KATHMANDU, Jan 6: In the run up to the local, parliamentary and provincial elections, UML leaders made relentless efforts to cash in on the support of voters in Butwal, Dang and Nepalgunj with a self-contradictory campaign promise: to make the cities the administrative capital of Province 5.
When the government earlier this week came up with a proposal to make Dang the administrative capital of Province 5, voters in Butwal and Nepalgunj expressed frustration at the proposal and threatened to revolt if it is not corrected.
Frustration expressed by voters in Butwal and Nepalgunj is just the tip of an iceberg of a larger anger sweeping major cities of the country which were in race to be the administrative hubs of the seven provinces, thanks to conflicting campaign promises by the major political parties.
As Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's government gears up to name the interim provincial capitals possibly on Monday, people in various cities are hitting the streets demanding that their cities be declared the provincial capital.
The bigger reaction is coming from voters in Dhankuta, Dipayal, Jumla, Banepa, Birgunj and Chitwan, the cities which like Butwal and Nepalgunj were counting on political parties' campaign promise to be the administrative center of their respective provinces.
Protesters in Dhankuta of Province 1 and Dipayal of Province 7, which now boasts regional offices, have sit on an indefinite strike demanding a rethink on the proposal to make their cities the provincial capital.
In its proposal which, according to senior officials, is "subject to revision", the government has respectively proposed to make Biratnagar and Dhangadi the provincial capital of Province 1 and Province 7. Similarly, the government is planning to fix Janakpur, Thimi, Pokhara and Birendranagar as the provincial capitals of Province 2, Province 3, Province 4 and Province 6, respectively.
The proposal has drawn strong reaction from cities like Birgunj of Province 2, Benepa and Chitwan of Province 3, Damauli of Province 4, and Jumla of Province 6.
Voters in these cities are angry with the proposal because major parties including UML, Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) had made random promises to make each of the cities the provincial capital in order to hold sway on voters.
Fixing the provincial capitals has long remained a politically heated topic in Nepal as many people think that that turning their city into the administrative center would help bring development works.
Parties had made random promises to make around a dozen cities the administrative capital, while accusing their rival parties of trying to take the provincial capital to another city.
The same promises are going to be a bone in the throat of the incumbent government and the new government, said experts.
"The first Constituent Assembly was dissolved due to disagreements among parties over the number of the provinces, their names and capitals. Parties should have avoided such a sensitive topic during their poll campaigns. The dispute will intensify in the coming days if not handled with care," said Khimlal Devkota, an expert on federal affairs.
"The provincial governments should be asked to choose the provincial capitals. The government should only choose a city in each province to hold the first meeting of the provincial assembly."
Amid deepening crisis, parties have floated various proposals to resolve the row. National People's Front Chairman Chitra Bahadur KC, for instance, has called on the government to fix the provincial capitals based on the recommendations of an expert panel.
CPN (Maoist Center) spokesperson Pampha Bhusal said that the provincial assemblies should be asked to determine the capital.
"Giving the provincial assembles the chance to determine the capital is the best way to resolve this dispute. The government should avoid anything that could potentially fuel tension," said Bhusal, who had promised to make Lalitpur the cultural capital.