20-26 June 2014 #712

Least harmful future

The second CA will soon have to make some hard choices, and ensure minimum damage
Rubeena Mahato
Based on who you ask, you will hear different versions of what led to the failure of the first Constituent Assembly, but journalists worth their salt know what really happened in the frantic few hours before the CA was ungraciously dissolved at the stroke of midnight on 28 May, 2013.

It was a collective failure on the part of our politicians and CA members, and of course everyone involved in the process has to take responsibility for the fiasco. But what also remains clear is that when the consensus seemed to be finally building on the number and naming of states with proposed models okayed by the Maoists, someone somewhere pulled the plug.

Key players suddenly withdrew their support and we were left without a draft on D Day. With that, any hope that the nation could have a constitution, which is essentially a document of consensus, vanished.

The NC and the UML, incompetent, corrupt and easy targets that they were and are, took the blame from Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai. Rather predictably, they were accused of sabotaging the process so that the predominantly Madhesi and Janajati parliament would not have their way. But the truth is, the Maoist, Madhesi and the Janajati coalition did not want a constitution either, at least not the kind that was going to be announced if the compromise that was agreed on had been honoured. They decided to let the CA collapse instead.

Airbrushed accounts of history might leave out this crucial piece of detail, but we would do well to remember this as we relive those same moments in the second CA. It is disheartening that the first CA failed and the same issues vex this one too. But the fact is that there is really no point in having a constitution if a sizeable political section, even if it is not the majority, feels unsatisfied with it.

We would only end up pushing the country into more instability and conflict. The Maoists, Madhesis and the Janajatis felt they were getting a raw deal and if we are to have any hope for a new constitution, it can only be done by taking them into confidence, not by sidelining or overriding them.

It is important to reach a compromise on the number, names and delineation of future states this time around. Madhesis and Janajatis are concerned that the NC and UML’s proposed federal arrangements would not grant real autonomy and identity, and the latter feel threatened by the new power dynamics that forced them to the fringes in the first CA.

There is also a great deal of mistrust amongst parties about each others' intentions. But unlike what many would have us believe, consensus is not impossible. Both sides need to show a bit more confidence in the other and be willing to engage in give and take.

If one side is adamant that the names of states be based on ethnicity, then so be it. As long as all the ethnicities have equal rights and opportunities, names need not be a bone of contention, especially if it gives ethnic groups a sense of recognition. This is not the time to bring up the five development region model as an alternative to federalism either. This will only distance ethnicities who struggled to establish the federalism agenda and will remove what little trust remains between parties.

The Madhesis on the other hand will have to reconsider their demand for One-Madhes, which has not just alarmed hill communities but would be fiercely resisted by Tharus and other groups in Tarai. The current state of indecision cannot drag on for very long.

Sooner or later, we will have to make some difficult choices. The question is how to do it with the least amount of harm. How do we make sure not to make lasting damage to the relationships between communities or create new avenues for resource based conflicts amongst competing states in the future?

There is no guarantee that things will be smooth after the conclusion of the second CA. We might discover that the model we finally settled for comes with more troubles than we bargained for, or we might end up delineating and re-delineating state borders.

Whether we like it or not, our problems will not go away with the new constitution. But having stakeholders feel ownership of the document will certainly make it easier to resolve these issues when they arise in the future.


Read also:

The ‘f’ word again Editorial

Constitutionaldéjà vu Damakant Jayshi

It’s the constitution, stupid Editorial

We, the people Editorial

Pause, play, repeat Trishna Rana

Black day Editorial

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