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Nepal: Transition Without Transformation – OpEd

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While both the political process and our nation as a whole are crippled by protests, killings and shootings that have followed the Kailali mass killings, the government has decided to go ahead and promulgate the long-awaited constitution on Sunday. Our armed forces, moreover, have been allowed off the leash with a shoot-on-sight licence. People from different segments of society are demanding more by way of identity, powers and rights. Many demands have emerged for ethnic self-determination, for ethnic federalism, for a Hindu state, and, most importantly, for an autonomous Madhes region. What has gone wrong? Who is responsible? Will it be possible to meet all the current demands, and are they all genuine? Are they all about rights or should they also be about duties and responsibilities? Is the state listening to them? What happens next?

We as a nation have been fighting for justice, equality and a stable genuine democracy for almost a generation now. What have we achieved so far? The nation has been subject to little more than a kleptocratic regime until now. In all the political changes, a handful of people have controlled everything, and those close to the powers that be were the only true beneficiaries of a faulty system.

Now there are dissenting voices from different segments of society over the draft constitution: they demand change; they demand that their rights be included; and they demand that their voices be heard. Recently, the ‘now or never’ approach seems to be dictating the everyday politics in our country. The demands themselves are a natural part of the political process, but the violence is not. However, the state should listen to all without prejudice.

Participation by all stakeholders in the constitution-making process is recognized around the world as being essential for any constitution’s legitimacy: it is promoted today as both a right and a necessity. The process should involve serious discussion of conflicts, interests, preferences, and needs. It should be accompanied by a massive effort to involve the public before, during and after the drafting stage. Many questions need to be asked today: what is the value of any constitution introduced at gunpoint? Can the dissenting voices be ignored and the new constitution signed regardless? How long will it survive? Is it possible to transform political transition into a stable democracy without transforming also attitudes, styles and the way of life, especially the dominant and repressive attitudes of the leaders of our political parties? This article includes a few important points for us all to think about.

Firstly, after the Kailali massacre, many so-called leaders and the political parties rapidly blamed each other as usual and some even suggested a grand design by Indian and western powers behind the incident. The blame games between political parties and among leaders within the parties take place every day in our political lives. Blaming each other must stop. When shall we learn to be responsible? The Kailali and subsequent incidents indicate many more things. First, they are the outcome of the gross failure of our government, its leadership and so-called bosses of the political parties to place the nation and the national interest above their own partisan interests while finalizing the draft constitution. Second, they result from the failure of our incompetent leaders to cooperate with all segments of society and to listen to their genuine demands and needs. How then can we expect a good constitution from them? Third, our political forces have deceived the people, and the country has been made hostage to political turmoil once again. Most importantly, the constitution making process has been hijacked by a handful of leaders only to serve their petty political interests. The political parties and their leaders seem incapable of learning from past mistakes. Not only do we lack honest, competent leaders with vision but also clerks and bureaucrats as well. This is an inevitable outcome of trying to address a long political transition without transforming our ideals, attitudes and way of life. A paradigm shift in attitudes is now more vital than ever before.

Secondly, without addressing the voices and demands of the Terai-Madhesi, Tharus, Dalits, Jana Jaaties and hardliner Hindus, the constitution and even the processes of rebuilding the nation will be incomplete, futile and hostile. It will take the long on-going peace process in a wrong direction, and the very essence of a new constitution will have failed. The outcome of all our revolutions for democracy, justice and an equal society will be dead. The state must not ignore anyone. Their genuine demands must be noted and taken into account. Most importantly, sooner or later, the historic roots of the Madhesi problems must be identified and addressed. There is no escape at all. The Madhesh carries most important geo-political values for the country. It is the sensitive zone for us. Madhes is the heart and soul of our country. The demands and voices of the Madhesh must be given a proper space in the political process. Their sentiments, emotions and dignity must be respected. Are they not citizens of Nepal? The dominant, oppressive, and suppressive attitudes of Kathmandu must change. The distance between Madhes and Kathmandu must be reduced, and this is the time for that change. The processes must be continued.

Finally, the recent political developments do not spread optimism. If we wish to stop further bloodshed in the country, the recent mass killings at Tikapur and elsewhere must not be taken lightly. All incidents, violence and killings must be recorded and the truth established as to what happened where. Violence, killings and destruction must never become a political tool for change. These acts must be declared a crime against the people and humanity as whole. The lives of individuals must not be treated as cheap. The recent violence and killings in the name of politics is a byproduct of the continuing culture of impunity and lawlessness. Whether we call the Kailali incident genocide, a crime against humanity or simply communal violence, it is a crime against the right to life of the individuals concerned, and both sides should be brought within the law and punished.

The functioning of democracy demands a continuous discussion that addresses all dissenting voices. The technically qualified elite together with a few politicians must not dictate the decision-making process on matters of national interest in the future. Rather, conceptualization and practice should be developed by way of open-ended conversation between all members of the political community. For that we must now transform our narrow and technocratic attitudes and place the future of our country above our individual and partisan interests. The final constitution of our country should come to be recognized as being people-owned, but that does not seem to be happening. A constitution that is signed at gunpoint will not solve political problems and the ongoing turmoil. It should be opening new doors and platforms for further political conversation on dissenting issues between all political stakeholders. In that case the newborn constitution could be celebrated as a victory by all political forces who would then seek peaceful solutions within it.

The Kailali and subsequent violence everywhere has started a very bad trend in our country. It is hard to believe that we are killing each other in the name of political change. We are beginning to hate each other just in order to secure more rights. Where is the humanity? Where is that long established social harmony, tolerance and brotherhood that existed for centuries in our country? What has happened to us? More communal violence may be on its way if the state and so-called incompetent leaders fail to deal with the issues with incredible care. We must take this issue extremely seriously if we really wish to transform the political transition into a stable democracy with genuine peace.

Difficult times demand difficult measures, a deeper commitment, and a population that stays calm and sensible. The dialogue between dissenting forces must continue. Dialogue and co-operation are the only option. The state must create an enabling environment for political talks with all stakeholders. The first and foremost responsibility of the government even after the promulgation of the constitution must be to bring opposing voices into the mainstream. If their demands are genuine and pragmatic, they must be addressed without conditions. The new constitution promised for Sunday must be seen by all citizens truly as the means of achieving greater ends.

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Dr. Gyan Basnet

Dr. Gyan Basnet, who holds a Ph.D. and an LL.M degree in International Human Rights Law at Lancaster University, U.K, is a Prominent Columnist, Lecturer & Researcher in International Human Rights Law and a Human Rights and Constitutional Law Lawyer in the Supreme Court and Subordinate Court of Nepal. Email: [email protected]

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