22-28 August 2014 #721

Inclusion by any other name

The last six years have not been wasted, we have zeroed in on institutionalising inclusion
Anurag Acharya
Six years after the first Constituent Assembly promised us a new constitution and nine months after the installation of the second CA, we finally seem to have arrived at the crux of the debate: what kind of nation do we want to be?  It may seem like a wasted six years. After all, we did embark on a federal republican course without charting the political and technical path of how to get there.  The sole role of the first CA was to bring an armed rebel group into the democratic mainstream. Ultimately, the disagreements over form of governance, electoral system and state restructuring proved too contentious. The divided media stoked public sentiment, threatening communal and ethnic harmony.

Those were testing times, but eventually, we grew stronger and matured as a nation. Today, the political parties and dissident groups that were bitterly divided over, say, federalism, are coming together. There are at least two reasons this is happening.

First, there seems to be a sobering realisation among major forces that they cannot elbow each other out of this process, and will sooner or later have to negotiate. The Maoists who were the largest party in the first CA tried to bull-walk the opposition and undermine their role in the constitution drafting. That fuelled differences and paralysed the CA, ultimately leading to its dissolution.

The NC and the UML, who together lead the government and the second CA, don’t want to repeat that mistake. They know, getting the statute passed through the CA is useless if it is disowned or torched by forces inside or outside, who claim a stake in the process.

“We have spent precious time trying to play each other out. It is time for mutual compromise now,” says Mahesh Acharya, who along with party colleague Ram Chandra Poudel, is tasked by the NC to find a breakthrough on contentious issues with other parties.

Acharya is keeping his cards close to his chest, and says the parties must refrain from battling it out in the media until they arrive at a workable compromise. Similar sentiments  by the Maoist chairman of the Dialogue Committee Baburam Bhattarai is also hopeful.

The second reason for the change is that the parties are waking up to a reality that they have been fighting over various models of democracy without realising that the nation is close to developing an inclusive model based on its own unique experience. This may still not be perfect, but rather than sitting at the table with an imported blueprint, the parties must work together to build on this evolving model. For that to happen, it is important that all political forces inside and outside the CA see their contribution and own the achievements made thus far.

Similarly, the political parties are also narrowing down the debate on the name and number of federal states. As the debate progresses, there will be a tendency to retreat to entrenched positions. We could once again get stuck on the names and numbers of future federal units rather than making them inclusive.

While the number and physical boundaries of the future federal units must indeed be determined based on geography, population and resources, the proposed federal states must also have inclusive socio-economic and political character.

In the case of Madhes, a region with mixed population but a distinct way of life, regional autonomy in the form of at least two federal units can be a politically and economically viable solution. Similarly, rather than carving out ethnic states in the hills, an autonomous region or a protected tribal zone within various states where a community’s ethnic, linguistic and cultural traditions are protected and promoted, will address the issue of identity more effectively. Reservation for the marginalised at all levels of the state, based on affirmative action can help us become a more inclusive nation.

It was exclusion and the structural violence of the state that fuelled the conflict. In the past eight years the political debate on the constitution has tried to find a solution to ensure peace and social justice. The new constitution must institutionalise these gains and structure the country in a way.


Read also:

Reckless federification, Editorial

Federalism for the sake of it, David Seddon

Federal fundamentalism, Bihari K Shrestha

The architecture of democracy, Bihari K Shrestha

Federal expression, Anurag Acharya

Constitutional déjà vu, Damakant Jayshi

Doomed to repeat it, Trishna Rana

Agreeing to agree

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