The idea of Constituent Assembly has now lost much of its earlier sheen. And with it, enthusiasm on the much-vaunted concepts of federalism, republicanism, secularism and democratic inclusiveness—about which people were interested to know how they would make a positive difference in their lives—has also waned considerably. In fact, ordinary people now view these concepts with deep cynicism. Not because they have lost relevance, but largely because they have proven to be a mirage. Why did this happen?
Growing public frustration over the constantly bickering and non-performing political parties, the NC and CPN-UML in particular, in the post-1990 period can be cited as the biggest reason. Successive NC- and UML-led governments could contribute nothing meaningful, but they certainly helped institutionalize corruption and politicize bureaucracy. Many crafty politicians from these parties used democracy as a convenient cloak to fleece the country. In fact, democracy was made a weeping child and honesty and moral rectitude unwanted virtues. The looting of the country went on with impunity, while the people continued to suffer from privation, poverty and squalor.
People’s desire for change was undoubtedly another motivating factor. In the post-1990 period, dirty politics prepared a fertile ground for the Maoist to launch its ‘people’s war’. The ruthlessness with which the government tried to quell the movement ultimately backfired. Little wonder, support for the political, economic and social agendas of the Maoist began to swell across the country. Fear and intimidation covertly and overtly unleashed by the Maoists during their electoral campaign and the inability of the government of the time to give them a sense of security also helped the Maoists emerge as the largest party in the CA.
However, the initial euphoria and exuberance about the new political setup began to gradually evaporate. The key political parties, once united against monarchy, were now at each other’s throat. Post-CA election politics was characterized by a fundamental departure from past politics of consensus. Far from striving to consolidate the gains of the movement major political parties were seen busy undercutting the size and influence of one another.
In fact, past four years have been characterized by glorification of the concepts outlined above and constant vilification of the 1990 constitution. Promises of transforming Nepal into Singapore or Switzerland became routine affairs. Bereft of substantive changes in the social and economic sphere, public trust in the Maoists and their political agenda began to erode.
Also people knew hardly anything about the concepts of republicanism, federalism, secularism while the one institution they knew about (the monarchy) was done away with. As NC and UML reluctantly accepted these agendas, Maoists made it a point to glorify the same agendas.
UCPN (Maoist) leaders seemed to suffering from grand delusions. Perhaps they were overexuburent in the popular response to change. When power finally came to them, they failed to temper the exuberance with equanimity. Hubris, not humility, muscle flexing, not flexibility, became their defining features. Their image of instigators of social change started suffering in the public eye. Now the situation is such that a person picked at random from the street regards UCPN (Maoist) as just another avatar of NC and UML.
The failure of CA is a case in point. Although, the failure cannot be solely attributed to UCPN (Maoist), its inability to blend exuberance with equanimity and hubris with humility was largely to blame for the CA’s demise. One can safely say that the failure of the CA, in many ways, symbolizes the failure of the Maoists, for the Maoists always boated that the CA was their brainchild. But the irony was that the same CA breathed its last under the watchful eyes of the Maoist-led government. With the vertical split of the Maoist party, the government’s inability to hold Nov 22 elections and dramatic decline in Prime Minster Baburam Bhattarai’s popularity, UCPN (Maoist), it might be argued, has suffered a huge setback.
Divisive agendas that were pushed in the name of progressive change contributed to current crisis.
Yet, Bhattarai seems to be in a deep slumber. The country is now in suspended animation because of the constitutional vacuum he helped create. But instead of trying to break the impasse, Bhattarai continues to hang on to his post, by hook or by crook.
Perhaps the biggest mistake was made when ethnicity was mixed with idea of federalism without thinking about the ramification of such a volatile mix. Lumping together of these two totally different concepts together is at the root of the country’s present problems. The myth woven around these concepts by some donor agencies contributed to misconceptions. These agencies reportedly painted a rosy but unrealizable picture of the so-called ethno-centric federalism in Nepal. It is understandable that the Maoists and the Madhesi parties fell into the trap but surprisingly, even NC and UML leaders fell for the same bait.
The failure to delink identity or ethnicity component from development also created problems. It is obvious that issues of identity or ethnicity have nothing to do with economic prosperity, equality and social justice. A great degree of economic disparity, inequality and social injustice would persist even if we were to embrace ethno-centric provinces.
Similarly, social and class inequalities, two entirely different concepts, were placed in the same basket. Economic disparities and inequalities across various social and ethnic groups can only be removed through good governance, accountability and corruption control measures. But the CA hardly ever debated these crucial issues. Instead, there was a trend to serve decisions made by a small coterie of political leaders before the CA.
These were some reasons that led to CA’s ultimate demise. Now trying to reinstate it is akin to flogging a dead horse back to life. Similarly, going for fresh polls, without first preparing a clear roadmap to settle contentious issues, will not help. As the current deadlock is largely the making of UCPN (Maoist), the party must take the initiative to break it, while the other parties must also do their bit.
The author is former chief of protocol, Ministry of Foreign Affairs