The new maze
JUN 06 -
What went wrong? The most frequently asked question of the past week throws up different answers depending on who you speak with. Those against the 2005-2006 change, with a smug look, claim it was a result of the artificiality and hollowness of the entire political transformation project. Others point to the weakness of the constitutional process ever since the first sitting of the CA. The breakdown of consensual politics, obsession with power sharing, the delays in the integration process, the monopoly of top-leaders over the decision-making process, the wasted two years when the Maoists were kept out of the power structure—all factors contributed to the eventual failure of the CA.
But at the core, the process did not succeed since there were fundamentally different and competing visions of what the future Nepali state should look like. On one hand stood the parties who were happy with 1990s; were reluctant converts to the 2006 framework and came along only because the king had kicked them out and they had nowhere else to go; thought the change had already gone too far; and wished to maintain the dominance of certain communities while giving a few sops to others to appease them. On the other were social forces who wanted to break the hegemony of certain communities, the Kathmandu-centered nature of the state, and redress historic injustices. The Maoist leadership may well have wanted to compromise and go along. But the social base of the party, and its alliance with the Madhesi Morcha, were such compelling factors that they knew ‘postponing’ the federal agenda would be akin to political suicide.
There were opportunities in the past month to reconcile these visions to some degree, and manage it better. But the truly stunning short-sightedness of the political class meant we missed it.
The first mistake was the May 15 deal, which was made without adequate consultation of the Janajati caucus, ethnic organisations, Tharu protestors, Upendra Yadav’s Madhesi front, and despite the dissent, of the Madhesi Morcha. It is truly incredulous that big parties could sign a deal without talking to the key stakeholders who pushed the federal agenda in the first place. It was clear to anyone who chose to speak to them that this would not work. Janajatis and Madhesis saw it as the ‘postponement’ of the federal project altogether. They felt that their compromises—by giving up the one Madhes demand, as well as preferential rights—had not been reciprocated. The Maoists responded to street pressure; the other parties stuck to it till the very end. If they had woken up to how unsustainable the deal was after 320 MPs rejected it, and publicly said they would rework it, the three-day NEFIN banda would not have turned out the way it did. The polarisation may not become as stark as it did in the final days of the CA; and precious time would have been saved.
The second problem was the approach to an extension. Sources indicate that all leaders present at an all-party meeting, including NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba, Ram Chandra Poudel, Krishna Prasad Sitaula and Bimalendra Nidhi, agreed to a three-month extension of the CA on May 22. Unfortunately, the NC and UML backed out of the agreement. If the political class had been unified on the matter, and presented new facts to the SC about how all other issues had been settled and they needed time only for federalism, the verdict may have been different. Their opposition, as well as the editorial line taken by influential papers, created the mood against an extension. If the legislature had stood together, there were several ways to counter the judiciary. The same parties who opposed it, today seem to be realising this was a political blunder. It has left an unaccountable Maoist-led government in place; there is no parliament to keep it under check; and they lack the street power to oust it. Many in these parties are seeking reinstatement of the CA now. One only wishes they had shown the same initiative to save it when it still existed.
The third problem was on the final two days of the negotiations. Serious negotiations on federalism just did not take place. Make no mistake—the NC and UML were very clear that this was too contentious an issue, there was no time, and it had to be left for the transformed parliament. The Madhesis and Janjatis had zilch trust about these assurances and had decided that it would be unacceptable. It is too much to expect from the UML, but the NC also made no efforts to reach out to the Morcha and provide them firm guarantees and determine principles on which the parliament would decide the federal structure. They thought India would lean on the Madhesis to give in. India seems to have decided to stay out in the final phase of negotiations and leave it to internal dynamics. All of NC and UML’s present anger against India is that Delhi did not pressure Madhesis to commit political suicide by giving up federalism. This stems from the same mindset of seeing the Madhesi parties as mere Indian pawns, with no agency and agenda of their own.
All of this has landed us in the current mess. The ideal solution would be for the parties to get together, manufacture that elusive commodity called ‘consensus’, and decide on the future roadmap. But this does not appear likely for the foreseeable future. The mistrust and bitterness is too deep; the interpretations of the recent events are too much at variance for them to find common ground. A certain phase of tension, protests, and polarisation is inevitable. It is difficult to see NC and UML joining this government immediately, and it is as difficult to envisage a situation where the Maoist-Madhesi government gives way. The situation will only become ripe for a settlement when two things happen—if older parties realise they have made grave miscalculations, change their mindset and realise that the Madhesi and Janajati issue cannot be put back in the bottle, and get out of the self-righteous hole they have dug themselves in. And if the Maoist leadership, especially Prachanda, calculates that the present stalemate is yielding diminishing returns and is delaying his personal political ambitions. Till then, brace yourselves for a prolonged deadlock, with almost no chance of elections in November.
Posted on: 2012-06-06 08:38