Why Nepals people and legislators feel they have been betrayed
All legislators in Nepal had strict instructions from their respective parties to be present in the Constituent Assembly (CA) building before 11 am on May 27. They had been told it was a history-making day,and they were the makers of it. But in the next 12 hours,they realised they had been fooled by their party bosses. The House did not meet,and the members dispersed stripped of their membership. They got to know from Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarais televised address that top leaders of the big four parties had failed to arrive at a consensus on contentious issues,including the basis of federalism. With the chances of constitution-delivery within the midnight deadline impossible,Bhattarai recommended fresh polls on November 22.
The inglorious demise of the CA,which entailed nearly 10 billion rupees (INR 6 billion) and four years in the life of a nation,came as a rude shock to them. All that leaders,including Bhattarai,did was apologise for the failure,blaming others. The international community responded with disappointment. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said,The work of constitution-making should resume without delay,building on what has so far been achieved,and the appropriate legitimate and representative mechanism for this should be found through consensus.
India,which played a role in bringing the current political actors together,did not conceal its frustration. But New Delhi still encouraged the parties to be guided by the spirit of consensus and peaceful dialogue in their efforts to transform Nepal into a stable,democratic and prosperous nation. India promised to stand ready to assist Nepal according to the wishes of the people of Nepal. Avoiding the mention of leaders,unlike in the past,was significant.
The worlds frustration with the big four parties the Nepali Congress (NC),the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M),the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) is natural as they had monopolised the political process for six years. The CA was kept idle and given no agenda to work on.
The big four parties failure to arrive at a consensus on federalism was advanced by the Maoists as the only reason for the demise of the House. But apparently there were multiple reasons. Till the last minute,they were divided evenon the words of the preamble.
The Madhesi parties,which initially demanded a single province incorporating about 18 per cent of the total territory and 48 per cent of the population,were not ready to concede more than two provinces in the Madhes region and fell out with the NC and CPN-UML which suggested at least five provinces in the plains. The past few weeks also saw a spate of protests against ethnic provinces on a scale difficult to ignore. They petitioned the UN office,and spoke openly against international donors for having funded and encouraged caste and ethnic groups aimed at fragmenting Nepal. It was perhaps because of this involvement that the international community failed to make a fair assessment of where Nepals politics and constitution-making were headed until the last minute.
For the Nepalese,the emerging situation is both a challenge and an opportunity. The big four parties were not only monopolising the political process but also ruthlessly denying any role to wider sections of people that favoured reconciliation between past regimes and radical pro-change elements,and that wanted adherence to due process in constitution-making. All this while,the real agenda was decided behind closed doors,without transparency,and the people,the CA included,were given no role. Nor did the major agreements,except the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,ever become part of the constitution-making process. Nepals major media and civil society kept their eyes shut even when aberrations and inadequacies were clear.
Whether fresh polls will take place for yet another CA is doubtful. But genuinely pursuing a politics of reconciliation,and involving every section of society that has been denied space in the last four years,will be the real way to a course correction.