NEPALI TIMES ARCHIVE
A long chapter in Nepal's political transition that started with the 12-point agreement in November 2005 to the April 2006 democracy movement and ceasefire, the Madhes movement, and the 2008 CA elections ended on 27 May. And it was a letdown.
Lawmakers who had waited all day for a political consensus were close to tears in the darkness of the BICC on Sunday night. "What will I tell my people who have waited for so long for the constitution they believe would finally guarantee their rights and dignity?" asked the crestfallen Dalit lawmaker Bishwendra Paswan, as he stood in a corner of the big hall long after the others had gone.
The damage has been done, and the past is the past. But there are times when the record must be set straight. Last month, Minister for Communication and MJF-Republican leader Rajkishor Yadav told me the final negotiations would be between those who stand for change and those who resist it.
Indeed, the final hours of the CA saw a dramatic polarisation in Nepali politics where all kinds of alliances were formed and parties, civil society groups, sections of the media and individuals took positions in favour of constitution with federalism and against it.
The narratives may differ and the two sides gave differing accounts of what happened to justify their stance, but by holding a public position to postpone the issue of ethnic federalism in the constitution against the aspirations of two-third of the country's population, the NC and UML have been exposed of their ethnocentric politics.
This has irreversibly damaged the historical image of the two parties as defenders of democracy and their failure to gauge janajati sentiments has irked their leaders to an extent that many have resigned from the party and declared that they would form their own party and contest the upcoming elections. History does repeat itself.
Pradeep Giri is a bęte noir even within his own NC for speaking his mind. He doesn't suffer fools and didn't mince his words when he told me this week that mainstream political parties suffer from a narrow worldview of identity issues. "The proponents of liberal democracy, represented by the NC and UML and the new democracy represented by the Maoists, both approached the identity debate through their own prisms and failed miserably," he said.
Giri's views go to explain the way subaltern movements gained momentum in Nepal, and how they are increasingly defining the landscape of Nepali politics. The cross-party Janajati caucus and the Madhesi Front were born out of their respective protest movements. But, while the Madhesis were able to assert themselves into a political block, janajati movement remained an off-shoot of an existing ideological debate and fell victim to the squabbles for power. The parties abused identity debate to hold the statute drafting hostage to their partisan politics. The neglect proved costly as it further radicalised the Janajatis and Madhesis who came together to put pressure on the parties. They hit the streets and mobilised popular support, but the CA was dissolved before a constitution addressing those demands could be passed.
Hapless CA members got a lot of flak for lazing about at tax-payer's expense, but the culture of dissent it established by challenging the frontiers of traditional loyalties and rising above partisan interests to fight for collective rights, is a valuable contribution that will make Nepali democracy much stronger in the days to come.
After letting the CA lapse, Baburam Bhattarai called for fresh elections in November. In spite of grave disillusionment the people will still vote, but the parties must first work together to form a national unity government. The Maoists and Madhesis must understand that as a matter of principle they can't, and shouldn't, go it alone. The NC and UML must also call off their protest programs and engage constructively in the government formation process.
Nepalis want the parties, for once, to focus on the people's needs and not their personal greed. A smooth formation of a national unity government is the least parties can do to regain the trust of their dejected constituency.
The dissolved CA has left behind valuable work in the draft that was readied for deadline which should not be wasted. A future CA can carry on where this one left off.
We have a situation here
Death of an institution, KANAK MANI DIXIT
The Constituent Assembly provided an example of how not to write a constitution
Conveniently left, RUBEENA MAHATO
Nepalis have moved on, but our communal communists are still dreaming of utopia