Conflict over statute

THE NEPAL SITUATION : Majoritarianism cannot be interchanged with demo-cracy and over obsession for autonomy based on ethnic identity excludes minorit
Last Updated : 20 September 2015, 18:33 IST
Last Updated : 20 September 2015, 18:33 IST

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Nepal has once again plunged into a crisis as the transition from decades-long political instability to a constitutional democracy faces violent challenges from the Janajatis (indigenous) and Madheshi groups on issues related to federalism.

Since August 24, 2015 strings of protests, mostly spearheaded by the Tharus, have killed more than 40 people including eight security forces. Kalali district of the far western Nepal has been the epicentre of the protests. This could be termed as the bloodiest protests post first Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in 2008.

The ‘Big Three’ – Unified  Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-Maoist), The Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) – were in a seeming rush to promulgate the final constitution by September 20, 2015. The chairperson of the constitution drafting committee, Subash Newang, had also requested President Ram Baran Yadav to promulgate the new constitution on Sunday, which was done accordingly.

Drafting of an all inclusive constitution has been a long pending demand of the Nepalis ever since the monarchy was unseated. Any decision taken in haste and without including the genuine voices of the Janjatis might dilute the hard earned peace and stability in Nepal.

The major issue of contestation in post-Maoist conflict Nepal, especially sin-ce the 2008 CA elections, continues to be federalism. There are two levels of go-vernment in Nepal – central and the district. During the regime of former king Mahendra, Nepal was divided into 14 zones and 75 districts making the structure more unitary than federal in nature.

The comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) between the Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) put an end to the violence caused by the Maoist insurgency and unseated the Monarchy of Nepal.

Drafting of a constitution to establish Nepal as a democratic republic was agreed by all the political forces. In order to give logical conclusion to the peace process, a CA was planned to be elected to draft a constitution for Nepal.   Many of the Madhesi groups who sided with the Maoists during the insurgency split from the Maoists demanding greater representation proportionate to their population in 2008 CA elections.

Violent agitations by the Madhesi groups forced Girija Prasad Koirala, then prime minister, to strike an eight point agreement accepting the  delimit of  the CA seats in Terai and mid-hills proportionate to the population. The agreement also accepted Madhes people’s demand for an autonomous Madhes.

Since then, there persists lack of consensus over the federal structure of Nepal. The first CA elected in 2008 was mandated to draft an all-inclusive constitution for Nepal within a period of two years (May 25, 2010) was finally dissolved in May 27, 2012 after its failure, despite four extensions.

One of the major factors leading to the failure was lack of consensus over the issue of federalism. The second CA election was held in 2013 amidst blame game among the political parties. The second CA was supposed to deliver a constitution in January, 2015 but it is also struck with the same issue.

In its final lap of drafting the constitution, the CA is witnessing violent protest from the Tharu ethnic groups for last few months. It got triggered when the ‘Big Three’ along with some smaller parties from the plain forged a deal to carve out six federal states for Nepal.

In the Terai region, three far eastern districts of Morang, Sunsari and Jhapa were merged with the hills into one federal province and the far western districts of Kailali and Kanchanpur were merged with the western hills into another federal province.

If the media reports to be believed such demarcations were done in active interference of some of the influential leaders such as K P Oli and Sher Bahadur Dueba respectively. The Tharus, one of the most neglected and deprived ethnic groups in Nepal, are feeling once again discriminated with the new arrangements.

They have hit the streets protesting against the arrangements and demanding a separate province for the larger autonomy of the Tharus. Similarly, there are also protests in mid-western hills of Nepal demanding a separate province. Many of the Terai political groups and leaders have walked out of the CA protesting the arrangement.

The way forward

Nepal, at this point, is locked between excessive arrogance of the ‘Big Three’ and over obsession for ethnic and regional identity of the Madhesi groups. The entire political spectrum is deeply polarised, largely driven by ethnic identity.

While the plains of Nepal were into a violent protest, the ‘Big Three’ planned for announcement of the final constitution on Sunday, which only demonstrates the political arrogance of these forces. Such arrogance and exclusionary attitude of the ‘Big Three’ can only deprive Nepal from celebrating the achievements and cause irreparable damages in long run.

Majoritarianism cannot be interchanged with democracy. At the same time, over obsession for autonomy based on ethnic identity will not serve the best for the ethnic minorities. Mere geographical demarcations for an autonomous province will serve a little without constitutional provisions for individual developments. Over the years, it has been noticed that the Madhesi groups have developed a mindset of achieving political goals only through resorting to violence.

It was evident from the fact that in 2010, there operated as many as 30 armed groups in 20 districts of Terai region. The Madhesi groups must rise above resorting to violence in every small issues and stop screaming victim. It has been observed in the past that though the victim believes to have found some sort of power through violence; it is not particularly sure what to do next. All the political forces must come together to resolve the issue failing which the hard earned achievements will go for a toss.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Conflict Resolution Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru)
Published 20 September 2015, 18:06 IST

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