10-16 April 2015 #753

Nearing the goal

The government and opposition have realised the futility of confrontation and need to end the deadlock on the constitution
Anurag Acharya
ANANDA RAM DANGOL
Looking beyond the senseless violence that played itself out on the streets across the country this week, there is an encouraging development taking place quietly behind the scenes. And this may be the key to ending the current stalemate.

For most of the 16 months since the 2013 elections, the ruling NC and the UML were embroiled in a covert battle for power. Under PM aspirant KP Oli, the UML had hardened its position on the constitution. And the hooliganism of the Maoist-Madhesi opposition inside the CA in January was rightly condemned by all quarters, did not seem unprovoked.

UML leaders were so domineering in dialogue there was a time when Prime Minister Koirala hardly opened his mouth at all during all-party meetings. Lack of cooperation from senior UML leaders, including his cabinet ministers, led Koirala to believe that there was an inside conspiracy to make his government fail. Koirala looked every bit the lame-duck we said he was.

But, even as politics on the ground looks muddled, the parties have never been so close to resolving the disputes in the constitution. It has practically been settled that Nepal will adopt an improved parliamentary system that will give more stability to future governments. The parties have agreed to a mixed electoral system with at least 40 per cent of the representatives to be elected proportionally from marginalised communities. The issue of having a constitutional court has also been settled and so is the matter of establishing probe committees to look into war-time atrocities.

Today, it has all boiled down to the number, name and the boundaries of the future provinces. The number now seems to be less of a concern, with both sides zeroing in on six provinces. This leaves two final issues of names and boundaries of the provinces.

I have often argued in this space that it is best to leave those things to future provincial assemblies. We only need to look across the border, where Calcutta became Kolkata and Madras became Chennai after five decades, to understand that cribbing over the names makes no sense. Negotiators must focus on the more contentious issue of boundaries.

To its credit, the NC has understood the political irrelevance of harping about a north-south federation. No matter how ideal it sounds, for political reasons it is no longer an option. KP Oli and his ultra-nationalist cohorts deem north-south integration necessary for national integrity and social harmony. But they are deliberately misreading the wise words of Prithivi Narayan Shah who underscored the need to respect the diversity of this land to keep its population united.

To fully appreciate the demand for federalism, we must first concede that it is neither a Maoist brainchild nor something born out of regional political ambitions of Madhesi leaders. It is a natural aspiration harboured by a democracy where people dream of bringing government to their doorsteps. If the Local Self-governance Act 1999 was a step in that direction, federalism is a further step ahead.

Once we understand this, it isn’t too difficult to empathise with Janajati and Madhesi demands for some sort of reflection of their identity in the future provinces. Nepal’s Adivasis and Janajatis in hills, and Madhesi communities of Tarai have a distinct way of life. Their rich languages, dress, history and traditions bind them to their territory. For too long, these diverse identities have been denied due space within the bracket of national identity. Homogenising the Nepali identity in the name of national integrity and fostering nationalism will not work anymore. In fact it is precisely that which has divided us as a nation.

The good news is that PM Koirala and his team understand this and are in a hurry due to their party’s convention. They have extended an unconditional deal to the opposition for dialogue, holding off CA proceedings for now. Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his allies only needed an excuse to retract from the political blunder of leaving the talks and going for a strike.

There is no sign yet, that the UML will play a constructive role in the process. Their disdain for the Maoists is natural given both parties contest elections for the same left vote bank. But Oli and his comrades must decide if they want to risk being seen as the lingering roadblock to an agreement.

The ruling parties and the opposition have run out of options and will eventually return back to the table soon. Let’s hope, they go the distance this time.

@AnuragAcharya

Read also:

Strike hits normal life

Stuck with you, Anurag Acharya

Lengthening the fuse, Editorial

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