Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Reality check


From Baneshwor, here is a faint glimmer of good news. A seventh committee of the CA, on fundamental rights, recently submitted its draft report in line with the mid-November deadline.

Here is the bad news. The committees on state restructuring, forms of governance, and distribution of natural resources could not finish off their concept papers. By extension, the constitutional committee, which has the unenviable task of integrating these diverse papers into a comprehensible, meaningful text, can only wait. The CA has now amended its timeline for the seventh time, while sticking to the broader goal of having a statute by May 28. The time for public consultations and article-wise discussions has been curtailed.

And this is the ugly reality check. Most people just don't care any more. Apart from the party faithful, and tiny pockets of politically mobilised segments, the apathy towards the wider politics has not been as deep in the past three years as it is now. Ask people what they think about the constitution, and the usual refrain is, "These chor netas, thieving politicians, have hijacked everything. They will share the loot and write what they want at the end."

Hidden in the cynicism is wisdom. Decisions are made in Nepali political culture when three Bahun men are forced by the Indian ambassador to sit in a drawing room and arrive at a consensus. The only other time they are galvanised into action is when a popular movement threatens their survival. When there is such a confluence of internal and external pressure, the political bunch realises there is no alternative and gets its act together.

At its root, the CA process faces three challenges.

The first challenge is to reconcile conflicting views into a common document. In each committee, there are differences between parties - on land reform, the nature of state organs, federal structure and powers, national security policy, border management, the scope of affirmative action, and prior rights for local communities.

It would be a bit simplistic to see this as merely a Maoist-non Maoist divide. There are five competing models at play. The first is the regressive social conservative model. This would like to see Nepal revert back to a monarchical, Hindutva, centralised state controlled by elites. The second is the business as usual liberal democratic model, which would like to replicate the key features of the 1990 constitution such as periodic elections and the free press, and make mild concessions to curb the more recent ethnic and class upsurges. The third is the ethnicity-centred model, which is pushing for ethnic homelands, and sees Nepal's problem as exclusively that of identity discrimination. The fourth is the dogmatic Maoist model, which believes all institutions have a 'class character', and thus have to be brought under the people's, read, the party's control.

But there is a fairly broad common ground that can span party lines.

This fifth model can be termed the radical social democratic model. This would take into account the need for a viable and strong centre; the liberal notions of freedom, pluralism, and open society; have a deep, internalised commitment to federalism where ethnicity is a factor and to radical affirmative action policies; create a welfare state that can address what Devendra Raj Panday has called 'failed development'; and overhaul state institutions to make them truly accountable to the wider citizenry - unlike what the NC and UML were used to in the 1990s and the Maoists want in more extreme form now.

The second challenge is converting the constitutional design into real institutions. An excellent policy brief by Martin Chautari has highlighted the "dangerous vacuum in planning for interim structures and a consequential potential for governance gap". There is a need for time frames, structures, schedules for handing over of power, and overall management of expectations. It is time to think of what happens when the statute is in fact completed.

And the third challenge is to ensure the widest ownership possible. The time for public consultation has been the first casualty of the subsequent delays. There are several groups out there, who are not in the CA but have emerged as important stakeholders on the ground. Getting predominantly Bahun Chhetri parties to agree, with a few token Madhesi leaders thrown in, will be an inadequate political settlement, and it will sow the seeds of further discontent.

Politicians need to reach a new power-sharing deal as soon as possible, so they can focus on the critical issues that will really determine whether a Naya Nepal can come into being.

Fatal apathy - FROM ISSUE #477 (20 NOV 2009 - 26 NOV 2009)
Bear UNMIN with a grin - FROM ISSUE #477 (20 NOV 2009 - 26 NOV 2009)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)