The progress in integration seems to have given a new impetus to the constitution agenda. Now that the peace process has entered an irreversible point, attention is likely to shift to settlement of vital constitution-related issues, state restructuring the most important among them. In particular, issues on federalism being raised by the Janajati caucus comprising of CA members have emerged as a big challenge for the major political parties. Thira L Bhusal and Biswas Baral caught up with Nepali Congress leader and member of CA’s Committee for Restructuring of the State and Distribution of State Powers Narahari Acharya on contentious state restructuring issues and the ways to resolve them.
What is the latest Nepali Congress stand on federalism?
Nepali Congress believes federal states should be decided on the basis of identity and capability. There are five basis of identity and four basis of capability. Identity is not just ethnic identity. The Constituent Assembly’s Committee for Restructuring of the State and Distribution of State Powers also said as much. Even the majority decision of the State Restructuring Commission accepts that identity and capability are two interlinked issues and they cannot be viewed in isolation.
What is the party’s stand on number of federal states?
On this the party’s official position is in line with the policy and programs passed by the party General Convention. According to it, we might have six states, seven maximum. But we are ready to be flexible on this. The number can be cut down to five or it might go up to seven.
Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala had recently said that all federal states should be demarcated along north-south axis. How feasible is this?
I don’t know in what context he said this. Whenever I have discussed the issue with him, he has said that we should find a way out of this problem by granting states enough access. In the case of Nepal, this access mainly refers to India. Thus it might not be feasible for all the states to touch both the countries. But it has to be kept in mind that while designing federal states no state is barred enough access, both within the country and without. Even in the US, there is a provision that each federal state should either border the sea or should be connected to four other states. Other countries too, to the extent feasible, draw boundaries such that each state has enough access to vital resources. We should consider what regional geography and the nature of settlements demand.
In the past the demand for One Madesh had been singled out as the biggest hurdle to viable state restructuring. Right now, the demands of the Janajati caucus seems to have emerged as a bigger challenge. How do you see this development in light of the limited time left for constitution drafting?
I believe the way UCPN (Maoist) and CPN-UML presented themselves in an irresponsible manner in the CA’s state restructuring committee has resulted in these complications. I don’t think they took the issue seriously from the start. This has now resulted in a situation where the parties have been forced to reconsider their earlier stands on restructuring. Those who were for 14 provinces are now divided between six- and 10-state models. The political parties, I believe, didn’t deal with this issue as seriously as they should have, nor were the complexities associated with it properly apprehended. The Maoists were the most irresponsible in this regard. Even while they were the biggest party in the CA and were also at the head of the CA’s state restructuring body, their leaders were openly declaring their own models.
Even for the benefit of the Janajatis, I doubt if the proposals now being forwarded will meet their long-term aspirations. There are two factors in this: one is the issue of positions and interests, while the other concerns the issue of necessity. There is no doubt the necessity of ethnic communities must be addressed. On the interests of political parties or other groups, compromises will have to be worked out. The old positions should be revisited.
The political parties seem to have realized that if the restructuring process is complicated too much, the whole project might be doomed. Thus those in favor of federalism have to carefully weigh their options. They should keep in mind that unnecessarily complicating the restructuring agenda could play into the hands of non-federalists.
You say the official NC stand is on six provinces. But the Janajati CA members, even those belonging to NC, have been adamant on the 14-state model.
Even now, different people are adopting different positions. This issue cannot move ahead without revisiting those positions. No one seems to have thought about the issue from a new angle. Federalism should not be limited to protests and positions; even more important is the deliberation on how viable a model is. I believe the party (NC) should be able to convince its lawmakers in this matter. The party leadership must be able to explain why they are adopting certain model. I believe time has also come for the three major parties to take responsibility for the agenda. No one can get away by blaming others for lack of progress. Without this understanding, there can be no federalism.
But why have parties been unable to convince their own lawmakers?
First, there should be understating at the leadership level, only then can interactions with lawmakers be meaningful. The current problems owes to hardening of positions. Once the parties realize that a spirit of compromise is sine qua non for a viable federal agenda, the issues that will establish identities at the federal level can be worked out. In no official document, neither in the CA committee’s report nor in the SRC report, has it been mentioned that governance will be based on ethnicity. Thus, first, party leaderships have to understand the issues. Otherwise how can they convince party rank and file? But if the leadership of three parties see eye to eye on federalism, I believe they can make others understand the underlying issues.
There is very limited time for constitution drafting. Do you believe the remaining time is enough to work out a viable federal model?
If there is an understanding that there is no point in bringing out a constitution by leaving aside this all-important issue, we can still work out something in the remaining time. But development of federalism takes time. India, which started out as a semi-federal state is now developing as a full-fledged federal state. This kind of arrangement can be made here too. It is not necessary that everything be worked out right now. I believe that if the minimal number of states is agreed upon, that will also help the implementation of the concept of local autonomous regions. If an autonomous region, in course of time, develops necessary infrastructure and meets other requirements, it can itself emerge as a federal state.
What agreements on federalism can be worked out before May 27?
Right now the political parties haven’t formally entered negotiations on this issue. But unofficial negotiations have moved ahead at a brisk pace. Thus while it might seem that all the attention of the major parties is going to the issue of integration, there have been meaningful discussion on federalism as well. The number of states, rough borders, even names can be worked out.