By Nishchal N Pandey
Nepal is yet again in international headlines, and yet again, for the wrong reasons. Without completing its primary task, the first ever Constituent Assembly (CA) elected to draft a democratic, republican and a federal constitution was dissolved at midnight on 27 May 2012. With billions of rupees spent, 4 years gone to waste, and some MPs even arrested on criminal charges ranging from selling their diplomatic passports to abducting businessmen – there was little sympathy in the common-man for what was infamously known as the ‘white elephant’. It is now dead. In an era of the Arab spring, we witnessed a Nepali winter.
There was much public rage for this hollow exercise expressed in social media like Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere through demeaning cartoons and angry comments over the style of functioning of the CA not only by young students but by professionals ranging from former government secretaries to dentists, academics and film stars. People were irrevocably elated when the Supreme Court declared last week that another extension of the CA would not be permitted.
Unfortunately, this takes the country back to square one and in the threshold of another sequel of instability and violence. A number of critical concerns need to be weighed. There is a real risk of letting the present legal vacuum and constitutional abyss to continue without a clear road-map of where to go. Delay in the formation of a ‘national unity government’ will only exacebate the problem and divide the already restless nation into ethnic lines. Leaders of major political parties need to understand the gravity of the situation and come together for the sake of communal harmony and tolerance; otherwise their already stained public image will diminish further. All power centres of the country need to be on the same page to restore normalcy and forge consensus at least on the fundamental parameters of what to do next.
Nepal has had 6 constitutions in the last 6 decades and 20 governments in the last 20 years. During the course of the people’s war, the CPN (Maoists) iterated that all previous constitutions were drafted by a committee of individuals but never by the elected representatives of a sovereign people. Today, this 64- year old promise of a constitution drafted by an elected assembly lies in tatters with a few threads here and a few threads there. There is no guarantee that another assembly to be elected in the future will not meet the same fate. The country suffers from the same malady that led to the collapse of the 1990 constitution: power struggle, political brinkmanship, and the inability of political leaders to rise above narrow personal or party interests. Worse, there is now a new trend to flirt with ethnicity, language and religion for vote bank politics which can be deadly in a country of 102 ethnic groups.
Nepal is a mosaic of different ethnic and linguistic groups living side by side through centuries but they are now being played off against one another by leaders to win power struggles and shape the future course of the socio-cultural reality of their particular constituencies. This can lead to a high risk of spillover and thus regional disorder. Nepal’s two powerful neighbours can hardly afford a strategic preoccupation over a long porous border which is offering a continuous challenge.
The consequence of perpetual insecurity has directly impacted the economy which is yet to recover from a decade of insurgency. Tourist arrivals nose-dived and hotel bookings suddenly dropped from the first week of May 2012 as continuous strikes crippled the country. The far western region is still facing 3 weeks of non-stop bandhs, forcing locals to flee to bordering towns in India. Groups competed with one another in pelting stones and burning tyres at thoroughfares; thereby disrupting normal life to compel the government to fulfill impractical demands. Sadly, a pathetically weak state response has led to agreements being signed with virtually every set of crowd that manages to call a successful bandh. In the last 2 months, Nepal has agreed to implement the Muslim Family Law, the far west to be a single federal unit, ethnicity of a single group to be the basis of federation and so on. The most amusing was to accept the French model of political system with power to be shared between the president and the prime minister, without realizing that 4 consecutive republics previously failed in country and political stability has been its feature only after the establishment of the 5th republic.
Nepalese are tired of experimenting with formulas framed to win over domestic struggles for power. The international community that is yet to fine tune its Nepal policy needs to understand the frustration both on the streets and on-line.
Nishchal N Pandey
Visiting Fellow, IPCS
email: [email protected]