Updated: January 26, 2015 12:06:13 am
The much-awaited January 22 deadline passed without the delivery of the “people’s constitution”. The history of failure and deceit was repeated for the fifth time in as many years. But this failure was more disturbing, since the chairman of the Constituent Assembly (CA), the prime minister, coalition leaders in government and the two major opposition groups, including the Maoists, had kept addressing popular doubts about the constitution being delivered.
The deadline was set voluntarily by the four biggest groups separately in their manifestos, when Nepal voted to elect the second CA — and later as a joint pledge, as assurance they would not repeat the failure of the past. The House was adjourned at midnight January 22-23, after the opposition Maoists and Madhesi groups rose up in the well, shouting slogans against the government’s move to adopt the constitution through a majority vote instead of a consensus.
The House chairman and the four major parties — the Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) and the Madhesi groups — that have ruled together, or by turns, over the last eight years fell out after the second CA was elected. The Maoists and the Madhesis championed a more radical agenda, such as ethnicity-based federalism, a directly elected executive president and an autonomous Madhes province. This sharp polarisation and the obstruction of the House for the 72 hours preceding the deadline featured a ruling coalition as obstinate as the opposition, determined to bulldoze the vocal minority.
But a constitution by the majority, with diametrically opposite positions on many issues, including federalism and governance may only ensure that the constitution, if it comes at all, is shortlived. The international community, under the aegis of the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, came together to warn that the outcome of a divided approach may imperil all the achievements of the 2006 movement. India wanted Nepal’s actors to put their heads together and reach a solution on the basis of all the understandings reached and as per the last election’s mandate.
That, precisely, is the stumbling block. The Maoists, despite being relegated to third place, and the Madhesi groups losing miserably, want to dictate the regional agenda. Moreover, of over 40 major understandings between the government and the agitating groups, many contradict each other. The failure to deliver the constitution is also being seen as a failure of the international community, including the EU and India, which mediated between Nepal’s key political parties and the Maoists to bring them together against the monarchy under a 12-point agreement in November 2005. The Western powers are being blamed for encouraging secessionism in the name of supporting federalism by the government.
Open involvement by external powers has also brought federalism, secularism and republicanism to dispute. With the CA failing for the second time, the decisions taken by political parties at the peak of their popularity, even as they enjoyed foreign support, are now vulnerable. But how the parties concerned own their accountability and how the public responds to this situation will chart the next course — and perhaps also a new destination — for Nepal.
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