Dissatisfied groups : Multilateral talks for consensus

The Constituent Assembly (CA) polls have been scheduled for November 22. The Election Commission has also determined the dates for various procedures to be adopted to hold the elections in November. However, there is still considerable doubt if the elections can be held in a peaceful atmosphere.

After a decade-long Maoist insurgency, it was hoped that all issues would be resolved through dialogue and other peaceful means. However, guns have not fallen silent in the Tarai and the threat of violence in the Hills looms large as the government has failed to address the dissent among various ethnic groups.

While the minister in charge of dialogue with dissenting factions has engaged in a series of meetings, they have so far been inconclusive. The threat of more militant movements has been issued by those dissatisfied with the slow pace of the government to address their demands. Meanwhile, the Maoists’ demand to ban the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum and the reciprocal MJF demand for the ouster of the Maoists from the government (and for a ban on YCL) further complicate the matter.

Imposition of a ban on any political group only accelerates the clandestine work of the banned entity. Moreover, imposition of a ban on any entity cannot be regarded as democratic, particularly after the success of the Jana Andolan II, which mandated the creation of a new Nepal — a democratic, inclusive and dynamic nation.

If the elections have to be conducted in November, the government has to do a lot of work to promote and sustain peace in the country. The emphasis of former US president Jimmy Carter on maintaining law and order has to be taken seriously. Also, in order to increase trust in the government’s intent, the government ought to change its tactics with respect to talks with dissenting parties. An atmosphere must be created in which instead of agreement between two parties, a general agreement emerges between all stakeholders.

Looking at our own experience, we find that rigidity on the part of any negotiator is bound to boomerang. When the Maoists were invited for talks for the first time during Deuba’s premiership, the dialogue failed as the government was not ready to discuss the need for a constituent assembly. The same story was repeated during the talks under Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Surya Bahadur Thapa; but the main cause of failure on both occasions was the overshadowing of civil government by the security forces. The King gave his ear only to the security forces and ignored the political entities, thus torpedoing the dialogue.

Today again the peace process hinges on the issue of electoral process. Indigenous ethnic groups, Tarai residents and Dalits are demanding proportional representation in the CA. The government, for its part, is adamant on mixed electoral system. Along with the electoral procedure, the demand is to spell out the details of the new state structure.

Though there is a common agreement to adopt a federal system, the composition of the new administrative units is still a sensitive matter. Then arises the question of what type of authority and control would be bestowed on the new units. The general demand of Madhesis as well as various ethnic groups has been the creation of new administrative units on the basis of language and ethnicity. But the chief government negotiator emphasises how the demand to create states, provinces or districts on the basis of ethnicity will be disastrous. A negotiator has every right to emphasise his point of view, but it is not necessary that the negotiator publicly contradicts and condemns the opinion of others. As long as the government sticks to its own view and the negotiator to his narrow partisan views, there is no hope for a fair dialogue. Its success depends upon flexibility shown with an interest in finding a common stand on important and sensitive issues.

The experience of the ongoing process of dialogue has proved that as long as the dialogue remains strictly bilateral, it will exclude the point of view of others who are not a party to the bilateral talks. Hence there should be a common platform for the discussion of the needs of all the dissenting factions. A political conference for comprehensive discussion of all issues before the stakeholders is the only way to arrive at a common consensus.

So, the question of banning any party or group has to be sidelined completely in the greater interest and all dissenting entities ought to be brought together through a political conference which could have open-ended agendas, thus easing the long procedure of constitution-making by the CA. The directives adopted by the political conference would be incorporated in the constitution and so the period of constitution making would be short and smooth. New Nepal cannot be built on old prescriptions. New thought process and courage are needed to build a prosperous Nepal.

Upadhyay is ex-foreign minister