curious to know her perspective on the recent events and learn more about her life. She happily agreed to our request for an interview and Dinesh Wagle talked to her in Deuba Niwas on Sunday (1 May). (Thanks for that warm cup of coffee, Madam Deuba!)

How have you taken the recent events?

I have taken these events on two levels:

1. Personal as a wife and a mother.
2. And as a citizen of this country.

On both level, I feel scary and terrified.

I think I have a good gift from the God that I don’t panic in challenging hours. I react slowly. That’s what happened when they arrested my husband in the middle of the night. Given the gravity of the situation, I think I handled that quite well. Their action was illegal and intention was very bad. My husband used to tell that government was a responsible body. So I thought they would not send police for a midnight raid in the residence of a former Prime Minister.

Now looking back to that night, I wonder how I went through that two hour long terrifying drama. There were 9 year old son and 93 year old father-in-law. My husband has high blood pressure. Anything could have happened to anyone. Even I could have fainted.

We have been hearing that there is terrorism from both sides (Maoist and State) in villages. I have never thought that I would experience such terrorism in my life. That was worst experience so far. But there is a feeling that such thing can happen again.

If this kind of thing happens to a former Prime Minister what about the rest of us, the ordinary citizens. I felt the helplessness of ordinary citizens. We ordinary citizens are nothing. It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, educated or not, live in country side or in town. I am very sad. This shows that we all Nepalese are not secure. We are already insecure; one warring side [Maoist] can attack to anyone at any time without any reason.

arjo pointing
Arju making her points. Pic by Wagle

I wonder how many of my hairs turned grey on that night. As a wife, I sincerely felt that they would kill him after whisking him away from there. Electricity and phone lines were dead and more than two dozen police officers were in our compound. We didn’t have weapons here. Well, there was a gun but I am not a superwoman. I mean who would have used that gun against the state troops. My husband would have happily gone with them in day time.

As a wife of a man who became Prime Minister of Nepal for three times and was unceremoniously dismissed from the post on all occasions. You have seen the highs and lows of the life. How does it feels looking back to all those years of your marriage to Sher Bahadur Deuba?

My life has been like a roller coaster ride ever since I was engaged to my husband. Sometime its in the sky, and sometime its down on Earth. It’s been really like that. I have shifted house 14 times in the last decade. I don’t know if its good or bad. In one way, I take life as it comes. We can’t make plans in life. We are in no position to control our lives.

So, from this perspective, I think it’s nice to be a Hindu. You blame your Karma (Karma ma yestai raichha bhanyo…) and feel satisfied.

Life has never been easy for me though it looks fancy for outsiders. And that’s not wrong. I too used to feel the same: Oh.. how would it feel being wife of a minister… how fantastic, you have nothing to do and you have so many other to do everything for you. But on thing hasn’t changed much: my professional life. I still earn my own money, look after my son’s education, and pay his tuition fees and manage the house.

Nepalese politicians’ image is not good. So people might think that my husband is a corrupt man because he has been in power for quite some time. But from family point of view, he is not interested in making money. He is not interested to know how the family is run, how we pay the bills, fees. He is not a family minded man at all.

Myself being a psychologist [with a Ph D degree on her credit] I sometime analyse his behavior. He left house [in Dadheldhura, far west Nepal] when he was 15 years old. He spent most of his life outside the family structure, in party politics. He got married when he was nearly 50. (I was 32 when we got married in 1994.) His lacks orientation toward a family.

When I married him at that age, after a year or two I realized, you know, this man is not going to change himself for me. I tried to change him, once forcefully.

So, rather you changed yourself for him.

Ya. They say matches are made in heaven. So it’s been like that.

I am also an independent kind of woman. Ever since I was 20 something, I started earning myself though my father was a rich man. I always won scholarships. I have never been dependent to anyone and I don’t like to be so. It’s been a habit of sort, earn yourself and spend at your will.

God played a good game here. My husband has not interest in earning money and I earn. When I married him, I was earning more than 40 thousand per month. I have never relied on my husband for basic needs. I think my father-in-law gave me the best piece of advice when he called me within a week my marriage to his son: “Do not even think that your husband will do everything for you. Whatever you have to do, do it yourself. My son is like a jogi (fakir).” For sometime, I thought what this man was trying to tell me. But soon I understood him.

In fact, I was somewhat worried about married life before marrying him. I am not the one who can go well with typical orthodox Nepali family. I had no idea about the families. And my parents told me that I could go back to them if I did not like him after marrying. With that assurance, I married him.

In those days before marriage, I was so naïve and didn’t know much about family matter and politics. I was earning money and blowing that up like smoke spending thousand of rupees in a day. I didn’t think about future. I could have saved lot.

You mean to say that you groomed your personality even under the gigantic shadow of your husband.

That’s very much true. In fact, he allowed me to grow up, may be, because of the age difference between us. He gave his ‘go ahead’ for all of my wishes.

When was the highest point you experienced in your life?
Giving birth to son [Jaya Bir Singh Deuba]. In our culture and upbringing, husband’s difficulties are your difficulties; husband’s fate is your fate. So, when my husband became Prime Minister for second time winning a majority of votes from his party, that was another high point in my and his life. His first stint as the PM was miserable. He didn’t sleep properly even for a night. Our marriage was a year old when he became PM for first time. But in politics, I learned, there is never a dull moment.

And the lowest?

Current time. My husband is not interested in money making business. But now they are trying to frame him up in corruption charges. He is deeply sad. I am ready to face jail sentence for other any other reasons, he says, but not in corruption. My husband who is very much honest man is accused of corruption. For him this is the biggest setback in his life.
I never though about living this kind of high tension life before marrying him. I am the one who loves to read, cook and do gardening.

Yes, people can complain on his personal habits like he drinks a lot, he doesn’t listen to everyone all the time. Yes, these thinks could be justified because everyone have personal traits. But to be accused of what you have not done is the lowest point in our life. The government is telling biggest lie ever. The truth needs to be come out.

You can fool some people sometime, some people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. I believe on that and I am sure truth will prevail.

Perhaps there were bigger fishes to fry than going after the Melamchi Project.

Well, political problem was eating him up. Maoists problem was there. So, for a Prime Minister, there was no time to look into such projects. He thinks that bureaucrats should be trusted. These days, economic situation has so much deteriorated that no one is coming with proposal of investment in Nepal from foreign countries.

You come from an elite family background and married to a person who comes from one of the most undeveloped part of the country. How did you feel?

When I went to Dadheldhura for the first time, after marrying him, I found the place very much undeveloped. Very few girls went to school, no electricity, and no road. Now you can see a sea of change. Many girls going to school. That’s all because of democracy and my husband. He has done a whole lot of development work in the region.

People advocating autocracy blame Democracy for what some leaders did in democratic era. Do you believe them?

No, I don’t believe on this notion. Vast majority of people in Nepal are for democracy. Look at the voting pattern in last election. 65 percent people voted. I know the Kathmandu elite very well. They are just talking nonsense as if people in village don’t know a bit. That’s very wrong.

Look, there is a serious problem with Kathmandu elites. For them, it really doesn’t matter who wins or looses the election. Kathmandu is the richest place in Nepal. You know why communists win elections here. Because those rich folks never go to voting booth to cast their vote. So, they don’t care about democratic process. These are the ones who take bribe and make money.

Myself with an elite background, I know the Kathmandu elite are never comfortable with anyone who comes here form outside Kathmandu and reaches at top position. They always try to find out negative things about such persons. They just think for their own good, for their own progress. They never appreciate persons from outside Kathmandu; they cannot take it positively how far they have come, from that remote village to here in Kathmandu. Since they cannot progress in life and spend their time envying others’ progress. Kathmandu people are not progressive at all.

They have Kathmandu-centric mentality. They think Kathmandu is the whole Nepal. Their horizon is limited; they don’t see beyond Kathmandu. First, they don’t visit villages outside Kathmandu. Well, if I wasn’t married to Mr. Deuba, I too wouldn’t have gone. They are more interested going to Bangkok, New York, Hong Kong and identifying themselves with people of New York and London and think that people in remote parts in Nepal are uncivilized and uneducated.

They should know that those big cities are not your country. This is your country. However fluent English you speak, you won’t be a New Yorker, you will be a Nepal all the time.

Such mentality is detrimental for democratic interests in Nepal. People with such mentality are spreading propaganda that democracy has failed in Nepal. People who have no idea about the countryside.

Of course, there have been mistakes in democratic times. But our democracy is so young. Can we claim that the Kingship in Nepal, which is as old as the country itself, is without problems and mistakes? Even a mature democracy like India has problems.

But elites are the ones with whom visiting foreigners interact. Foreigners go in their houses to have dinner and launch. And those elites talk nonsense while having dinner and foreigners tend to believe them.

Poor command in English language is one setback for our political parties. Not many of the political leaders speak good English. Lack in articulation means less and less interaction with foreigners. And for many of them there is simply no time to entertain those foreigners because they don’t have enough money for their own family and children. So, how can they invite foreigners and give them food and time.

Those who entertain foreigners are traditionally rich people who don’t have to work hard to earn money for family and have plenty of time to spend with visiting guests. Elites speak English well. So, in the English speaking world, they always try to sell the argument that democracy has failed in Nepal.

Even media was caught in this trap. They just forget to report about lot of positive things that happened in democratic era. They went only after negative things. But I don’t blame media as well because they too are young and are learning to find out their role in democracy. Even the king is young. I think we will end up in a good way.

How your son [10 yr old] has taken all these developments?

It’s not an easy life for him also. It’s very difficult for him. I have tried to tell him it’s all about politics. He is particularly disturbed since last Friday. He saw all the events in the middle of the night. He did not know what was going to be happen. It’s been a week I haven’t send him to school. Yesterday he asked when daddy will come home. He knows that his father is a political activists and has gone to jail before as well.

But he is matured for his age. May be because we was born out of matured father and mother. He understands things very well. But I had warned him since the arrest of Prakash Man Singh about possible arrest of his father.

Then he asked him, “Mammu, I know that papa has been to jail many times before but have he gone to jail after you married him?”

“No,” I said.

Do you know what he told me? “Mammu, don’t cry hai ta.”

I feel so lucky that he understands it all. He has gone through lot of instability. Bichara, Ghar nai katti choti sari sakyo! He hasn’t seen stability in life. Many things happen too fast. Last time when Maoists tried to assassin his father, he was staying in Mamaghar. I was in Kusma, Parbat for a project. He heard the news on TV and his father and mother were not there before him.

Have you told him about the history of Nepali Congress and Sher Bahadur Deuba?

Little bit. He is just 10 and I am sure he will learn more when he grows up.

How do you see the days ahead?

International pressure is growing. But even if you see our deteriorating economic situation, we need a breakthrough very soon. King and political parties need to hold talks. We need freedom of speech and release all political detainees. Political parties are not the enemy of people. There have to be dialogue. Killing is not a solution. My husband used to say, we should view Maoist as untamed family member. So, King should realize this. King is an institution. And that institution should have such quality.

Were there any kind of hints of Feb 1 you received earlier?

Well, yes. October 2002 move was the biggest signal.

Do you think your husband was trapped into a kind grand design to finish democracy in Nepal?

I think everyone was trapped in some kind of design. But there was nothing anyone can do much about. What would you do? Army does not function as per the wishes of civilian government. Everyone knew about the [the King’s] ambition. It was openly known to the people, to the parties. But ke ho bhane (the thing is that) people never though the bluff would be called. The world situation and aspiration of the people were not suitable to call that bluff.

Did you see Feb 1 in January or in December?

Ya, probably in I always felt kehi chhahi hunchha (that something will definitely happen). But I never thought about that extreme.

Well, there was enough time but there was nothing to do much about it. We talked to international community as well. And they too inquired about the possible move to palace. And they go negative answer. So, how could you believe that such move will come up by the same person who told foreigners that there were no such plans?

Was Feb 1 move same as per the hints you got two months earlier?

Well, the move was far shocking than what we knew. My husband was demanded with resignation. He had told, okay I will resign; parties should be represented in the government I do not care about my post, you have to assure me that you will form a representative government including political forces. But I won’t resign just like that. He told the king, form a government with the leadership of any leader like Madhav Nepal or anyone else.

How it felt like knowing that you could be ousted any time?

Of course, you are pre-occupied and can’t concentrate on what you are doing. You shouldn’t do like that.

Why there was nothing to do on PM’s side knowing that such things can happen to him?

What can he do? Yes, he could have given logics and presented his ideas. But what use of those logics for him who don’t understand them at all. Even foreigners have said a lot by now.

Yes, everyone lives and everyone dies, but what about country?

Which one was more unexpected?

The first one. (October 2002) because things were going smoothly. Even this time around, it was not necessary.

The crux of democracy is that if you aspire to go back to your constituency to face an election, you are forced to listen to people even if you are unwilling to do so. I think that’s the crux of democracy and people power. But in current situation when you are not going for election and face people, you can do anything you like.

Do you really think they will prove the case against your husband?

No. It’s all crystal clear that there was no involvement Mr Deuba in the case. In fact Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved the plan. I request the ADB to come forward and clarify the issue to Nepalese people.

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