3-9 April 2015 #752

Another lost decade

The duration of the post-conflict transition has now lasted nearly as long as the war itself.

This April will mark the ninth anniversary of the People’s Movement that forced King Gyanendra to step aside, restore parliament and bring the Maoist guerrillas down from the mountains into an interim government. How many different ways can we say the same thing? The duration of the post-conflict transition has now lasted nearly as long as the war itself.

No one expected the peace process to be easy. The country was going from monarchy to republic, from war to peace. The inequality, injustice, discrimination and exclusion that were some of the precursors to the insurgency needed to be recognised and resolved through a new, genuinely democratic constitution.

To be sure, some significant achievements were made. Camps housing the Maoists were dismantled, and the guerrillas disarmed and demobilised. Some opted for golden handshakes, others were inducted into the national army. And despite the human and economic cost of the war, it did significantly make hitherto marginalised Nepalis aware of their rights. It forced the ruling class to grudgingly admit that it had for too long monopolised decision-making, neglecting or ignoring other castes and classes, regions and religions. Never before in Nepal’s history, through the Rana years to the Panchayat period, is the collective Nepali consciousness as alert to rights and justice as it is now.

But this has dragged on for too long. Many of us remember the elation of the ceasefire and restoration of democracy in April 2006. The sense of relief and optimism was palpable, finally we had a chance to reap the peace dividend, catch up with the lost decade of development, and address some of the underlying social issues.

That sense of cautious hope was reflected in an editorial in this newspaper titled ‘Freedom at midnight’ which we carried in this space in our 27 April 2006 issue #295.

Here is an urgent checklist: reciprocate the Maoist ceasefire to create the atmosphere for a peace process to start, bring the army effectively under parliamentary control, halt all major purchases of military hardware and helicopters and use freed up funds to kickstart service delivery of health and education to all corners of the country. Before the euphoria evaporates, people need to see immediate proof that democracy this time will mean an improvement in their lives.

Alas, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. The effort to complete the peace process by passing a new constitution and giving the country’s economic development new balance and momentum is faltering. Some of the earlier goals of the revolution for a more inclusive democracy through ‘ethnic liberation’ have turned out to be empty slogans. It’s plain old vote-bank politics masquerading as ethnic and regional autonomy.

Most Nepalis have seen through this, and have the common sense to know that mixing politics with religion and ethnicity can be explosive. They just want state services that work, and they want jobs.

But there are still some in the international community who hold on to the misconception that this is really a struggle for inclusion, identity and autonomy. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we can’t wake up someone who is pretending to sleep. However, both our big neighbours seem to be perfectly aware of the prospect of Nepal becoming unstable and affecting their national interest if we go down the current formula of federalism in the new constitution.

Chairman Dahal got that message loud and clear from the Chinese Communist Party hierarchy. To the South, there is a belated realisation that the handlers and bureaucrats who decided they knew best what was good for the Nepali people and foisted a fatally-flawed federal formula on us were playing with fire. The only question is how to backtrack without losing face, taking identity politics away from hotheads who have built their identity on ethnic politics, while ensuring that whatever comes now is not regressive.

Let us not try to correct past injustices by making an even bigger blunder. And let’s not wait till the tenth anniversary of the ceasefire to take this country forward.

Read also:

Freedom at midnight, Editorial

Nepal’s people phenomenon, Kanak Mani Dixit

Days of future past, Kiyoko Ogura

Déjà vu, Editorial

Harder to forgive than forget, Qianyi Qin

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