Print Edition - 2016-12-04  |  Free the Words

Give and take

  • A practical solution would be to pass the amendment bill without changing federal boundaries and go for polls
- SARIN GHIMIRE
As things stand, the government seems to be in the mood to ram the amendment through Parliament, while the main opposition is hell-bent on foiling it

Dec 4, 2016-When the new constitution was promulgated last year, the first of its kind written by elected representatives, it was a huge milestone in our pursuit to safeguard the achievements gained through multiple uprisings.

But whether it was the 90 percent lawmakers who voted for the historic document or  a section of the society that chose to disown it, political leaders know very well that what ensued in the Tarai after its promulgation could have been avoided. To recall, about 60 people lost their lives during protests against the statute and we faced a gruelling four-and-half-month-long trade embargo that caused severe humanitarian and economic crises.

Sense of déjà vu?

Two particular impressions played a significant role during the promulgation of the constitution. Political forces failed to look beyond their vested interests, drenched with the fear of a political vacuum if the second Constituent Assembly, too, was unsuccessful in bringing the statute out, for which about eight years had already been spent. At the time, the Nepali Congress succumbed to its eagerness to promulgate the statute under its leadership. On the other side, the CPN-UML was itching to take charge of the government. And the Maoists, too, plotted to stay relevant and to recoup their dwindling appeal among the citizens. But it was the people who had to pay the price.

The ultra-nationalist front that the Oli-led government projected by undermining the sentiments of the people of the Tarai was paramount in instilling polarising beliefs into people of the hills and the Tarai. The leadership basked in divisive remarks, to the point where the crisis that stemmed in the Madhes was viewed by some through the lens of India. The trade embargo fuelled speculations about India’s role in the Madhesi movement.

At times, it makes us question whether our neighbours cross their jurisdiction in micro-managing our internal affairs. This, however, points to the waning ability of our political leaders to make decisions for themselves or for the country. We ceased to function diplomatically last year, falling short to explain cogently that the political forces were committed to addressing the demands made by the Madhesis and the Janajatis through constitutional amendments. The result was that our government blamed India for the crisis and India saw the government as the obstacle to addressing Madhesi concerns. The current government, formed with the intention to take the Madhes-based forces into confidence through statute amendment, was a result of the fallout. It also shoulders the crucial responsibility of holding local, provincial and federal polls within the next 14 months as stipulated by the constitution. 

Win-win situation

Considering the sensitivity of the matter, the amendment bill is a positive step in implementing the statute. The bill has touched some of the key political issues raised by the disgruntled forces. The citizenship issue was always debatable. The uproar created by rumours that the government was planning on allowing naturalised citizens to hold top constitutional bodies and that Hindi was being made one of our official languages has now been laid to rest. The representation in the Upper House is also determined by a mixture of population and geography, much to the satisfaction of the masses.

But the new federal alignment proposed for Province 4 and 5 has failed to consider the views of the locals. The mass protests that have followed in the region is testament to the serious reservations about the government’s plan to separate Hill districts of Province 5 to make it a Madhes-only state and incorporate the rest of the 

districts into Province 4.

If political leaders have a slightly longer memory, the unrest in the region should remind them of Tikapur’s carnage or of the crisis in the Tarai last year. And they need to ponder if they are making the same mistake again. 

As things stand, the government seems to be in the mood to ram the amendment through Parliament, while the main opposition is hell-bent on foiling it both in Parliament and through the streets. In such times, maybe a diplomatic approach of give and take will prove crucial when all sides sit for dialogue. This applies to all 

concerned stakeholders, both domestic and foreign.

The political course the country has embarked upon is a completely new one for us. The transition requires the greatest consensus possible among all the major political forces so as to avoid any fallout that could potentially question the main principles on which our constitution is based—a federal, democratic, republic. Considering that the repercussions of the current stalemate could be even more severe, political parties should be willing to compromise. Divisive and regressive elements should have no space.

Given the urgency of the polls, a practical solution would be to keep the seven states and their boundaries intact for now before forming a federal commission to look into not only the disputed districts in Province 5 but also into those in the East and the Far West. Such an expert commission, however, will have to be kept free from political influence.

All other issues touched by the amendment bill seem acceptable to all sides. The Madhesi Morcha has already hinted that they are willing to participate in the polls with their previous agenda of two states in the Tarai. The UML, too, has said it would not shy away from elections. So, there will be a win-win situation if the other three issues in the amendment proposal are passed and the issue of federal delineation is left for the future. This will prove to be a turning point in our efforts to hold polls and institutionalise our achievements so far, including the historic constitution itself.

 

- Ghimire is with the political desk at the Kathmandu Post

Published: 04-12-2016 08:28

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