No alternative to federalism with strong identity basis
The ruling coalition and other pro-federal parties outside the government on Wednesday announced the formation of the Federal Democratic Republican Alliance (FDRA) under the leadership of UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The alliance consists of over two dozen parties including Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), TMDP-Nepal, Madhesi People’s Rights Forum-Democratic (MPRF-D) and MPRF-R. Biswas Baral sat down with TMDP Senior Vice-chairman and member of the Bhattarai Cabinet Hridayesh Tripathy on the same day to better understand the new alliance’s objectives and the road ahead for Nepali politics.
What is the rationale for the creation of the Federal Democratic Republican Alliance?
During the dialogues in the lead up to the May 27 constitution deadline, federalism emerged as the biggest point of difference. This is the reason there was no constitution. Some parties were ready to accept the death of CA, but not to accept federalism. Those in favor of federalism were trying to arrive at a meeting point. At one point, we collected up to 407 signatures of CA members in favor of federalism. But even then, we could not save the CA. What we learned from this was that although the vast majority of the CA members were in favor of federalism, there were other spoilsports who would commit to agreements but back off when it came to implementing them. In this light, there are three main rationales behind the creation of FDRA. One, to guarantee a constitution through Constituent Assembly. Two, to incorporate the identity aspect in the constitution-making process. And three, to work as a catalyst for the creation of national consensus.
The opposition parties allege that creation of such alliances will further increase polarization. Is that the case?
Like I said, the rationale for the alliance is coming up with a federal constitution and federalism with identity component. If the forces that are not positive about the federal project understand that there is now no alternative to federal constitution and federalism with identity component through a CA proper, that immediately opens the door for consensus. There are only two roads for such consensus. Either we have to leave the federalism project or others have to agree to it. We have to understand that federalism is the necessity of the traditionally marginalized communities like Madhesis, Janajatis, Adhiwasis, women and Muslims. Others accepted the federal agenda only grudgingly. This group that grudgingly accepted the agenda started showing its real face in the lead up to the May 27 deadline. This is the main reason there was no constitution and the CA was dissolved.
Moreover, federalism is not just about state restructuring or re-demarcation of old boundaries. At its heart are the issues of rights and identity. But some forces do not want to acknowledge this fact. This is where the real difference lies. This is the reason the federal project has become so messy. Those who have been benefitting from the existing state structure are reluctant to address the identity question of the marginalized groups. The reason federalism became such a contested topic was not over the issue of demarcation or nomenclature of states, but because of the reluctance of the old elites to let go of their traditional powers and privileges.
From what you have said, the new alliance is focused on the identity aspect of federalism. But how do you address the capability argument?
We have said in our declaration today that we will take the ownership of the works completed by the old Constituent Assembly as well as the old agreements and move ahead from the points of disagreements.
Is the alliance in favor of reestablishment of the old CA or in favor of a newly elected one?
The new constitution must be promulgated by a CA. But we have presented two options. One, election of a new CA and two, the option of coming to agreement on contentious constitutional issues, preparation of a draft constitution and its ratification through reinstated CA. This CA will assume the role of a parliament after which a consensus government can be formed for general election.
How long do you think the government of Baburam Bhattarai will remain in office?
It will make way the day we get a viable proposal for promulgation of the new constitution. Even now there are many forces that say the next election should be for a parliament as the CA has already proven to be a failure. But how will such a parliament be elected and what rights will it have? Until NC and UML can come up with clear answers to these questions, this option will not be acceptable to us. The constitution must come through a CA proper.
Will there be efforts to broaden the current alliance?
If you see our declaration today, you will notice that its signatories are representatives of parties both in and out of the government, all those in favor of a federal constitution. We are also in talks with other likeminded parties. We believe that all forces in favor of federalism will sooner or later come at one place.
Is there a timeframe the alliance has in mind, for instance for political consensus or election of another CA?
We will decide on this issue through consultations between the forces that are represented in the current alliance as well as those out of it. This alliance has not been formed with the intent of keeping out certain forces. It is through these broad-based consultations that we will settle the issue of timeline.
But opposition parties insist that there can be no meaningful talks unless the current Bhattarai government resigns. How will you bring them to the talks table?
When President Ram Baran Yadav declared the Bhattarai government a caretaker one, there was a mood of jubilation among the opposition parties who were convinced that it was only a matter of days before the government would come down. But they seem to have forgotten that any government that replaces the current government will be a double-caretaker government. What we want to know is: How is the next government going to be formed after the resignation of PM Bhattarai? The opposition parties cannot create national consensus by leaving aside the forces in the current ruling coalition. They are not even ready to hold talks on this issue.
The other important point is that all the major parties are suffering from various internal problems. The reason they are demanding the government’s resignation is to try to divert attention away from these in-party divisions. This is also one of the main reasons we have not been able to arrive at meaningful agreements. The noise about resignation is purely for public consumption.
What are the minimum conditions for the creation of consensus?
First we have to understand that the interim constitution cannot bring political stability. It is merely a goalpost towards creation of a new constitution through Constituent Assembly. But at the current juncture, there is no CA. In this situation, there has to be an agreement for constitution through CA, for which we have presented two options. We can discuss both these options. If we are to go for reinstatement, we will need to settle contentious issues beforehand because we have seen how political leaders who were not even the members of CA were trying to forge vital agreements outside the formal CA mechanism.
These players were determined to abort the CA because they didn’t want a mechanism that didn’t include them to promulgate the constitution. It will not be wise to repeat the same mistake. This is the reason we should settle all important issues beforehand, prepare a draft constitution and only then reinstate the CA to issue the new constitution. But if we are to go for election of a new CA, there is no need to settle these issues beforehand for the political parties will be able to go to the people with their agenda, both those in favor and against the federal system.
Let us also remember that the opposition parties had been saying that they would solve the constitutional issues in a matter of days as soon as the issue of integration of PLA was settled. But when there was a major breakthrough in integration on April 10 and only some technical issues remained, the same people made a U-turn. They now started nitpicking on other issues, which eventually led to the dissolution of the CA.
What can be the meeting point between the alliance and the opposition parties?
There can be no alternative to federal Nepal and federalism with strong identity component. If the other parties can agree to this, there can be a meeting point.