Errors and liesThe three major parties have failed the litmus test to lead a multicultural country
By promulgating the constitution the way they did and issuing a diktat to celebrate it, the political bosses of CPN-UML, Nepali Congress and UCPN (Maoist), save for Baburam Bhattarai and Gagan Thapa, have failed the litmus test to lead a country as diverse as Nepal. How could they promulgate the statute and then celebrate when half of the country was engulfed in protests in which forty people had died in police shooting?
Only when India cracked its whip by winking at the border points have these hapless leaders now come to their senses a little by shouting about their ‘bicycle-riding nationalism’ and by sending feelers to the agitators and to Delhi. What prevented them from reading the country’s leading newspapers? They were filled with advice and premonitions. By inviting the blockade on the Nepali people, they have caused much suffering.
Even if Nepal had made a perfect constitution acceptable to all, the country could have very well faced exploding discontent caused by the lack of economic opportunities; the after effects of the earthquake; the frustration of working under dehumanising conditions in the Middle East and South East Asia; and the internet and social media that have set their aspirations aflame. All these have made Nepal what in Maithili is called a ujaidbhelpokhar—a shallow pond in the summer heat crowded with fish, where too little water, too much heat and too many fish that cause turmoil.
But the flawed process and botched outcome lit the short fuse of discontent and centuries of humiliation among the Madhesis and Tharus, the avantgarde among the marginalised, no matter how much and how many times the three parties sugarcoat what they have done by spinning tales. Outwardly, the constitution was passed with 85 percent votes and 90 percent participation but, as my fellow columnist Deepak Thapa elaborated with evidence last Thursday in these pages, this claim is untenable at best and fraudulent at worst.
During the second CA elections, the UML and Congress made multiculturalism, federalism, multilingualism and inclusivity the foundation of their campaigns, both in the Tarai-Madhes and the hill-mountains, against the Maoists’ and Madhesis’ ekal pahichan (single identity) campaign in their manifesto. When they secured almost two-thirds majority in the elections, they ignored the promise of identity, manipulated the draft of the constitution in their favour and refused to incorporate the already negotiated and enshrined rights of the women, Madhesis and Janajatis in the Interim constitution. Unwillingly, they did obey the Supreme Court order for boundary demarcation but by gerrymandering it for their electoral advantage and, in the Tharu case, totally rejecting their demand for a province.
Thus, the provinces shortchanged Madhesis, denied and divided the Tharus and Magars and reduced the rights of Dalits and women. Mahendra Lawoti, a political scientist, has explained recently how the new constitution does not measure up to India’s constitution of over six decades ago. The Maoists’ total about-face from their campaign by signing the 16-point agreement while the UML and the Congress broke the camel’s back for the marginalised. Even Bijaya Gachhadar who had initially joined the coalition had to walk out at the last minute because the hardliners refused to even mention the Tarai-Madhes in their agreement. This shows the extent of the hill caste dominated UML and Congress’s determination to deny the aspirations of the Madhesis and the Tharus.
At the time of election, the Congress and UML made a clever candidate selection of Madhesi, Tharu and Janajati members to maximise their win against the agitating and unstable Maoists and the fractious and multiply split Madhesi parties. Once the election was over, the UML and Congress bosses used patron-client relationship and whip to silence the Madhesi and Janajati CA members. Just one example will suffice. The firebrand Congress CA member, Amaresh Singh, had made radical speeches all over Tarai-Madhes against the draft constitution and its process and even preached violence in Tikapur. Nobody has heard a word from him since. This shows that the UML and Congress led by their hill caste bosses have turned into another form of employment agencies, like the bureaucracy and the security forces, where giving tickets during elections amounts to giving jobs and putting people on the payroll in order to control and stifle the aspirations of the marginalised.
Recipe for failure
In the first CA, the Maoists had over 200 hundred seats and Madhesi parties over 100. But just because they conducted themselves badly during CA I and got a reduced mandate in CA II, their cause of the representation of the marginalised did not disappear. Besides, in the first CA, the State Structuring Commission had by overwhelming majority voted for many more provinces that would empower the Madhesis and Janajatis. The first CA was dissolved under controversial circumstances. Just because it got dissolved does not mean its mandate for the constitution, which is a long-term matter as opposed to Parliament, totally disappeared. Had the first CA not been there, the three parties’ claim of supermajority might have carried more weight. If you calculate the mean between first and secondCA, you get a more complex picture than that of 85 percent vote for the constitution.
A few hardline and leaders with vested interests in the UML (KP Oli and Bhim Rawal) and Congress (Krishna Sitaula and Sher Bahadur Deuba) hijacked the agenda of the constitution at the drafting and negotiating stages. The differences that arose in the process were not taken to the respective parties’ central committees for discussion and voting. The party bosses became all-in-all authority to do as they wished. This was oligarchy at best, not democracy.
In Nepal, there are three major and a few other interest blocks: Madhesis, Janajatis, and Hill Castes; Dalits, women, etc. Even though the Madhesi and Janajati parties lost many seats to other parties, and the Maoists turned their back on their agendas, you cannot write a constitution without block groups’ active participation and consent.
And the biggest failure of the three major parties is that except for Baburam Bhattarai and Gagan Thapa who conducted differently in words as well as deeds, all their first and second line leaders have failed the litmus test of sympathy and empathy to be leaders of a multicultural, multi-lingual country like Nepal. And that is the bigger crisis Nepal faces right now than India’s ambiguous blockade, which will disappear soon, I am sure.