Nepali Times
Born-again democracy

Nepal never fails to surprise as it goes through the pangs of nation-building. Extreme, even exhilarating, diversity is the leitmotif of this nation-state. In the free air of born-again democracy and on the road to a constituent assembly, a myriad of voices and demands are rising.

The vocal protests from the leaders of the madhesi community across the tarai from Mechi to Mahakali is no surprise. Madhesi political factions know that the composition of the constituent assembly is critical to their gaining proportionate ownership of the country and its governance, and they are competing with each other to strike a more radical image.

Nepali identities have layers, and the formation of the state is as if on a palimpsest. The hill ethnic demands are targeted at the Bahun-Chhetri (and some Newar) combine that runs the Kathmandu establishment. But, as the tarai leadership points out, janajatis from the hills have always had access to the national Nepali identity as part of their self-image. Even as there is unity across the tarai, there are undercurrents bubbling to the surface, between those who call their region tarai and others who would call it madhes. Other tarai sub-identities break down by religion, (Hindu and Muslim, to begin with), by caste, by language (Bhojpuri-Awadhi-Maithili), and by ethnicity and origin (madhesi-pahadi-tharu and tarai-hill).

Given these complexities in our national society, it will take some time before all historical disenchantments have been aired, some of which the Kathmandu establishment might never have known existed. Those in the capital will need to show sagacity and empathy, and the leaders of different communities need to pull back from populist brinkmanship. No one set of demands or resentments cancels out the other.

The civil society leaders gathered outside the prime minister's residence and then outside Singha Darbar this week got it wrong. They had a simple-almost simplistic-demand: announce the dates for the constituent assembly election.

The CA election process can't begin unless the Maoist arms are put into containers, which requires the UN to certify the process, which requires the monitors to be deployed. So, the demand should properly be that arms verification begins.

The real issue is the text of the interim constitution. There was no jurist or lawyer on the negotiating team, and civil society, which sometimes seem to give the Maoists an edge over the other parties, were present as observers. What matters for issues such as the brushfire in the tarai is how the document holds up. Our observers have still not told us what they think of the text from the perspective of jurisprudence and constitutionalism.

Sitting on the asphalt is all well and good, but there should first be a persuasive reason to do so.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)