Nepal's political parties painted themselves into a corner, and are now trying to buy three more months to be rescued. A citizenry increasingly worried about ethnic radicalism on the streets would have played along in panic, had the Supreme Court not issued an interim order on Thursday.
The NC and UML point fingers at the Maoists and Madhesis, but their willingness to trade CA extension for power while simultaneously mouthing 'consensus' has already exposed their bankrupt politics.
There are still three days remaining in which, if there is broad agreement, the parties can bring out a preliminary draft that could accommodate a provision of giving continuity to the existing house in a new form. That is the only way to constitutionally avoid the void, but if parties seem resigned to setting a bad precedent it will not only lower the stature of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and his government, but delegitimise their political agency which will be an even bigger blot on Nepali politics.
Behind the façade of consensus the parties spent precious months trying to outwit one another to get a better foothold ahead of the elections. The constitution was never their bottom line because if it was, things would never have come to this. After four years of bargaining, they have used the media to take the country to a dangerous level of ethnic street polarisation. The Maoists are guilty of stoking the flames, but the other parties have added fuel to the fire with their status quo ideology.
It may be irrelevant to assess what happened in the past weeks because damage has already been done. Whether rival Far-West movements were orchestrated by a Brahmin-dominated leadership, or protests by Janajatis and Tharus fuelled by the Maoists, is now moot. And if the parties had hoped to gain an upper hand by unleashing the ethnic genie, they haven't succeeded.
Amid reports of hooliganism and vandalism, call from the streets for a political solution acceptable to all went unreported. The media got sucked into the debate with fracas at the Reporters' Club, and the focus turned on the caste domination of the media itself. By exaggerating the statements of a few loud hate-mongers, the media became a part of the problem.
On the final day of the three day Janajati strike this week, I met three young Rai women who had Kirat Pradesh tattooed on their faces, dancing at a demonstration in Koteswor. I asked them what they thought about the nation going into ethnic federalism and whether they felt it could upset Nepal's social harmony. One of them replied, "Can you please print in bold letters that we are not asking for ethnic federalism. We are only demanding that our identities be recognised in the states where we have lived for generations. How would that upset social harmony?"
The conceptual report prepared by the CA's State Restructuring and Power Devolution Committee in 2009 has clearly set five bases for defining identity, of which ethnic identity was only one. The debate on identity has until now been so misconstrued and misunderstood that it has left little room for negotiation.
The nine-point agreement between Janajatis and the government on Tuesday which defines identity in the light of the 2009 report has opened up a window of opportunity and if the parties can work on State Restructuring Commission's report by taking into consideration the committee's guidelines, things could still be worked out. But if parties begin by setting pre-conditions, they will not only disappoint the people, but also erode their faith in the institution of politics.
Travelling length and breadth of the valley on foot during the strike, I met men and women, young and old, dressed in their traditional attire singing and dancing to folk music. At a time when hate speech peppers social and mainstream media, I must confess I have never seen such a diverse celebration of Nepali nationhood. We keep extolling this country's 'unity in diversity', maybe it's time we appreciate the beauty of this diversity instead of constantly demonising it. After all, we are all Nepalis trying to be Nepalis in our own terms.
The parties must work round the clock in the next three days to ensure that the statute, even in its draft state, is declared on 27 May. It is an evolving document that can be worked on as we go along. There will be few angry fists on the streets again, but it is now time for a closure.
I am Amrit Nepali, AMRIT GURUNG
From Syangja to Sydney, from Fikkal to Finland, the silent majority of Nepalis don't agree with the division of Nepal
National identity crisis, RUBEENA D SHRESTHA
At a time when we should be valuing our multiple, intersecting identities, we are being told to choose a single, overarching definition of ourselves