With under a week to go for the CA deadline of May 27, it is increasingly becoming clear that a complete constitution by that date is almost impossible. For it’s not just a question of top political leaders coming together to hammer out disagreements on contentious issues. In fact, the tendency of our leaders to seek solutions in isolation, without consulting relevant stakeholders, has contributed to the current impasse on restructuring. For even though the country is now a federal democratic republic, indigenous nationalities, Madhesi community and other marginalized groups have not been able to reap the fruits of federalism. It is for this reason they want their ethnic identities to be recognized in the new constitution. This is very different to seeking ‘ethnic states’ as some have interpreted their demand for recognition.
As protests and counter-protests against various models of federalism indicate, there is no immediate solution to state restructuring agenda.
For the last two days, the country has been brought to a standstill by the strike of the indigenous communities and Madhesi parties that are demanding that the 11-province model agreed between the top three parties be scrapped and the restructuring be based either on the 14-province model proposed by the CA committee on restructuring or the 10-province model passed by the majority vote in the Sate Restructuring Commission. But there seemed to be no solution in the near horizon. When the current three-day strikes end, there are many more bandas lined up, again mainly centered on restructuring, which is sure to add to the complexity of an already complex issue.
In this situation, a limited extension of CA tenure might not be a bad idea. But this will not be an easy sell: people believe that political parties having wasted most of the last four years in petty power games and are loathe to trust the same leaders with yet another extension. Then there is the question of legitimacy: Given the Supreme Court’s order barring any further extension, how legitimate will the constitution making exercise of the extended CA be? Yet, there really is no other way out. A good indication of how little has been achieved towards the goal of inclusion at all state levels is that of the 23 members in the current Bhattarai cabinet, there is just one woman representative, forget about proper representation of all marginalized communities. There needs to be more homework to make the state more inclusive in terms of both ethnicity and gender. Moreover, there is as yet no substantial agreement on other important issues like the structure of local bodies, the first level of governance. Only decentralization of power to the communities can make federalism work.
Given the intensity of the demands for state restructuring, no framework agreed upon for May 27 is likely to enjoy broad support. We believe it is better to come out with some kind of a substantial document, even though it might call for a limited extension, than to produce a hollow framework which leaves most vital issues, most importantly that of creation of an inclusive state, unaddressed