The cost of doing nothingMore the positions harden, more difficult will it be for parties to find a solution
Although the leaders of the protesting Madhesi Morcha and those from the ruling parties have been holding talks in recent days, there is as yet no indication that a resolution is imminent. Mistrust persists between the two sides. Nonetheless, leaders from both sides now are keen to find middle ground and abandon their more extreme positions. UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been keen to resolve the dispute between the two sides and has made a flexible proposal. In his view, the parties should take active steps to move forward with the constitutional amendments registered by the previous Nepali Congress-led government, which deal with the issues of constituency delineation on the basis of population and proportional representation. Second, Dahal has proposed that boundaries between provinces be redelineated in a way so as to consolidate Tharu dominated areas in the western districts and Madhesi dominated areas in the eastern districts.
It is very likely that such an approach would be supported by the Madhesi parties. Their leaders have already said that they are willing to support the NC registered constitutional amendments if slight modifications are made to them. They are also keen to move forward with substantive talks on the redelineation of provinces.
The factors that will determine whether the talks will succeed or fail now have to do with the role of the UML and the Nepali Congress. Prime Minister KP Oli has for a long time been known as a staunch opponent of redelineating provincial boundaries. In his recent speech, however, he conceded, for the first time, that he was open to holding negotiations to redraw the lines between provinces. This is a positive sign. However, it is not yet clear whether he and his party colleagues will agree to the approach outlined by Dahal and the Madhesi parties. It is crucial that he and his party colleagues do so as soon as possible. Before he became the Prime Minister, Oli seemed to give the impression that he is sufficiently powerful to ensure that he has the backing of his entire party. Now is the time to show the leadership.
Things are somewhat more confusing with the Nepali Congress. Some of its leaders appear to have become more sympathetic to Madhesi demands in recent weeks. But some others remain staunchly opposed to them and want to postpone resolution of the boundary dispute, preferably by creating a commission and allowing it to deal with the issue. That will not help resolve the current stalemate. Unlike Oli’s grip over the CPN-UML, the problem with the NC is that no single leader seems to enjoy unanimous backing of the entire party. It is crucial that this changes. Senior NC leaders, as well as those of other parties, should build momentum towards a political solution of the dispute so that recalcitrant elements have no option but to come on board. As positions harden across the political spectrum and the more the parties let their differences fester, the more difficult will it be to find a political solution to the current standoff.