29 May - 5 June 2015 #760

Political aftershocks

This is not the time to get bogged down in a debate about forming a national unity government
Damakant Jayshi
The 25 April earthquake was so shocking that for the first few days there didn’t seem to be anyone in charge. But as the dust settled, two aspects became clear: responsibility, and utter insensitivity.

In Majhigaon of Sindhupalchok all 46 houses were destroyed or damaged, and two weeks ago they were just getting temporary shelters ready without any help from anyone. Like most survivors, people are getting on with their lives, not expecting the government to come to their aid. When the 12 May aftershock came there was really nothing left to destroy in Majhigaon.

The same story was repeated in Barpak of Gorkha close to the epicentre where 90 per cent of the houses were destroyed. The sense of self-help and community spirit was so strong that reconstruction began almost immediately.

Majhigaon, Barpak and many other settlements in Central Nepal are inspirations to the rest of us. A lot needs to be done for the people and places devastated by the earthquake, but the local people are already on it.

Now zoom in on what our politicians are up to. It took them a whole month to even register that there had been an earthquake, and even then it was just to do a photo-op with hard hats. They were too busy calling for the formation of a national government. Later, someone turned that to ‘national unity government’ after realising the current government, a duly elected one commanding a two-thirds majority, was already a ‘national’ one.

Because the call for a new government to speed up reconstruction and rehabilitation sounded so hollow, politicians and some commentators suggested such a government would also help draft the constitution by consensus. But how is that possible? These same leaders have been discussing the contents of the new statute for seven years, and they will suddenly come to a consensus because of an earthquake?

The opposition, naturally, is the one calling for a national government most vociferously. They were joined by some from the ruling parties who were missing the action. Where else do you find the call to replace a popularly elected government with some political concoction during a disaster? Not during Fukushima in Japan, not during the Kashmir earthquake in Pakistan, and not in Sri Lanka after the tsunami.

Let’s suppose for a moment that such a government is necessary. Who will lead it? No one has cared to explain how a national unity government could do a better job than the existing one if it is going to be the same discredited politicians running the show. Haven’t we seen how these leaders performed (or didn’t) when in government?

It’s not just has-been prime ministers excited about the prospect of a national government, wanna-be prime ministers are, too. So far, the discussion has centred on including UCPN (Maoist) and Madhes-based political parties in the new setup. If it is a national unity government, what about RPP-Nepal led by Kamal Thapa? If his party joins, what happens to ‘constitution-writing by consensus’? The opposition has scuttled democratic constitution-writing, and now is hankering to be part of a new government to do it. History sure repeats itself as a farce.

The landslides have begun and the monsoon is approaching. It’s not just the hills and mountains, we will see flash flood disasters striking Tarai as the Chure forests are cut for reconstruction. Despite reminders and warnings from experts for last 10 years, no government had seen the urgency of setting up a Disaster Management Authority.

The only way not to let the situation get worse is to appoint an efficient, honest manager to not just look into post-quake reconstruction but also deal with other natural disasters. Baburam Bhattarai has expressed an interest to head such a body, but although he may know a thing or two about urban planning his past may preclude his candidacy.

This unnecessary nonsense of a unity government has gone too far. It will only hamper ongoing relief and reconstruction. What we need is a robust opposition to monitor the government’s response to the earthquake so it is fast and equitable.

@damakant

Read Also

Epicenter of reconstruction, Tsering Dolker Gurung

Path to recovery, Anurag Acharya

Opposition seeks national govt

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