Only genuine devolution will douse separatism
The dramatic announcement in Kathmandu on Friday by C K Raut of the Alliance for Independent Madhes in a joint press conference with Prime Minister K P Oli that he was abandoning secessionism has thrown considerable uncertainty over Kathmandu’s relations with Province 2 under the new federal set up.
Raut’s announcement followed close on the heels of the RJP-N deciding to withdraw its support to the NCP government following the Kailali District Court sentencing lawmaker Resham Chaudhary to life imprisonment for the killings in the district in 2016 that sparked the Madhes movement.
However, in Province 2 in meetings and interviews held during a recent visit many people warned publicly and privately in interviews in Janakpur, Birganj and elsewhere that if the process of decentralisation and devolution did not accelerate, then there would still be support for another C K Raut.
As an avowed separatist, Raut had been subject to considerable attention over recent years, and was recently detained and obliged to appear before the courts on several occasions. On 7 March he was released from detention by the Supreme Court which thereby effectively overturned previous decisions by the Rautahat District Court, the Birganj bench of the Janakpur High Court, and by the Supreme Court itself on 3 December. Despite his release, the Supreme Court had also told the Rautahat District Court to continue its investigation into his activities.
Raut already has a significant following in Province 2 even if he has now renounced his commitment to separatism. Further delays and impediments to the genuine democratic transfer of power and resources to the elected government of the province risks increasing the demands of those with more extremist views and consequently the likelihood of violent protest.
It is clear now, nearly two years after the elections for the federal, provincial and local assemblies, that ‘federalisation’ poses major challenges in Nepal. However it also provides new opportunities for genuine decentralisation and for the devolution of powers, resources and responsibilities – if the central government is really prepared to pursue this agenda.
As one who was always opposed to the idea of ‘state restructuring’ to create a new layer of political representation and bureaucracy, while effectively demolishing the existing structure involving districts, village development committees and municipalities, I am not surprised by the difficulties involved in such radical transformation.
Most of the provinces and many local authorities are currently complaining that, not only have financial and material resources not been effectively transferred as promised, but the necessary redeployment of personnel required to provide the human resources has not occurred and, even more importantly, the legislation required to implement the necessary changes to the structures of government and administration has not been passed.
In Province 2, this concern is robustly expressed by both provincial and local authorities. Local journalists, businesses and academics in a series of public discussions and private informal interviews in Birganj and Janakpur expressed similar views.
There was some sense of rivalry between the two communities of the new Province 2, in part regarding the allocation of powers and resources as between Birganj and the Bhojpuri-speaking areas in the west and Janakpur and the Maithili-speaking areas of the east. The name of the Province is not yet decided, although most concede that it is likely that Janakpur will be officially named the capital or headquarters of Province 2.
There is surprising enthusiasm here regarding the greater responsibility at a more local level for the development of the Madhesi economy and society, even if all were agreed that the region remained politically marginal and economically underdeveloped, with generally poor access to health and education facilities, poor human development indicators and major issues of inequality and social discrimination.
There seems to be a determination on the part of those in office to make the most of the new powers and resources they still hoped would be made available to transform the region and achieve improvements. But there is also concern and anger at the slow progress of decentralisation and devolution. This is the only province which has a government and assembly dominated by politicians who are not linked to the newly created CPN, and they are proud of this distinction.
David Seddon is Director of Critical Faculty, author and co-author of many publications on Nepal, and currently writing a three-part book on ‘Nepal and the Great War’.
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