The ever bickering political parties continue to lock horns over the key issues that remain unresolved, particularly after the demise of the Constituent Assembly. Moreover, NC and CPN-UML have expressed their full-throated objection to Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s unilateral move to dissolve the CA and announce fresh dates for CA polls in November.
However, there are muffled voices within both the parties that clearly favor fresh polls. These voices come mainly from the indigenous leaders who have been complaining that the leadership of their respective parties is indifferent towards their cause. With the rapidly approaching CA deadline, the cross-party alliance of Janajati leaders to work together for ethnicity-based federalism was unprecedented. However, understanding the gravity of situation, the so-called democratic parties chose not to put the contentious issue of federalism for voting in CA, which had further dimmed the prospect of constitution delivery.
Currently, indigenous leaders of CPN-UML and NC have been threatening to quit their respective parties if their leaderships fail to address their demand of ethnicity based federalism. Going by the rapidly unfolding political developments, there is a looming possibility of the emergence of new parties. The Janajatis are in the mood to launch a renewed struggle for their rights, even if it means floating a new party. Now the ball, as they say, is in the NC and UML’s court, and the strategy they adopt to appease the Janajati leaders of their respective parties will largely determine the political fate of the country in the days to come. The launch of a Janjati party will cost both NC and UML heavily with them losing a significant chunk of their support base. Moreover, the hardliner faction within the Maoist party, led by Mohan Baidya, has also indicated chances of a split in the near future.
The Baidya faction that also champions the Janajati cause is likely to attract Janajati cadres and leaders if they do float a new party. Hence, the split in Maoists isn’t going to pan out well for the establishment faction. Only upon fully winning the trust of the Janajati section of his party can chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal retain his cadres, leaders and voters from indigenous backgrounds. However, there is a chance that the Janajatis may prefer a new party, if formed, instead of the existing ones which have failed to accommodate them in the power-sharing process.
The Janajatis have clearly emerged as a force to reckon with today; an undeniable cornerstone of Nepal’s contemporary politics. If the NC and UML remain adamant about their stance against ethnicity based federalism, Nepali politics is likely to get much more polarised than ever before. The only way out is to give the country a makeover that is acceptable to the indigenous population, marginalized and other minorities. It should be noted that the downfall of monarchy didn’t cause any outburst on the streets against the Ranas of Nepal. Similarly, the monarchy’s abolishment didn’t put the Thakuri population of the country in danger. In the same manner, the end of Brahmanism in the country won’t jeopardise the free existence of the current ruling communities as the democratic federal structure of the country will ensure the rights of each individual. Hence, the fear of dominance by indigenous nationalities and other minorities once ethnic federalism sets in is entirely unfounded.
Following the dissolution of CA, the NC and UML have been demanding PM Bhattarai’s resignation, citing the unconstitutionality of the government. They claim only a national consensus government can decide the fate of fresh CA polls. Meanwhile, Maoist party chairman Prachanda’s hint of the possibility of CA revival, if all parties agree, added a twist to this tale. This very idea goes against Janajati aspirations given they are keenly awaiting the next CA election, confident of a sound electoral performance.
During the inauguration of the museum of indigenous nationalities recently in Palpa, Ang Kaji Sherpa, the general secretary of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), echoed a similar view when he said the major parties will meet their nemesis if elections happen and he predicted there will be attempts to do away with the polls altogether. The unprecedented alliance of NEFIN and Madhesis has become worse than a migraine for those who are looking for ways to subvert ethnicity-based federalism. Moreover, Sarat Singh Bhandari, who was recently expelled from the Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum (Loktantrik) chairman Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar, has already announced the launch of a separate party. He claims the new party will work more assertively for the cause of Madhesis and for establishing identity-based federalism in the country. In such a situation, political parties need to realise that the need of the hour is identity-based federalism and any dithering on their part will harm not just them, but the entire nation.
The Janajatis have clearly emerged as a force to reckon with today; an undeniable cornerstone of Nepal’s contemporary politics.
Playing with Janajati sentiments today is as perilous as playing with fire, as was evident in NEFIN’s three-day strike in May that turned out to be historically violent. It may be prudent on the part of political parties to work towards a consensus on federalism rather than investing energy in the formation of a new government. Once the issue of federalism is resolved, other things will gradually fall into place.
However, Nepali politics often does not follow the course of reason. NC and UML leaders claim the Maoists are conspiring to capture state-power. But it cannot be denied that Maoists are the ones who showed maximum flexibility in the peace process, despite the objections of the hardliner faction within the party. Their co-operation in army integration and other key issues reflects their genuine intentions towards drafting a constitution.
The NC and UML should live up to their self-proclaimed name as ‘democratic’ parties and be instrumental in resolving the current political deadlock, instead of trying different kinds of political manoeuvres. Clearly, they don’t want a fresh CA poll when the government is not theirs. This power struggle and one-upmanship is only pushing us back in time. Given the current political climate, one should know that any attempt to perpetuate the old system will fall flat; embracing the new balance of power with respect is the only option left if we are to resolve the prevailing political deadlock.
The writer is pursuing Bachelor’s Degree studies at St Xavier’s College