Nepal is in its deepest crisis since the people’s uprising in 2006 that ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that was signed between the Maoist Party Chairman Prachanda and Nepal’s prime minister. This agreement brought great hope to the Nepali people who were tired of years of the Maoist insurgency on one side, a corrupt and negligent monarchy on the other, and fractious political parties.
The challenge before the elected Constituent Assembly (CA) was state reconstruction and peace building. For state reconstruction this CA was to make a constitution that would fulfill the aspirations of Nepali people. Nepal was to have a historic transformation from monarchy to republican democracy, Hindu kingdom to secularism. Unitary system to federalism.
The leadership also had before them the major challenges of peace building. This involved furthering and implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement; demobilising, disarming and re-integration of the armed Maoist militia. They needed to create a system of transitional justice, give some reparation to victims of Maoists and state violence; property return, land reform and most important building a consensus on all aspects of the transition.
Five years after the peace accord many hopes are dashed. The Constituent Assembly’s initial two-year term, was extended four times and then had to be dissolved, in the face of judicial strictures. But several issues had been resolved after much debate, infighting and pressure from within and outside. For example, the contentious issue of how many members of the Maoist militia — the PLA — would be integrated and how many would retire with a monetary package was resolved.
Several aspects of the Constitution were also reaching consensus. For example, a presidential and parliamentary system on the French model was being accepted. But one issue broke down the process, that of what kind of federalism and which way should regions be formed and how the division of powers has to be.
The reason for this is not surprising but lies deep in the heart of ethnic, caste, political, regional inequalities of Nepal’s socio-economic structures. Politics of Nepal has long been controlled by the Kathmandu and hill elite who generally are sceptical of the federal system since they have benefitted from the limited development.
The people of the Terai on the Indian border, the Madhesis, the small ethnic groups, the Dalits who had felt excluded from this elite politics were mobilised during the Maoists movement and also after that. They developed aspirations for holding power in new provinces on the basis of a loose federal system since they felt that like the old elite, the new governing elite would also marginalise them.
The discord between these communities resonated in the State Reconstruction Commission. The majority representing the Madhesis and ethnic minorities proposed 11 provinces, with two in the Terai, and other ethnically demarcated provinces. They wanted preferential political rights and the right to self-determination. But minority members of the Commission wanted six provinces, which would be more economically viable. And no right to self-determination or preferential political rights. This led to a deadlock.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai dissolved the Assembly and has called for fresh election, pegging this decision on the Supreme Court decision not to give any further renewal. This has led to a situation of further crisis.
Moreover, there had been severe political wrangling from the very beginning of the CA, since it had no clear majority, even though the Maoists were the single largest party. All the political parties — the Nepali Congress, the traditional Communist party, the CP-UML, the splinter Madhesi parties and the Maoists have been grappling for leadership. After all who would write Nepal’s tryst with destiny? Whose name would go down in history as creators of the Constitution and most important who would be the new governing elite?
Prime ministership thus changed several hands and none of them has been able to deliver what the CA as a whole had promised the electorate, namely, a viable constitution. Of course, all groups are putting the blame on each other. The Nepali Congress have become close allies. The Maoists who always had two factions have split. The group led by Prachanda and Baburam took the decision to leave the gun and accept parliamentary politics. The leader of the militia Kiran has opposed this, and now walked to create a new revolutionary party and perhaps go underground again. Violence seems to loom ahead. All this bodes ill for Nepal and also for India. Several of their leaders, especially Kiran, mobilise people on sectarian anti-India nationalism, which is mostly unwarranted.
PM Bhattarai had clearly said that the constitutional crisis was of Nepal’s own making and India had goodwill and support for Nepal all along. Thus Kiran’s angst against India is misplaced and false. Nepal has once again entered unknown political terrain. The most rational way will be to go for elections and re-constitute the Constituent Assembly. The parties need to have a compromise and reconciliation on the broad framework and present the people with a constitution and amendments and changes can always come later.
India will have to be patient with this troubled neighbour. There will be the usual two positions amongst our policy makers. One that says that we have had enough of them and should intervene to install a government favourable to us. And the second, that helps Nepal through its democratic process.
Peace building and state reconstruction is a difficult and painful task. India can lead this process by showing its own models of resolving conflicts through compromise and negotiation. By strengthening and deepening participatory democracy at the grass roots and offering assistance for democratic change only when specially asked to do so through a consensus between the governments and the people in neighbouring countries.
Anuradha M Chenoy is professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Courtesy: The New Indian Express, June 22, 2012