When the Constituent Assembly was dissolved at midnight on 27 May, there was general fear that the resulting vacuum would lead to anarchy on the streets. Hate speech on both sides was building up to an unpredictable scenario.
A lot has changed since then. Three months later, despite not having a new constitution the people are generally relieved that the tensions have eased and the country has moved on. There may be a political vacuum, the prime minister may be a caretaker, there may be no parliament and elections may be uncertain, but the people aren't complaining. Burdened by inflation, corruption, strikes, and power cuts even during the monsoon, most Nepalis are trying to just get by and don't seem even remotely interested in what the politicos are upto.
After sniping at each other for three months, the political parties have come back in full circle. They threatened each other, conducted competing mass meetings, and now the need for give and take seems to have finally sunk in. They may still snarl at each other through the media, but the leaders of the NC, UML, UCPN-M, and Madhesi Front know that ever since the CA was dissolved the country has been moving in the wrong direction.
The mutual hatred of the leaders, their clashing ambitions and larger than life egos have hindered reconciliation and dialogue. It is not that they don't realise the inevitable need to engage sooner than later, but the possibility of being seen as weak and losing electoral footing is a strong deterrence in politics.
The two volume report by International Crisis Group (ICG) released this week notes in summary that the whole exercise of the senior leaders in the last four years has been 'purportedly to save the peace process, but often about their personal futures or getting a share of the government'. It questions the role of the two oldest parties, the NC and UML, for refusing to engage with the broader social base and only appeasing particular caste and class. By creating an 'ethnic bogey' and fear mongering about identity, the two parties have done injustice to their own long standing historical legacy.
The young leaders within their own ranks have expressed displeasure over the way leadership has failed to clarify its position on federalism and contributed to the impasse.
After several rounds of lobbying, the leaders have agreed to sit for talks and Wednesday's all party meeting handed over the responsibility of deciding on the future of the CA to the same top leaders. But before they come to a decision, there must be an agreement on the issues that led to the demise of the CA in May, with a particular focus on federalism.
The debate on federalism so far has taken place from two extreme positions without sufficiently exploring the middle ground for agreement.
There is a need to address the genuine fears as well as misgivings about federalism on both sides and forge a middle-way that is acceptable to all. One way of doing this, the ICG report suggests, is by making future negotiations more inclusive and transparent. This is not a bad idea, since many democratic countries have provisions of broadcasting their legislative proceedings live in the media.
In the absence of an elected body, the all party meetings will take important decisions regarding the future of this country. So media coverage will not just ensure accountability, it may facilitate positive dialogue and prevent an endless blame game.
The politicians should know by now that there is no other legitimate way of promulgating the constitution except through a CA. The social movements that have kept democracy vibrant even in the absence of an elected body have underlined this.
The question is, are the alpha male politicians of this country willing to put aside their differences for once and seek a viable formula on identity federalism that is acceptable to all?
One year itch
If the opposition cannot agree on a prime ministerial candidate there is no sense asking the prime minister to step down