Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala yesterday made a televised appeal to the nation to calm down and suspend violent protests that have raged in the Terai for the past two weeks, by offering certain assurances. He said that the statute to be drawn up by the popularly elected constituent assembly (CA) would incorporate a “federal democratic structure”, besides pledging that the number of electoral constituencies will be increased on the principal considerations of similar population, the country’s geographical features and expediency”, but without reducing the existing number of constituencies allocated to each district. On top of this, he has appealed to all groups, mainly referring to those leading the Terai protests, to come for talks to find out a solution to any problem. Accordingly, the government is soon to form a committee to facilitate dialogue. Now, the two principal demands of the present agitation stand broadly met, and the details will have to be worked out by politicians and experts.
The future course of events will be influenced considerably by the effect of Koirala’s speech. But Koirala suspected, based on what he called a study and analysis of recent incidents, that the regressive forces may be raising their heads, trying to pre-empt the CA, the main agenda of the April movement as the settler of all disputes. However, he reiterated his determination to hold the CA polls by mid-June. Referring to the settlement of the Maoist insurgency, the Prime Minister called upon any group to seek a resolution of internal problems internally through talks. The fulfilment of the two demands combined with the government’s readiness to resolve additional issues at the negotiating table seems fair enough. Now the organisers of the protests are expected to demonstrate their bona fides by coming to the negotiating table for result-oriented talks.
While various groups have already begun reacting to the PM’s package, one question that may arise is that if things are settled right now — on whether the next constitution will have a federal or a unitary system — will not the rationale for the CA weaken somewhat? Then people may as well ask, why cannot other fundamental questions, such as whether Nepal remain a kingdom or become a republic, be settled by a decision of the eight political parties? The CA should by definition remain unencumbered by such pre-conditions, except that the people’s sovereign rights can in no case be taken away. Tomorrow other groups might come up with their own demands, seeking pledges of their incorporation into the next constitution. As for the delimitation of electoral constituencies, while population should be the single most important deciding factor, other factors such as geography are also important and cannot therefore be ignored. What every political party or group with grievances must understand now is that the CA is something which was beyond their wildest dreams till relatively recently, and they should desist from any actions that may kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.