The political agreement last week between the four largest parties fell apart within a day of its announcement, largely due to the existing differences on the federal structure. The parties agreed to create 11 states, but were unable to finalise the names and boundaries. The boundaries were to be determined by a future commission while the names were to be given by provincial assemblies after elections. Efforts to come up with a federal structure has been difficult with the CA thematic committee proposing two alternative models, and the subsequent State Restructuring Commission (SRC) coming up with yet two new models.
The Madhesi front was the first to express disagreement. Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachhedar said they had reservations but would not obstruct the constitution writing process. Ethnic groups then announced bandhs to force the parties to reconsider their agreement. Adding weight to the demand, as many as 296 Constituent Assembly members from several political forces, including the Unified CPN-Maoist, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Madhesi parties, signed a four-point demand relating to restructuring of the state and submitted it to Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal who heads the Problem Resolution Sub-Committee of the Constitutional Committee. An alliance of the ethnic groups and the Madhesi front constitutes a substantial force, which the major political parties cannot ignore. As a result, the writing of the constitution depends on a broader agreement among the stakeholders about the names, number and boundaries of the federal units. One of the key reasons why the ethnic groups are protesting the proposed federal structure is that the provinces to be carved out would make Brahmins and Chhetris the dominant group in almost all of the new provinces. The differences on the federal structure have the potential to derail the constitution writing process, and the political parties must quickly resolve the key differences. The protest programmes in the last few days has widened the rift between the
Hindu and non-Hindu ethnic groups in the hills and the far-west and does not augur well for the country. However, much of the demands of the ethnic groups appear rational, although the level of violence
during their protest programmes has diminished the legitimacy of their claims. If this manner of protest continues, it could promote inter-ethnic divide and incite further violence.
If there is no understanding within the next couple of days, the parties would be unable to draft the constitution by May 27. Although there are voices justifying extension of the CA term, such a move would be extremely difficult because it would require completely ignoring the Supreme Court verdict. Such a move would verge on anarchy and would not receive support from the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML unless a draft is completed within the next few days. The other option, that of imposing emergency,
would not achieve its objective as amending the constitution would need consensus of all the political parties. The only way forward, at this time, is to build consensus among all the stakeholders and complete a draft which can then be completed by a
transformed and downsized parliament that will continue to exist beyond May 27.
Let the kids study
Among those hardest hit by the spate of bandhs are school children. Guardians are apprehensive about sending their children to school during bandhs. Moreover, school buses are not allowed to ply during the bandhs so the school authorities have no other choice other than to close the schools. As a result valuable time is squandered when children should be going to school studying.
What happened to declaring schools as zones of peace? Here it must be mentioned that the schools have been closed for many days because of teachers’ strikes. The teachers should have known better than forcing the schools to shut down. Seeing that the bright future of the students are being tampered with, bandhs should not be held. Since bandhs have a tendency to get out of control and become violent, they should not be held under any circumstances. Norms should be developed to hold protests peacefully.