Print Edition - 2015-01-01 | Oped
Wrong side of history
- Refusal of CA members to say anything on moral grounds is equivalent to selling their own and rights of all others
Dec 31, 2014-
Baburam Bhattarai, Chairman of the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (PDCC) of the Constituent Assembly (CA), recently said, “I believe we have to show flexibility and choose the unpalatable option rather than the disastrous”. The statement came at a time when the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML had failed to come up with compelling evidence to justify how their seven-state model of federalism would help end historical marginalisation and discrimination, and by that logic, the conclusion of the peace process. It is not clear whether Bhattarai was referring to an option that would be unpalatable to the people demanding their rights or unpalatable to the political parties who fear losing their privileges. If Bhattarai is suggesting that their decision may be unpalatable to the people, then his statement in itself is not palatable.
Give and take
It seems that the constitution-making process through the CA, for the ruling parties, is not to deliver a forward-looking constitution by honouring the promises made to the people through the 12-point understanding, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and various other understandings signed by the government. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s current position is more like that of the businessman focussing on a ‘give and take’, disregarding the voices of marginalised communities. It is not clear what the ruling parties are offering to the people and what they intend to take from the people in return. It is also not clear who the government considers as stakeholders and what it has to offer to those who are not around the negotiating table—the Mohan Baidya and Netra Bikra Chand factions and the Padma Ratna Tuladhar-led indigenous groups, who are on the wrong end of the special deals. The demand for a new constitution through the CA was not to trade power among the privileged ruling class or to continue the same old discrimiNatory practices through different structures.
Recent developments in the second CA show that the ruling parties have made the public cynical of a new Nepal. Giving power to the people, empowering marginalised communities, promoting equity and justice, and by that, achieving peace, prosperity, and development, is that not what the Nepali people aspire to? Political solutions that do not deal with the underlying injustice will further polarise the country towards conflict.
Silence as acceptance
In the first CA, various pressure groups formed by indigenous, Madhesi, Dalit, and women CA members, which were very active in demanding their collective rights. There was a strong movement to support them outside the CA as well. But in the second CA, the NC and UML have prohibited the formation of any interest groups inside the CA and have even been discouraging their participation in movements outside the CA. The NC and UML have been very effective in paralysing the current CA members with a fear that demanding their rights will mean losing their current positions. Why is the NC and UML so fearful of these pressure groups? Why do they object to any CA member representing his or her own community and voicing for their collective rights?
The support of the CA members to parties that do not support marginalised peoples’ cause is equivalent to handing back the gains obtained by fighting to end age old discrimination. The refusal of CA members to do or even say anything on moral grounds is equivalent to selling their own rights and the rights of all others—indigenous, Madhesis, women, Dalits, and other marginalised groups—for their own security. CA members should support and speak for the rights of historically marginalised people. Allowing political opportunists to decide for the indigenous, Madhesis, women, Dalits, and marginalised communities will not be justified by history. At present, people’s trust in the current CA members is at a low, as most people feel that they are on their own.
No rest for now
The addition of 61 new municipalities by the government at a time when the central task should have been to draft the constitution has proven that a stable Nepal is not the priority of ruling parties. The currently existing around 4,000 Village Development Committees (VDCs), 75 districts, 14 zones, and five development regions are not economically viable. Therefore, simply transforming VDCs to municipalities in the existing system cannot be considered sensible action. Therefore, marginalised groups should no longer habituate themselves to be enraptured by empty words.
The issues of the indigenous, Madhesis, women, Dalits, and marginalised communities are one of the biggest challenges to the present government. The refusal to focus on ending age-old discrimination by the governing coalition is not just a difference of opinion; it is an action morally indistinguishable from a violent act meant to enrich oneself and improperly advance favourites. Therefore, this is not the time to get disconnected from burning day-to-day concerns of the marginalised and the underprivileged. It is a reminder not to forget the way society makes decisions and distributes income, jobs, healthcare, education, opportunity, and what frustrated ambition looks like in the eyes of a young unemployed person or how people have been tolerating all of this for very long.
Do people still want a handful of opportunist leaders to decide the fate of Nepal? Isn’t there a fierce urgency now to rise for justice that is long overdue? It would be fatal for marginalised communities to overlook the urgency of the moment. Now is the time to make Nepal responsive to people’s aspirations for equity, justice, and peace.
Yangchen Sherpa is researcher at the University of Oslo, Norway
Published: 01-01-2015 09:09