TOPICS : Concept of a South Asian parliament

Bishnu Hari Nepal

The concept of a South Asian Parliament (SAP) came into existence only during early 1990s, whereas the concept of European parliament was born as early as 1957. The entry into the 21st century calls for new visions. During the Cold War, inter-state conflicts in South Asia remained paramount, which was injurious to the process of regional integration. While Western Europe established the common market, South Asia was even devoid of the myths of SAP. The conflicts continued through the 1970s. Since the major powers were engaged in domestic crisis, too, smaller countries used the occasion to evolve the concept of South Asia towards regional cooperation. But even after the birth of SAARC, the notion of SAP could not become a reality, as the SAARC statute prohibited discussions on bilateral issues. However, in Dhaka on August 20-21, 2004 and in Islamabad on May 14-21, 2005, discussions on the concept were opened. It was Prof M L Sondhi, chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, who elaborated on the notion of SAP at an India-Pakistan Social Scientists’ Forum meet.

The Group of Eminent Persons identified that the cooperation had been hindered by the lack of political will and hampered by the vicissitudes of the political climate. Even with a proposal made by the then Indian PM Narasimha Rao and endorsed by the then Bangladeshi foreign minister A S M Mostafizm in the form of ‘non-legislative SAP’ during ‘SAARC Vision for the Second Decade’ on December 8, 1995, SAP did not materialise. In 1997/98 the then Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif proposed at the Male summit a “High Council” of foreign ministers. The Indian Congress party’s Edwardo Falerio led the “South Asian Forum of Parliamentarians,” formed by the members of the Indian parliament. Mrs Sonia Gandhi, as opposition leader, argued in favour of the SAP in the Indian parliament in December 2003 in response to the then Indian PM Vajpayee’s call for greater economic integration, open borders and security cooperation in South Asia. As a result, the Congress election manifesto endorsed it in April-May 2004. Similarly, the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) accepted the idea under its CMP (Common Minimum Programme).

The political culture of South Asia is divergent. The pride of national identity is high. The cultural stratification is so strong that even a single case of intra-state communal violence can have terrible consequences. The varied sizes of the member countries always create problems of identity crisis for the smaller ones. The proportionate representation to the SAP could be a significant factor for resentment. The SAP thus remains a distant dream. But it calls for a new vision for South Asia. One new model called “reaching the unreachable” has been suggested. It proclaims that peace can be achieved through production, confidence through cooperation, disarmament through detente, resolutions through reconciliation and security through solidarity.