Yuba Nath Lamsal
With less than two months remaining for the promulgation of a new constitution, black clouds of uncertainty hover in the political sky of Nepal. This is because parties are still not able to arrive at a common ground on some national issues. Now time is running short and the job of writing and promulgating a new constitution would not be possible unless the parties work on war-footing. However, chances to complete this historic task appear to be slim given the lackluster progress made in the constitution writing and the peace process.
These tasks are being entangled in the cobweb of political intrigues and crisis of trust. The political parties do not trust one another. This deficit of trust among political forces is attributed to undependable and vacillating behavior of leaders and discrepancy in their words and works. Parties and leaders hardly practice what they pronounce. They say something and do something else in practice. This is the principal reason for the present political deadlock in Nepal.
Now parties have their own calculation and they are weighing every possibility out of which they are trying to reap political benefit. Parties have different priorities and preferences on different political agenda. Even then there is no unanimous opinion within any party on some national issues. All parties are divided on each and every national issue. This is the reason why parties have not been able to come up with their unanimous official version on various issues. When there is no unanimity within a party, it would be unwise to expect consensus and unanimity among parties of different ideologies and orientation.
Federalism is the most pressing issue that has kept the parties divided. The parties have their own agenda and stance on federal structure. Now federalism has been a new political lingua franca of Nepal and no party can go against this. Previously, federalism was the agenda of the Maoists alone but it has become a national agenda after Jana Andolan II as all parties have accepted federalism. The Interim Constitution has clearly defined Nepal as a federal democratic republic.
But federalism was accepted without comprehensive and extensive nationwide debate on its pros and cons. Leaders and parties, except the Maoists, were not aware what federalism in Nepal would be like. The Maoists had clear concept and vision about federalism and they pushed for transforming Nepal from a unitary state to federal structure. When the Maoists were fighting a guerilla war to abolish the monarchy and establish a federal republic, other parties, too, agreed to Maoist agendas including federalism to spearhead movement against king’s absolute regime. The Maoists raised the issue of federalism with their calculated political move. The Maoists correctly analyzed the political and ethno-cultural situation of Nepal and decided to extract political mileage from the existing ethno-lingual-cultural conflict and contradictions in the country. This is behind Maoists’ agenda of ethnicity-based federal structure in which they are successful and received overwhelming response and support from the hitherto oppressed groups and people belonging to different ethnic and lingual community. This was well reflected in the Constituent Assembly election in which the UCPN-Maoist emerged as the largest party.
There is no going back from federalism and all parties have, willy-nilly, accepted it. But they are being polarized into two camps—ethnicity based federalism vs federalism on the basis of economic viability. Forces pushing for ethnicity-based federalism are in favor of relatively greater number of federal states to accommodate the demands of more ethnic groups. The other camp is of the view that there should be minimum number of federal provinces in order to make federalism economically viable.
The first category of force that is pushing for ethnicity based federalism includes the UCPN-Maoists, Madhesi parties and various ethnic, lingual and indigenous communities. The second category comprises of the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and other parties. But ethnic and indigenous leaders of the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML are also exerting pressure on the leadership to change their stance and position and accept ethnicity-based federalism. Both the camps have their own logics and reasons for and against the ethnicity-based federalism. But the situation is slowly developing in such a way that the voice for federalism in ethnic line is gaining ground because of pressure from the ethnic and indigenous groups.
Republican set-up and federalism are the two radical agendas that the Jana Andolan II has established. And these are the historic achievements that have brought about a new era in Nepal’s political history. One more issue that the Jana Andolan II has settled in Nepal’s political history is the election to the Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution. All previous movements and struggles had been aborted before they completely achieved their goals. The earlier movements had been ended in compromise and the old system and practices were given continuity with some cosmetic changes in the political front. The 1951 movement had the goal of a systemic and radical change in Nepal’s political landscape. But the movement was aborted through Delhi Accord which dashed the hopes of revolutionary people of Nepal for a radical change that included abolition of feudal system and total transfer of power from the Rana oligarchy to the people. The power was simply transferred from Rana family clan to Shah clan and people were deprived of their basic political rights of writing their constitution and determining their destiny. The demand for constituent assembly to write the constitution with the objective of making the people masters of their own destiny had been raised right in 195i. But this demand was rejected in collusion with the feudal monarchy, reactionary parties and external forces. The revolution remained incomplete, which required another decisive revolution for a total change that would make the people the real master of their country. Even limited rights that 1951 cosmetic change had granted were denied through a royal coup in 1961 in which the king took over absolute power and restricted parties and their activities. In the name of Panchayat, the king ruled the country with iron fist denying the people with their basic rights for over 30 years. Deeply disenchanted with the king’s move, people had been organized for a decisive struggle. But the king’s regime was successful in dividing the political forces and people under various pretexts and weakened the movement. On the one hand, people and political forces slowly realized the necessity of a joint action against the King’s absolute regime, the reactionary regime also fell into crisis from within because of contradictions among various interest groups in the Panchayat and conflict of Panchayat with external forces, on the other. This paved a favorable way for a movement and the 1990 political change took place. In 1990 too, the movement was ended in compromise in which it was agreed for the retention of monarchy and establishment of multi-party system.
The 1990 political change definitely marked the reduction of power of the monarchy, which was taken by the king and his loyalists with indignation. Since then the royalists had been seeking an opportune time to hit back and regain their lost power. The parties mainly the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML failed to envision the looming dictatorial danger. As a result, the dictatorial sword fell on the political parties and the people in 2003 as Gyanendra Shah imposed his absolute regime. This incident opened the eyes of the political parties which, then, joined hands with the Maoists to overthrow the monarchy.
This was the beginning of the real rupture in Nepali politics that transformed Nepal from unitary system to federal structure and monarchical dictatorship to republican democracy. The parties now have the manadate to formally institutionalize this political rupture, which is the achievement of Jana Andolan II.
However, there is a new ruckus among the political parties, which has mainly to do with which political force is to take credit of this political transition. Every party wants to complete this process under its leadership so that interests of its class would be best protected and its influence in the national politics would be dominant. Thus class interests have played fundamental role in the present political situation which is the main reason behind the deadlock.
The clash of class interests does not seem to be settled so easily and so soon. As long as this situation continues to remain, the situation of uncertainty would also continue to exist in the Nepali politics. The constitution writing and peace process are closely linked with this class conflict. If constitution has to be written in time, the class conflict would have to be settled, for which political forces belonging to different classes, must make compromises and arrive at a common point.