Top political leaders held several rounds of dialogues on the contentious issues surrounding the constitution drafting after the CA election in 2008. Between 2008 till the CA got dissolved last month, there had been four CA extensions and a range of agreements. The latest one was the agreement among the Maoists, Congress, UML and UFMM on the executive President and state reorganisation. Congress and UML agreed on an executive President and in return, Maoists became ready to concede to an 11 province multi-ethnic model of state-restructuring.
However, while Maoists got what they wanted, they later backtracked from the second agreement saying it was no longer relevant. To make their stand effective, Prachanda himself instructed his cadres to fight against those who were fighting for an undivided Far-west and anti-ethnic federal structure.
Just to recap, Prachanda provoked NEFIN to take to the streets and put pressure on other parties until their demands were addressed, following which NEFIN called for a three-day nationwide banda during which the media was also mercilessly attacked. Newspapers even reported that some NC and UML felt the Maoists were trying to ‘steal’ their indigenous CA members for furthering their ethnic cause.
Meanwhile, adding to the chaos, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai announced fresh elections just as the current CA was getting dissolved. This, however, was an unwarranted and unwise move on many counts. First, why did the Bhattarai government opt for CA election in November 2012 instead of going in for a referendum? Second, why did it not discuss such an important issue with other political parties before or after the announcement?
Third, what if other parties do not participate in election? It will then turn out to be a ludicrous exercise like the election under ex-king Gyanendra to deceive the world. Fourth, are Maoists also thirsty for power? Their political moves so far suggest that they are more power-hungry than other parties in Nepal. It does not necessarily mean that other parties are virtuous but the irony is that Maoists claim to be pro-people and more democratic than the others, but their actions prove otherwise. Had they truly been pro-people and more democratic, the Maoist government would have opted for a referendum instead of another CA election, while discussing the issue with other parties instead of taking a unilateral call.
The most contentious issue of the new constitution is ethnic federalism, which may well turn into a recipe for communal violence. All political parties stood firm on their respective stance of a single or multiple ethnic or socially and economically viable federalism. It is now clear that nobody is against federalism per se, but the bone of contention and issue to be debated is whether the country should be federated along ethnic lines.
Since political parties were so deeply divided over the issue, the CA had to be dissolved without fulfilling its mandate of drafting a constitution. Hence, instead of holding yet another CA election for the same purpose, wouldn’t it be more prudent to hold a referendum in which every Nepali can choose for what he/she wants? Are the Maoists afraid of a referendum? The recent changes in balance of power and mobilization of different communities for their own rights tells us that no ethnic group is willing to accept the name of one ethnic group at the expense of many others living in the same region. How can 10 or 14 single ethnic states guarantee the rights of more than 102 ethnicities in Nepal? This cannot be a panacea. Do Maoists want their so called ‘new Nepal’ to be ethnically divided where minorities rule over the majority, where there is communal violence and which is economically poor, politically fragile and socially divided, finally drowning in the waves of a civil war?
Everyone agrees that the marginalized have to be brought into the mainstream. But why should we adopt a ‘top-down approach’; why not a ‘bottom-up’ one? The top-down approach will only benefit ethnic leaders and their cronies. As I have said earlier, ethnicity is not an inborn concept but is a social phenomenon created for the advantage of ethnic elites for political gains. It is often strategically exploited and used in the pursuit of power and resources. It introduces ethnic consciousness and creates new ethnic groups, further dividing the society and blurring fluid identities.
On one hand, it creates inequalities between regions and blurs national identities and on the other, fails to improve the plight of the marginalized ethnic people. A bottom-up approach, meanwhile, gives the people on the ground greater opportunities not only to participate in political decision making but also to develop their abilities and skills for mainstream opportunities. This bottom-up approach is not in conflict with harmony in heterogeneity; nor does it give the elite of ethnic societies an advantage at the expense of the marginalized ones.
Do Maoists want ‘new Nepal’ to be ethnically divided where minorities rule over majority, where there is communal violence and poverty?
The media has been reporting that investors have stopped taking even the already sanctioned loans, amidst fears of looming violence ahead. This fall in investments will further add to our economic woes in the backdrop of a rising unemployment rate and sliding economic growth. If this trend continues, Nepal will turn into a failed state.
Nepal has already topped global charts on indexes related to corruption, human rights violation and poverty. Indeed, criticizing the Maoists, NC, UML or UFMM does not help improve the situation of Nepal, unless they themselves introspect and alter their mindset and political path. Thus, the Nepali civil society and general public have a huge task at hand – they have to be more proactive and play a constructive role in order to prevent political parties and foreign elements from hijacking the country’s cause and discourse.
People’s interests and concerns of a new but united Nepal cannot be put on the backburner. The civil society and public at large, should focus on how Nepal can be developed both economically and socially, how the marginalized can be made to participate in social, cultural and political arenas using the bottom-up approach, how economic prosperity can stop our labour and brain drain and how each Nepali can be proud of being a Nepali first, instead of bickering over ethnic identities.
The author is a PhD candidate at the University of Waikato, New Zealand