Monday, July 6, 2009

Deliver or quit

More than a year has passed since the election of the Constituent Assembly (CA). On April 10, 2010, the stipulated term of the CA, which is mandated to draft a new constitution and decide the federal structure of Nepal, expires. In the past 14 months, CA members, who draw a salary of 50 thousand rupees per month (the 601 CA members have so far drawn 420 million rupees in salary alone), have been engaged in everything from land grabbing and brawl within the CA secretariat campus to availing services of masseuses. The political parties seem to appear interested in everything else except drafting a constitution and agreeing on a functionally viable federal structure.

Having a constitution also means complying with the stipulated rules. But who wants to play by the rules in “New Nepal” except the poor who are forced to? At least, not the major political parties. If the media is to be believed, only six days in the past six months did not experience a banda. The bandas that accounted for 166 days of lost productivity in the past six months were not called for by the disgruntled silent majority, which in reality should have been the case. The largest party in the CA leads the pack in enforcing bandas. Organizations affiliated with UCPN (Maoist), which claims to be the only force capable of bringing sociopolitical and economic transformation in the country, was responsible for enforcing 39 bandas and strikes in the month of May and June alone. It enforced 69 bandas and strikes in the past six months.

Remaining insincere towards people’s need and the nation’s progress while drawing a paycheck can be at best called a morally-repugnant act. CA members should either stop draining the state’s coffer or get back to business.
Others, who claim to be the alternative to the Maoist bullying, are not very far behind. The CPN-UML and the NC organized 17 and 15 bandas respectively during the past six months. So, if we combine the strikes and bandas called by the major three parties, they are responsible for 101 days of lost productivity in the past six months. What does that say about the seriousness on the part of the political parties that are responsible for solving common people’s problem and taking the nation forward?

There is a rapid decay in the sense of public service among the politicians. Sadly, the political parties are using democratic process and institutions to legitimize their undemocratic and antisocial activities aimed at achieving their ultimate goals. Lack of viable alternatives has left Nepali people at the mercy of the morally-bankrupt political class. You can contest elections on ethnic agendas, become a foreign minister for nine months and get away without uttering a word on the need for ethnic empowerment. The globe-trotting foreign minister, Upendra Yadav, is again back in action posing himself as an ethnic messiah. Political insincerity of a few politicians is diluting the purity of the demand for ethnic rights.

Nobody, at least not the politicians, want to have a serious constructive debate on the form of federal structure that is viable and just. The major political parties, whose leadership comprises of mostly pahadi Brahmins and Chhetris do not want to raise the issue because they clearly see their clout diminishing if ethnic federalism is realized. But they do not want to say that, at least not in public. So they give it a nationalist color. They phrase it nicely. Ethnic mindset is antithetical to the notion of national integrity and nationalist pride. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But the ethnic minorities that are pushing for ethnic federalism do know where the Mecca of these politicians is located.

Progress should be the ultimate criteria for designing a federal structure. The federal structure should be founded on administrative prudence and developmental prospects rather than petty issues of politics like ethnicity, caste and language. It is important to ensure that the poor, who are not only ethnic minorities, benefit from the new structure or else the demand for separate states is not going to go away. For example, in India, the demand for separate states did not die down with the creation of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, which were carved out from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Currently, the demand for creation of 10 new states is lying before the Indian government.

India, which was governed and governed quite effectively by the Britishers under four administrative blocks – Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and Delhi – now has 30 states. If the demand for 10 more states is met, it will have 40 states. The portioning of India engineered by VP Singh is getting deeper.

Nepal should learn from the Indian experience. A sincere effort towards drafting the constitution and rigorous debate on Nepal’s federal structure should start immediately. Running away from the problem is not the solution. It will require a sincere dialogue and consensus building. Political elites of yesteryears do not want to cave in to the demands of regional parties as it will shrink their political base and bargaining potential. The regional parties do not want to compromise on anything less than “One Madhes, One Pradhes” because the very minute a regional party will agree to anything less than that, other regional players will cry foul and call it a “sellout.” But this game of waiting for the other party to drop the ball cannot go forever, can it?

Constitution drafting and design of the federal structure has been put to the back burner because of political insincerity. Remaining insincere towards people’s need and the nation’s progress while drawing a paycheck can be at best called a morally-repugnant act. CA members should either stop draining the state’s coffer or get back to business.

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