- Without a fundamental shift in the way politics is approached, it is difficult to see a new constitution
Jan 18, 2015-
It’s near-certain now. We will not have a new constitution by January 22. In all probability, the parties will agree on a new timeframe, and their ‘agreement paper’ will spell out their positions on disputed issues. Not for the first time, they will express their commitment for a ‘timely constitution’, and not for the first time, it seems likely that they will miss yet another deadline.
This is because of a few fundamental reasons.
One, parties have remained dysfunctional units with their politics, priorities, and policies decided by a handful of leaders who tend to listen more to the partisan talking heads outside their parties, rather than to their own grassroots party leaders who have their ears plugged to their voters.
Two, sections of the ruling parties have over-read the mandate of the 2013 elections as a vote to turn the clock back and roll back the gains made after 2006. With this approach, the ground will get so polarised that this politics of negation will lead to mass disenchantment and even violence. An intolerant state will only radicalise the population and give greater legitimacy to isolated actors like CK Raut at the cost of moderate voices, who are far more amenable to negotiations and the politics of give and take. These voices exist both inside the CA and outside.
Unless these two important issues—one relating to process and another to content—are addressed, it’s hard to see Nepal coming out with a new constitution, either now or ever. And even if we get one through a vote—but without sincere effort at compromise—such a constitution risks being disowned by major stakeholders almost immediately.
In an interview with Kantipur on Sunday (“Every Nepali should have ownership of the new constitution,” Page 7, January 18), one of the most respected thinkers of our times, Pitambar Sharma, put it brilliantly. Attributing the current deadlock to the top leaderships’ (from all major parties) intransigence, he said the party leaders (sirsastha neta) have shown a distinct aversion to dialogue. As a result, both their parties and the CA have become hostage to the whims and fancies of these top leaders. And the tragedy could continue. We have these same leaders responsible for making the new constitution and their approach to leadership remains defined by opacity. Instead of using the CA as a forum for meaningful dialogue and compromises, these leaders come to the assembly with preconceived ideas, strut their viewpoints, and, instead of approaching subjects at hand with an open mind, resort to narrow-minded rhetoric which is aimed primarily at demeaning leaders from opposition camps and in so doing, they bask in their partisan glory.
If Nepal is to draft a lasting constitution that addresses the aspirations of marginalised communities, both economic viability and identity should be the basis for the new constitution. Sharma, the author of Unravelling the Mosaic: Spatial aspects of ethnicity in Nepal, argues that no one is demanding ethnic states and people who (rightly) talk of identity issues are being unfairly labelled as ‘ethnicist’ (jatiya). He insists that even the most strident among the ethnic groups, the people who have raised voices for Limbuwan in the Eastern hills, have stayed within the democratic framework. It is also clear that those demanding ‘identity-based’ federalism are not asking for provinces where one group will have more rights over others.
KP Oli, chairman of the CPN-UML, could have used (indeed, he still can) his good offices and the stature he has gained after a successful comeback by his party in the CA election to reach out to the opposition and minority groups. He is much liked and quoted by a section of the society, but his appeal among the broader mass remains much contested. Even more contested is his capacity as a unifying force to lead the country of huge diversity.
In all this polarisation, there was some light last week. The international community expressed its unstinted support for Nepal’s unfinished constitution writing and towards that end, offered a common voice. The message was concise and clear: Indeed, get a new constitution on time instead of dragging the political transition forever but while doing so, make sure you get major political forces on board. Often accused of taking sides, the international community has wisely kept well short of commenting on the content of the constitution.
The statement from senior UN official Jeffrey Feltman only emphasised that the parties should stay in the CA process and that the new constitution should be inclusive. “We are never going to prescribe what the content of the constitution should be and not even whether it should support federalism. But it should have all major four forces (three parties and Madhesi forces) on board,” an Ambassador told this scribe last week.
On Thursday evening, Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae delivered a message to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala on behalf of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and his own country (P5+1): that as much as the international community wants a timely constitution, it also wants an inclusive constitution, which will be supported by at least the four forces.
Sushil Koirala, sadly, is no Girija Prasad Koirala, who convinced a reluctant Nepali Congress and the old parliamentary parties of the long-term gains of mainstreaming a rebel group. Sushil instead has adopted a conservative approach to leadership and seems more intent on listening more to a partisan base rather than to the broader population.
Little wonder, the NC leadership, not least the party president himself, faced sharp opposition at the party’s Parliament Party meeting last week when he threatened to issue a whip against dissenting CA members from his party. The venerable senior leader Pradeep Giri faulted the party leadership on two counts. One, it had never bothered to explain to the party rank and file the basis of its position on a number of contentious issues of the constitution; two, now it was threatening to issue a whip in forcing upon them decisions over which they didn’t feel ownership. Pitambar Sharma makes a similar argument in the Kantipur interview about the misuse of the whip, or threats thereof, by the party leadership.
This week, Nepalis will rue yet another missed opportunity at constitution making, which could have put the country firmly back on the road of development and high growth. But unless our political leadership makes a fundamental shift in the way they approach their politics, it is difficult to see a new constitution being promulgated.
Published: 19-01-2015 09:17