JUMLA — After the Maoist camps and containers were emptied this week, the next step is the integration of former guerrillas into the Nepal Army. The parallel military structure that had existed uneasily through the peace process is now gone.
Nearly six years after signing the Comprehensive Peace Accord, the UCPN-M is now a civilian party. The Maoists, NC and UML have agreed on the numbers, ranks and the norms of the integration process, something that had bedeviled them in the past. Disagreements over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on Disappearances have also seemingly been resolved at the political level and the technical nitty-gritties need to be sorted out through side negotiations. Now, the political parties do not have any more excuses or distractions from completing the constitution.
Of late, the NC and UML have been insisting on the 'completion of peace process' for statute drafting to kick off. The parties seem to forget that the peace process does not end with induction of the combatants, and the establishment of the committees. The real integration at the societal level will only begin when the final pages of the constitution are written.
Travelling along the banks of the Karnali river from Kalikot to Jumla this week, I could sense seething resentment among the public, not just towards one party but the entire state machinery. The penetration of television and radio have kept people updated with what their leaders do, or don't do, in faraway Kathmandu. At a gathering in Jumla, people hurled angry questions at visiting Tourism Minister Lokendra Bista Magar and demanded to know what was taking the parties so long to finalise the constitution. They were especially displeased that foot-dragging on federalism was prolonging the integration of the long-neglected Karnali into the country's development mainstream.
The region has been neglected and abandoned by successive rulers in the capital. Most health and education indicators of Karnali are way below the national average. People here do not have the luxury of patience. "We want a constitution and federalism ensured so that the government comes closer to us and we do not have to travel for days with a delegation to ask them to do what we are already paying them for with our hard earned money," fumes Jagat Bahadur Khatri, a retired school teacher. It has been three months since the beginning of the new session and schools in Jumla and Kalikot still haven't got their supply of text books.
The fear of going back to the status quo of an over-centralised state and the danger of ethnic fragmentation have dominated the debate on federalism. But in Nepal's remote outback, federalism holds the promise of making government more accessible and accountable. The parties should grow up and get over their quarrel about whose agenda federalism is. Federalism is not the brainchild of any one party, but a demand that stems from the systemic marginalisation by rulers in Kathmandu.
With a little over a month remaining for the CA deadline, the completion of the peace process may have come late but not too late to finalise the draft of the new constitution. Both the Madhesi morcha and Maoists have shown willingness to openly debate the nature of the constitution that best accommodates everybody's demands. This is a welcome step and the parties must not let this spirit wane.
Keeping the anarchist tradition alive, the Maoist hardliners have taken to the streets. This is at best only a nuisance and not a major obstruction. No matter which side of the political spectrum they stand on, there isn't much difference between Kamal Thapa's politics and that of Mohan Baidya and Co. But they neither have the attention of the mainstream parties nor the people.
Future for a forgotten district
Contending with a tormented past, Kalikot works to reinvent itself