Not-so-sweet 16The political class must recall the zeal in 2008 when a seed of hope was planted in the hearts of Nepalis.
Nepal celebrated its 16th Republic Day on Monday. It was the day when, back in 2008, Nepali people’s decades-old dream of having a Constituent Assembly write a constitution solely on their behalf had materialised. The first sitting of the first CA duly endorsed the motion to declare Nepal a federal democratic republic with an overwhelming majority. It was the official endorsement of the agendas raised in multiple movements. But within a decade and half of adopting the new setup, people already feel betrayed as they see a handful of politicians hijack it to serve their own interests.
With the public frustration running high, time has come to recall the reasons for the historic announcement. The country wanted to ditch the hereditary and rather capricious monarchy and embrace a fully-participatory democratic system. The goal was to herald an inclusive system and restructure in order to devolve powers to provincial and local units. The radical transformation was possible only after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets and fought against the autocratic rulers, all nurturing the common aspiration of creating a ‘new Nepal’ in their hearts. But are our present-day institutions and elected representatives working to establish the kind of inclusive and equitable state that the representatives of the first CA had envisioned? There is something our top political leaders would do well to introspect.
There are more questions that need answering. Are people satisfied with the activities of the Presidents who replaced the erstwhile monarchs? Is the new proportional representation (PR) system being used as per its spirit of mainstreaming marginalised and underprivileged social groups? Or has the federal system eased the lives of common people, not just in big towns but in the country’s smallest hamlets? The bitter reality is that for a decade and half, the country has become a haven not of the working class but of the middlemen, and those who can hobnob with powerful politicians have emerged as new elites, almost overnight. People see this and naturally feel frustrated.
Does that mean it was a mistake to herald the republic, or to restructure the state and devolve power? And should we try to turn the clock back? Absolutely not. It is true that the federal democratic republic has not benefited the general public to the desired extent. But it is also not the new system’s fault. The politicians and their henchmen are the ones who have corrupted and misused it. This is something that is common across political parties and levels: federal, provincial and local units.
Feeling cheated, people now seem to be in a mood to punish traditional forces. Voters have given clear indication in recent times that they are ready to trust new leaders as their representatives. Sensing the changing public mood, major political parties are discussing intra-party reforms too. They could not do it sooner. Nepal can’t afford yet another political experiment; there is no alternative to implementing the new constitution in its letter and spirit. Once again, our political class would do well to remember the zeal on that May day in 2008 when the 601-strong assembly planted a new seed of hope in the heart of each and every Nepali. The sapling that grew out of that seed needs careful nurture—or it will wilt away.