Former Indian Ambassador Jayant Prasad

Federalism: Nepal’s final frontier
Nepal’s transition to a pluralist democracy faces a final challenge — failure of the three major parties to accommodate the legitimate demands of Janajati and Madhesi groups for

true federalism.

Greater consensus and not the imposition of an artificial deadline can help overcome it. ....... The Constitution is meant to reaffirm both the social purpose and the political commitments embedded in the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the 2007 interim Constitution, establishing Nepal as a federal democratic republic. ....... Instead, a revolt is gathering momentum across Nepal. The Terai has been on fire. Protests have shut it down for over the past three weeks. Forty persons and policemen have been killed in the ensuing violence. The present calamity is man-made, unlike the earthquake five months ago. The violence this time is because of a disregard for the interests of the Janajati and Madhesi peoples of Nepal, consisting of several disadvantaged and subaltern social groups, including

the Tharus, who are amongst its most marginalised communities.

....... political parsimony and gerrymandering that would effectively disenfranchise the Janajati and Madhesi communities. ...... Repression cannot be the right response to political disaffection. This can only increase alienation and cause irreparable long-term damage to Nepal’s national cohesion. The plan to ride out the protests by a display of force might, instead, lead to a bigger movement, as happened at the time of the Jana Andolan of 2006 and the Madhesi agitation of 2007. ....... In early 2008, he enabled an eight-point agreement accepting the Madhesi people’s call for “an autonomous Madhes and other people’s desire for a federal structure with autonomous regions.” ..... The social and political contracts he helped create must not be cast away. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala must respect the legacy of Girijababu, at whose feet he learnt his politics, and embrace an inclusive discourse. If not, Nepal might again face troubled times, and the half-hearted republicans and closet monarchists, together with other regressive elements, might drag Nepali politics irrevocably backwards. ..... In pushing ahead with voting on a contested Constitution, the ruling coalition in Nepal might be on the verge of squandering the gains of their electoral victory of November 2013. Excluding the 26 nominated seats in the 601 seat Assembly, the Nepali Congress (NC) won 196 seats, followed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) [(CPN (UML)] which won 175, together constituting a comfortable majority. The victors should not fall victim to a sense of triumphalism.

They won not because the Janajati and Madhesi voters rejected their own empowerment, but because the Maoist and Madhesi leaders did not deliver on their promises.

......... The Cabinet’s cosmetic invitation to the Tharu and Madhesi leaders for a dialogue, without the commitment to compromise, was like using the wick of a candle to light an electric bulb. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with Mr. Koirala on August 25, he called for restraint, an end to violence, and restoration of social harmony. He reiterated that Nepal’s political leadership should resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue between all political parties through a process of consultation involving all the parties.

This was not done.

........ The overthrow of the Rana oligarchy in 1951, following King Tribhuvan’s dramatic evacuation to Delhi and triumphal return, did not immediately result in popular rule. The Interim Government of Nepal Act of 1951 limited the Cabinet’s authority. First King Tribhuvan, and from 1955 his son and successor, King Mahendra, continued to control the key levers of government, making the country’s politics palace-centric. .......... The lining up of political leaders at the Narayanhiti Palace — for attention and office — undermined their standing. Monarchy played musical chairs with the Cabinet, with 10 of them constituted and sacked in eight years, until a new Constitution was adopted in 1959. NC’s impressive victory was rewarded with a dismissal the following year, with the Prime Minister jailed, political parties outlawed, and multiparty democracy replaced by a party-less Panchayat regime that lasted 30 years. ...... parliamentary elections held in 1991, 1994, and 1999; and local-level elections in 1992 and 1997.

Democratic consolidation was prevented by palace-inspired intrigues, and from 1996, by the added challenge of the Maoist insurgency.

....... With their common adversary — the monarchy — gone, the clashing interests of the major parties came to fore.

They expended much of their energy in the making and unmaking of governments. This caused political fragmentation, especially within UCPN-M, which split into two, and the Madhesi parties, which multiplied in four years from three major parties into thirteen.

CA members were not involved in the shaping of constitutional debate. The social capital accumulated by civil society in 2006-07 was largely frittered away. Compromises and consensus-making became impossible. ......... The first CA’s Committee of State Restructuring recommendation of 14 Provinces was considered profligate. An independent High Level State Restructuring Recommendation Commission then recommended 10 Provinces. Divergence on the number, names, boundary delineation, and division of powers between Centre and Provinces continued to hold up progress. ........

First and foremost, the Nepal Army, a force of the last resort, must be pulled out from the Terai districts.

Nepal’s Human Rights Commission has asked government to do so, while urging the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) to keep their agitation peaceful. In a stunning indictment of the police, the Commission noted that protesters who died or were injured had been shot in the head, chest and stomach, proving the “excessive use of force,” and violation of humanitarian norms.........

The triumvirate with a combined majority in CA that can ramrod the draft Constitution through — the NC, the CPN (UML), and the UCPN-M — must eschew the temptation to promulgate a Constitution that is widely unacceptable.

....... Between the completion of the clause-by-clause voting and the adoption of the Constitution as a whole, they must revisit the process and seek the broadest measure of consensus.

For a Constitution that has taken over seven years to negotiate, imposing an artificial deadline is incomprehensible.

...... The oldest and the newest Constitutions in South Asia, those of India and Bhutan, had the signatures of each and every member of their Constituent Assembly and the National Assembly, respectively. ...... Visionary leadership can again overcome the clash of interests between the ruling Bahun-Chhetri elite and the Janajatis, Dalits and Madhesis. It is time for Nepal’s political leaders to show this can be done. The quest for a new Constitution has reached the last lap of a long marathon. This is not the time to stumble and fall.