Political gains - Time for analysis and consolidation

The dynamics of Nepali politics has awed the world again. The decision of the summit between the SPA and the Maoist leadership not only stopped the fratricidal war but also opened up a new vista for politics. This has instilled relief, hope and pride among Nepalis. The summit’s achievement must be analysed to consolidate gains.

Firstly, the accord has to be acclaimed as a victory of Maoist programmes and principles. The question of women’s empowerment, emancipation of Dalits and equal rights and opportunities for all ethnic groups has won consensus. But these issues were raised by the Maoists when others were full of praise for the 1990 Constitution. However, the accord represents victory for all Nepalis. Some years ago most of the SPA members were either against a Constituent Assembly (CA) or reluctant to support the idea, but the summit decision has for the first time transferred theoretical sovereignty of the people to a practical one. The sovereign Nepalis will decide their own future through a CA.

The summit decision under six main headings has taken care of all aspects of implementation of permanent ceasefire, restoration of peace, management of arms and armies, interim arrangements for a government and parliament, and other vital issues, and has given direction to the parties on building a new state based on equality of all Nepalis irrespective of caste, creed, and cultural and social differences to create institutions for the development of inclusive democracy. The people are getting ready to play their role in shaping Nepal’s future. We have passed the stage of developing principles of state restructuring and reformation of society and are about to enter the new phase of creation and consolidation. There is a need to exercise caution too.

The vital question is one of people’s participation. How can sovereign people use their sovereign right in shaping Nepal’s future? The answer is that they would elect representatives to the CA and the assembly will frame a constitution. But this is not sufficient to fathom public opinion on vital issues, left only to a few hundred people to decide, as it would leave space for manipulation by vested interests.

Now the nation has to enter a new phase of mass involvement for the genuine transformation of society and establishment of a lasting peace. The voice of the masses must be heard and respected. To let commoners express their opinion, venues of public hearing have to be opened. The Maoists were from the beginning proposing to hold a political conference. It is surprising to find them dumping their own proposal in exchange for an agreement among a few persons. People have high regard for their leaders and for that reason they have claimed the agreement is broad-based and needs careful expansion. This work should not be left to a few people. Referendum is a proper means to fathom popular feelings but this mechanism has been totally ignored. Unless the people are involved in the society’s transformation into a modern democratic setup, the root of dissent will grow. The Maoists had until recently expressed their faith in the civil society’s role and suggested that one-third members from the civil society be represented in the interim parliament. This is another surprise why the Maoists dumped this suggestion, too. The reason will unfold with passage of time.

One of the grave failures of the agreement has been in the adoption of electoral process. Until yesterday everyone was talking of proportional representation of all groups. The agreement has been made for a mixed system in which a little over 50 per cent (205) will be elected on the basis of geographical constituency and a little less than 50 per cent (204) elected by proportional representation. The “Janajati” organisation has already rejected this.

Nepal’s election system is considered to be promoting use of money and muscle. By adhering to the old election system the ills are bound to be repeated. To avoid this, the eight parties’ leaders must have faith in people’s discretion. Mutual trust is very important. People trust their leaders. Similarly, the parties must trust the people who are the ultimate beneficiaries of a new and democratic Nepal and provide them a mechanism for expressing views.

Condemnation of “feudalism” must not create a hegemonistic tendency. The base of feudalism rests on the thesis that “leader” knows what is good for the people and the base of democracy is that the people know what is good for them. So, the leaders should be practical enough to bow to the popular will. Nepal’s exemplary political changes are still in a fluid state. The consolidation of the achievements has just begun. There should be no room for complacency, as we have to cover a great distance. To attain a truly inclusive democracy and recognise the people’s role in shaping a new state and society, the questions of people’s participation, proportional representation and the need for a referendum must be addressed with all seriousness.

Upadhyay is a former foreign minister