Nepali Times
A year of false dawns


The first day of 2010 was bright and crystal clear and I felt as if everything was moving smoothly. The birds were perched on treetops, chirping their morning songs, and a brand new sun was rising, almost as if from the gorge of Sanga.

The day was bright in so many ways we were looking forward to 2010 with great hope. The country's New Year's resolution to its people was a new constitution that would protect the rights of all castes and creeds in Nepal.

GP Koirala, the former Nepali Congress president, was active in leading a high-level taskforce that was supposed to settle the disputes that had arisen in the committees drafting the constitution. Disagreements on certain major issues were anticipated, but there was also a general belief that the leaders would agree to move this process towards a definite end.

Nepalis were engaged in the debate of how the state should be restructured too (and which federal province they would end up in), and there was a real feeling that things would change soon. In the last week of January, I travelled to Gorkha, where I found people in teashops and marketplaces discussing the proposed new maps of a federal Nepal. It was exciting to see ordinary people debating their future and taking part in the new constitution drafting process at the local level.

Shortly after this, 4000 disqualifed Maoist combatants left the cantonments. It was one of the most significant steps in the peace process, and made many people feel optimistic about the successful conclusion of a just and non-violent settlement.

In March, the Sajha Sawal team and myself travelled to some of the more remote parts of the country to gauge how people really felt about the peace process and the drafting of the new constitution. I was curious to know whether people in far-flung parts felt any tangible changes in their lives. Did they have confidence in the entire process? Did they believe that their leaders and a handful of intellectual elites in the capital, hundreds of miles away, were really looking out for them?

Sadly the answer was no. The harvest had just concluded in Jumla and people were enjoying some well-deserved downtime, but their lands were almost barren. The Tila River flowed through their grassy pasture lands, but to Jumlis, it was an untapped resource. No one here knew how to make the best use of the water to boost agricultural production, and food scarcity continues to haunt the region. In Jumla, it was as if time had stood still. People here had no sense of change, nor did they have any hope that their situation would improve. The promises that were being made far away in the capital had no impact on these people's lives.

When I returned to Kathmandu the talk of the town was that the new constitutional writing process wouldn't meet its deadline. The parties continued to bicker amongst themselves. Meanwhile, the death of GP Koirala had people worried that the political process would derail. The Maoists called for an indefinite strike in May in the hope of toppling the government, but had to call it off in the face of urban protests.

On Sajha Sawal's very first episode, GP Koirala had said: ''I want to finish the peace process and hand over the responsibility to my successor". Nine months since his demise, we don't even have a prime minister.

After Dasain, I travelled to the midhill districts of Syangja, Kavre, Gorkha, Tanahu, Kaski, Lamjung, and the Tarai. Meeting locals with their Constituent Assembly representatives, was an opportunity to better understand the mood of the people. There was a lot of anger. "We want healthcare, roads, schools and better infrastructure and development," they said, strongly criticising the MPs for only paying attention to party cadres at the expense of voters. In Jiri, a woman tending to her buffalos said, "I don't care about politics anymore, not because I don't understand what's going on but because I don't trust any of the leaders."

In some public and private conversations with leaders and CA members, I'm sorry to say that even they don't have the proper answers as to why the process is not moving along. They know what they disagree about but don't know why they can't sit together and figure a way out. No wonder there is so much anger, and growing apathy, amongst the people.

So as the year 2010 draws to a close and political uncertainty looms large, what of 2011? The Maoists are calling for a revolution. Nepali Congress and UML say they want peace and democracy. But all the people of Nepal want is closure.

I really do hope that the first day of 2011 will be much brighter than the end of 2010.

Narayan Shrestha is the presenter of Sajha Sawal (Common Questions), the BBC World Service Trust's discussion program, broadcast at 9pm every Sunday evening on Kantipur TV and on the BBC World Service (103.1 FM)


2010's men, PRASHANT JHA
Ignored lessons, DAMAKANT JAYSHI

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)