To err is human, repeating the same mistake over and over is stupidity. Nepali people have always supported their leaders’ call for change, and Nepal has undergone profound changes since 1950. The latest of those changes happened after the successful People’s Movement in 2006 with the declaration of Nepal as a Federal, Democratic Republic by the Constituent Assembly (CA).
Each stage of change has brought new opportunities and risks. Today, Nepal stands at yet another threshold. Our history has witnessed dramatic changes. But how will these changes affect the course of Nepali politics, and consequently the fate of Nepal as a nation-state? More importantly, how can these changes be managed to ensure the survival of Nepal and the well being of its citizens?
Nepal is going through multiple changes simultaneously, making change management complex. To be governed democratically under a constitution written by their representatives is a long held aspiration of the Nepali people, the principal agenda of the Maoists’ people’s war, and the centerpiece of the peace process. Assuming this is true, the CA election was an event of historic significance, and the completion of its work should have been the priority of Nepal’s political parties and leaders, civil society, the media, and Nepal’s well wishers everywhere. Who is responsible, and to what extent, can be debated, but what is undeniable is that the CA failed to fulfill its mandate despite repeated extensions of its two-year term. Why?
Prior to the election, the media was full of statements by almost everyone that all problems of Nepal would be resolved by the CA. When the CA failed to complete the constitution on time, there was fear that if the CA’s term was not extended, Nepal would plunge into political and constitutional vacuum. But political leaders waited till “midnight” to come up with agreements necessary to extend the CA’s term, and everyone else acquiesced. After repeated extensions, the CA was dissolved without any constitutional/legal considerations or political agreements on the road ahead. The current caretaker government refuses to clear the way, and the opposition is making it a precondition for discussion on the way forward. So, Nepal’s problems continue, and worsen. This is happening because the society is in search of fundamental and far reaching changes in multiple directions, but the intellectual ability and leadership quality to guide its course is missing.
Emerging fault lines
In the absence of leadership of wisdom and courage, political fault lines will be defined by the growing confrontation between those who seek to take the current process to its meaningful end, and those who demand a complete course correction. The President represents the institutional achievements and individual benefits of the political changes of 2006. So far, he has maintained the dignity of his position, and hence, the merits of those changes. But his repeated calls for a national consensus government are gradually undermining the authority of the position and the dignity of the individual. Attempts to mire him in controversy by the very people who claim to champion the current changes expose their lack of commitment to the federal democratic republic, and the lengths they are prepared to go for power.
All seem to agree that election for another CA is the best way forward. But can the new CA ensure the promulgation of a new constitution acceptable to all, reflecting the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of the people? How does the political class justify another CA election while dissolving the last? Unless the elite can come up with new ideas, or there is understanding among the main political actors on the major constitutional principles, what is the guarantee that the new elected CA and its outcome will be different from the last one? How long will the Nepali people endure and the Nepali state survive the agonies of a never ending transition and crisis of governance?
Study of almost all state failures in modern times reveals that political leadership is primarily responsible. Ability to manage the political, economic, and social aspirations of the people and security needs of the state with the demands of geo-politics have enabled small, resource-poor countries to prosper, while large countries rich in natural resources have failed, and their people suffered greatly. The current political and constitutional deadlock is one more test of the leadership of wisdom and courage. Only such a leadership can create the environment for the Nepali people to get a constitution, and save Nepal from a more serious political crisis. In this new situation, all eyes are on the President. Caution and courage will be the test of his leadership and wisdom.
A better future for all
The last CA represented all of Nepal in terms of class, caste, and gender, and regional, ethnic, and cultural diversity. Even then, why did it fail? There is no denying that in the past, many Nepalis have suffered the pains of poverty and agonies of injustice, while a few enjoyed political power and economic benefits. We need a new constitution to address the ills of the past by institutionalizing the merits of a federal democratic republic. But politics is not a zero-sum game, and neither is constitution making an exercise in recounting the pains of the past. It is a cooperative exercise to collectively project the trajectory for a bright future for all. In order for the new CA to fulfill its historic role, it needs to first reflect this cooperative side of politics, and deal with difficult issues of restructuring of the state, forms of governance, fundamental rights, sharing of natural resources, type of judiciary and foreign and national security policy, and so on.
These are complex issues further complicated by ideological divisions and geo-political demands, which make Nepal a difficult laboratory of state formation and nation building. So, the CA needs depth of wisdom and height of experience, which will not come from the obsession with power inbuilt in the electoral politics of today.
In time and space, history and geography, Nepal is in an extraordinary situation. In such a time and location, conventional wisdom and ordinary leadership will not work. The new CA, or those inspiring and commanding it from outside, can present the blueprint for a new democratic, peaceful and prosperous Nepal for all Nepalis and promulgate such a constitution this time around. Or they can also bungle Nepal’s next tryst with destiny, plunging this beautiful land into yet another quagmire of conflict and chaos. As I wrote long ago, “Nepal has been a heaven for a few, hardships for most. The challenge is to make it a dignified home for everyone. But if not careful, we could end up making it a hell for all”.
The author is Member-Secretariat of the Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist Army Combatants