Nepal left fragmented by rocky political journey
Nepal's politics faces unrest, protests as long as it does not reconcile competing interests
As Nepal’s lawmakers give final shape to a much-anticipated constitution, sporadic protests have continued to rock parts of country, signaling that the new charter is not likely to resolve the grievances of the country's many marginalized groups.
Spurred by the devastating earthquakes that hit the country in April and May, Nepal’s politicians, after years of bickering, have hastened the delivery of a post-war constitution.
In early June, four parties – two ruling and two opposition – inked a historic deal, including a settlement on federalism, the main bone of contention among political parties that had prolonged the political transition after the end of a decade-long Maoist insurgency in 2006.
Last month, a government drive to gauge public opinion on the draft of the charter sparked protests, which saw three former prime ministers cut their sessions short to avoid clashes and resentment.
In the past two weeks, four people have been shot dead after protesters clashed with police, while local administrations have imposed overnight curfews in several districts.
Some political commentators attributed the turmoil to the political strides Nepal was suddenly making in a short span of time.
"Nepal is going through tremendous transformation. In less than a decade, we have gone from a centralized state to federal, from a Hindu monarchy to republic,” said Tilak Pathak, an opinion editor of the daily Kantipur newspaper.
"While the change from Hindu monarchy to republic was peaceful, to transform a centuries-old state structure into a different model was sure to trigger unrest,” Pathak told Anadolu Agency.
Nepal emerged from a 10-year Maoist insurgency in 2006 and held elections for a constituent assembly two years later, with the Maoists becoming the largest party and turning the Hindu kingdom into the world’s youngest republic.
The 2006 peace deal signed between the Maoists and parliamentary parties envisioned a constitution that addressed the grievances of historically marginalized communities and helped Nepal realize its potential.
The Madhesis, who hail from Nepal's southern plains, have been the most vocal proponent of federalism. In the winter of 2007, Madhesi leaders burned copies of Nepal’s interim constitution, demanding the charter enshrine federalism.
Protests broke out in the southeastern plains which saw deaths of several protesters. The vital lifeline to Kathmandu was blocked for two weeks, brining the economy to its knees. Life returned to normalcy only after the then-prime minister addressed the nation, promising to fulfill the Madhesi demands.
"The road to republic was relatively smooth because the majority of lawmakers were in favor of the proposal. There was little resistance. The bureaucracy and the army, the state institution, followed suit,” said Pathak.
"But federalism has been a contentious issue because for many it evoked fragmentation. It cast doubt over Nepal’s integrity; there were fears of disintegration,” he said.
Pathak pointed out the contradictions in the numerous past agreements the state struck has with protesters.
"The negotiators were keen on striking a temporary truce with the agitators. Those deals contradict one another. Fulfilling those means angering everyone,” he said.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Manish Kumar Suman, general secretary of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party, one of the several groups protesting the move, called for an abrogation of the draft of the constitution.
"Our bottom line is that the draft must be annulled and re-written. The new version should honor past agreements and should be based on the interim constitution,” Suman said.
Suman said the Madhesi parties had envisioned two states along the southern plains, the eastern half for the Madhesis and the rest for Tharus, an indigenous community who joined the agitation in 2007.
"For now, we demand that the man killed a few days ago in Saptari be designated a martyr and his family be compensated. If the ruling parties force the constitution upon us, we warn them of further unrest in the Madhes,” he said.
Suman said the idea of federalism was to ensure representation of marginalized groups in state structures so they have a say in policy making.
Nepal’s struggle to deliver a post-war constitution has been messy and long.
In November 2013, amid growing political instability, Nepal for the second time held polls for a constituent assembly — after the first failed to produce a constitution — in which the Nepali Congress and Unified Marxist-Leninist party won the lion’s share of seats, with the Maoists becoming a distant third.
Despite a series of extensions to its deadline, the first constituent assembly failed to deliver a constitution, leading to its dissolution in May 2012.
Political commentator Pathak cautioned that if the government did not address the grievances soon, the problem will only be exacerbated. "If the major parties that are working on the draft don’t quickly respond to these demands, these problem will only grow much bigger,” he said.
For Ram Karki, a senior leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Nepali politicians have been vague about the very notion of federalism.
"At one level, federalism was propagated as a substitute for socialism; that once it’s applied, it will end inequality and discrimination, and will empower minority groups. But in practice, it pushed the country towards identity politics,” Karki told Anadolu Agency.
"In this age, the ideal should have been a gesture towards multiple identities which we all aspire to. But the discourse of federalism felt as if we were headed for segregation. In this discourse, the real issues – devolution of power, empowerment of local units—were set aside. Instead, we ended up talking about not so significant issues such as demarcation and naming,” he said.
"Now people have high aspirations, which remain unfulfilled. In the long term, this will cause instability in the country.”
Last Modified: 2015-08-24 09:27:01
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