The then benignly agitating seven democratic party alliance and the still underground, banned and warring Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) arrived at a historical understanding on November 22, 2005 for creating a ‘new Nepal’—a secular federal democratic Republic, as their minimum agenda. The agreement ended the Hindu domination in Nepal, notwithstanding the fact that it is a Hindu majority country. This understanding signed in New Delhi proved to be a watershed in the political history of Nepal.
With the consensus of all parties, the erstwhile dissolved Parliament was resurrected and the interim constitution drafted by it was passed with an astounding majority that sent out a clear message to the monarch. UCPN (Maoist) emerged as the winner in the Constituent Assembly election winning more than 50 percent of the directly elected seats. The country was poised to write the new constitution and every citizen was optimistic about an inclusive, federal, republican and democratic constitution, to be written for the first time by the Nepali people.
The consensus spirit prevailed until the Nepali Congress (NC) led by late Girija Babu gave it a big jolt through the amendment of the interim constitution, which made it possible to form a majority government. NC destroyed the consensus spirit by not joining the first government of republican Nepal.
The original time frame of two years for drafting the constitution became inadequate with too much time being spent on forming and toppling governments—precious time that should have been utilized towards fulfilling the CA’s mandate. The CA members, especially, top leaders were constantly engaged in endless squabbles and power games, distracted from the key task of drafting the constitution. However, it may be unfair to say the CA did not do any work towards writing the constitution. The eleven committees under the CA prepared reports and shared them with the public at large. There was consensus on all the issues except on state restructuring and system of governance, and as it stands today, more than 90 percent of the writing task is already complete.
The bickering between political parties turned nasty with the contentious issue of restructuring the nation, and the question of whether to adopt a federal structure based on single or multiple ethnic identities. The adamancy of political parties based on their political, social, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds started taking a toll on the constitution drafting process. People belonging to different castes, regions, and ethnicities began protesting on the streets all over the country. The nation seemed to be heading towards a major ethnic show down. Centuries old harmonious societal relations were cracking under ethnic and regional fault lines.
In this politically and emotionally charged environment, the CA’s inability to deliver the constitution before its deadline and its ultimate dissolution dealt a severe blow to the entire democratic process in Nepal. It was an unforgivable failure and a historical blunder by political parties, leaving the people frustrated and dismayed. However, nobody took responsibility for the failure and thus, began the blame-game.
The next morning ushered in a dreadful calm as all the agitating groups withdrew their strikes. Many in the country felt relieved because they felt the new constitution would have created even more dangerous and charged resentments and rifts, leading to unmanageable conflicts. It was a kind of respite for the country, albeit temporary, as there is no alternative to drafting a new constitution that will inevitably be rejected by some groups.
Now, the opposition has singularly demanded Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s resignation before any discussion or debate on these critical national issues can take place. They have been requesting the president to remove the PM. The PM, meanwhile, has made it clear that he has no intention to quit without any alternative legal basis for his replacement until next the CA/Parliament election is held and a new government takes over from him. His ruling coalition strongly feels his resignation will create a power vacuum in the absence of a CA/Parliament or a constitution and the country will plunge into deeper crisis.
Therefore, it is a foregone conclusion that political consensus is a must at this moment as there is no representative body in the country after the death of CA. Political parties, however, have been shamelessly busy with political scheming and Machiavellian strategizing, trying to topple this government and be in power instead of engrossing themselves in completing the constitution writing process. A month and a half into the constitutional crisis and it still does not seem to have struck them that the country is in the midst of a near calamity.
Political parties are busy scheming, trying to topple this government and being in power instead of engrossing themselves in completing the constitution.
They must realize that the main agenda of the country should have been drafting the new constitution and creating a social, political and economic environment conducive for the poor and dalits and other marginalized communities, and fulfilling their long cherished wishes. It is about time that the parties realize and acknowledge the blunder committed by them by disagreeing on the federal set up and structure. The current vacuum may usher in newer, more radical and stronger people’s’ movements and struggles in the country which may sweep these political parties and leaders out.
Political parties need to initiate the left over task of finalizing the constitution with immediate effect, without waiting for the CA elections. This requires a stable consensus and the PM’s resignation, after all the political parties agree to a package to draft the constitution by sorting out key issues and resolving other matters, including formation of a consensus government. Once there is agreement, all other issues can be sorted out in the refreshed spirit of consensus.
The author is Executive Director, Institute of Foreign Affair