Nepal A Fad­ing Fu­ture

Some years back, Nepal was a bright star on the hori­zon of democ­racy. While the monar­chy has gone, the masses still grope in the dark­ness of the en­su­ing po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Asna Ali

Far away from the moun­tain tops that are its claim to fame, there is a storm rag­ing in Nepal. For the last ten years, the coun­try has been try­ing to con­vert it­self from a king­dom to a full-fledged democ­racy where rep­re­sen­ta­tion for all will be a key fac­tor in po­lit­i­cal and so­cial progress.

It has been a long and bumpy road so far. The coun­try was ruled by kings of vary­ing abil­ity and power for cen­turies be­fore get­ting sub­merged in po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in the 80s and 90s. A Maoist-led up­ris­ing re­sulted in chaos and deaths across Nepal. Along with a

weak­en­ing sup­port for the monar­chy, this up­ris­ing caused a pres­sure buildup for democ­racy to fi­nally gain sway. The monar­chy was even­tu­ally dis­solved in 2007 and Nepal be­came a repub­lic. Some sort of a com­pro­mise was agreed upon by all sides lead­ing to the Maoists join­ing the gov­ern­ment. The year 2011 was set as a dead­line for the for­mu­la­tion of a new con­sti­tu­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, democ­racy has rarely fol­lowed a sim­ple path in Nepal. No sin­gle party has gained enough sway to be able to form a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment and the coali­tions formed are not able to set aside their own vested in­ter­ests in favour of the greater good.

Nepal is a coun­try di­vided along eth­nic, re­li­gious and ge­o­graph­i­cal lines. Sev­eral dif­fer­ent lan­guages and di­alects are spo­ken in the coun­try. Nepal is a poor coun­try de­spite its flour­ish­ing tourist trade. Most of its poverty lies in the plains where the mi­nor­ity eth­nic and re­li­gious groups re­side. There has been years of sys­tem­atic eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal ex­clu­sion for some of th­ese eth­nic group such as the Mad­hesi. Re­sent­ment over the wrongs ren­dered to them was part of the sup­port for the bloody Maoist in­sur­gency and it still af­fects the key de­ci­sions that have to be made re­gard­ing Nepal’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture.

The ques­tion of pro­vin­cial di­vi­sions is the main stick­ing point that has yet again put the process in dead­lock. The mi­nor­ity groups and the Maoist party want pro­vin­cial di­vi­sions to fol­low the eth­nic di­vi­sions in the coun­try so that each group may fi­nally get its own voice on the na­tional plat­form. The ra­tio­nale has gained con­sid­er­able pop­u­lar­ity but it leaves the ques­tion of eco­nomic in­equal­ity unan­swered. It is pos­si­ble that the poorer eth­nic groups will con­tinue to be marginal­ized if they are placed in ad­min­is­tra­tive zones that are sep­a­rate from the more af­flu­ent Nepalese.

The ques­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tion extends to the elec­toral sys­tem. Whether it should be based on an open vot­ing mech­a­nism where who­ever gets the most votes comes to power i.e. first past the post, or it should be based on pro­por­tional seats to rep­re­sent the var­i­ous marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties.

Nepal’s re­li­gious di­ver­sity means that declar­ing the state as ‘Hindu’ would leave out about 20% of the pop­u­la­tion and cause more re­sent­ment amongst those ex­cluded. To de­clare the state as be­ing secular could also cause prob­lems as the con­cept of a Hindu state has re­cently gained sup­port.

Amidst all th­ese is­sues, those watch­ing the sit­u­a­tion be­lieve that the real prob­lems are not those of prin­ci­ple but rather lack of po­lit­i­cal will. It is felt that the flames of dis­cord are be­ing used by opportunistic lead­ers to fur­ther their own agen­das. Per­haps not al­to­gether a wrong as­sump­tion since no sin­gle party in Nepal has man­aged to achieve a ma­jor­ity sta­tus and all of them are seek­ing to strengthen their pres­ence in the fledg­ling democ­racy.

The in­flu­ence of Nepal’s neigh­bours is also be­ing felt in the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil. Nepal is highly re­liant on aid and trade with In­dia. There is lit­tle doubt that this re­liance forces the coun­try to make poli­cies which will keep its big neigh­bor happy and will­ing to pro­vide con­tin­ued good­will and sup­port.

In the be­gin­ning of 2015, talks re­gard­ing the con­sti­tu­tion stalled again when the par­lia­ment failed to reach con­sen­sus on key is­sues and a self­im­posed dead­line was yet again not met. The sit­u­a­tion turned into a full­blown cri­sis when the Maoists walked away from the talks and led mass protests against the gov­ern­ment’s plan to pass the key de­ci­sions through a two thirds ma­jor­ity. A thirty party-strong coali­tion led thou­sands of peo­ple into the streets of Khat­mandu to protest against a par­lia­ment which they said was not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple or their will. For the Maoist party, the lead­er­ship of this coali­tion with eth­nic rep­re­sen­ta­tion as the core of its antigov­ern­ment ar­gu­ment was a very good op­por­tu­nity to gar­ner sup­port amongst the Nepalese peo­ple.

There were plans to fur­ther dis­rupt the po­lit­i­cal protests with phase two of the protests that would re­sult in a gen­eral strike. How­ever, for now, the po­lit­i­cal process is again un­der­way, thanks to the ef­forts of civil so­ci­ety lead­ers but still un­der the threat of fur­ther protests in case the talks fail to yield re­sults de­sired by the op­po­si­tion party and its al­lied par­ties, many of which do not have rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the par­lia­ment.

All this po­lit­i­cal grand­stand­ing in the name of ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences is not sit­ting well with the or­di­nary Nepalese and rightly so. The coun­try went through a very vi­o­lent in­sur­gent move­ment and the march to­wards democ­racy was sup­posed to bring it out of in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion and im­prove the lives of its cit­i­zens. How­ever, Nepal is fac­ing the same prob­lems as many other young democ­ra­cies. Its lead­ers have petty prob­lems of their own and they are not able to rise above them to look at the big­ger pic­ture.

In ev­ery ma­jor po­lit­i­cal party of Nepal, there is an in­ter­nal con­flict go­ing on re­gard­ing po­si­tions of power. The cur­rent stale­mate over the con­sti­tu­tion has al­lowed ev­ery politi­cian work­ing on his im­age build­ing plan to take a spe­cific ide­o­log­i­cal po­si­tion and come out as a vi­able rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Po­lit­i­cal point scor­ing hasn’t just been done against those each side is op­pos­ing. In­ter­nally the lead­er­ship within each party is frac­tured with many play­ing the long game to­wards achiev­ing their po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions.

Nepal mean­while is suf­fer­ing. In­stead of be­ing on a path of pros­per­ity, the coun­try is still stuck in eco­nomic dol­drums. Its work­ing class in­di­vid­u­als are forced to seek labour abroad. The dreams of a strong demo­cratic will and of rep­re­sen­ta­tion for all, are still in the pipe­line.

If Nepal’s po­lit­i­cal par­ties do not get their act to­gether soon, the trust that its peo­ple have in them will be eroded. What lit­tle unity has been won in the past few years will be lost amidst this strife. Sub­se­quent gov­ern­ments have failed to come up a vi­able con­sti­tu­tion and the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion does not look like it will be re­solved pos­i­tively. There is just too wide a gap be­tween the ide­olo­gies and po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions of the two sides bat­tling it out on the po­lit­i­cal stage.

Us­ing eth­nic divides as a means to divide the coun­try into prov­inces is a danger­ous idea be­cause it could widen the gap be­tween var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties rather than bring­ing them closer. It is un­der­stand­able that the marginal­ized groups in Nepal wish for their voices to be heard. But they must try to achieve this from a po­si­tion of com­pro­mise if the process of democ­racy is to be kept from col­laps­ing.

If Nepal’s po­lit­i­cal par­ties do not get their act to­gether soon, the trust that its peo­ple have in them will be eroded.

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