By Chattra Bahadur
Nepal is at throes of change and transition appears difficult than anticipated. Of course, transition is never easy anywhere since it calls for dismantling of existing mechanisms and structures to be replaced by newer mechanisms and structures. And this is where we have collectively failed to take adequate measures.
Present political scenario in Nepal exactly points at our failure to chart the course of actions clearly to achieve the broader objectives. The irony of current situation is that our political leaders are quick and eager to provide perceptual impression of ‘change’ whereas, in reality, everything has remained the same, except for the authoritarian rule of the King. And, even the editorials of national newspapers and political commentators frequently forewarn that, if present trend continues, the authoritarian rule of the King may be replaced by the authoritarian rule of the SPA and the Maoists.
The SPA, alliance with diverse political ideologies, joined hands to achieve two objectives, rising above their respective political interests; the objectives being, to bring back democracy and to bring the Maoists to the political ‘mainstream’. Though the Maoists are not able to provide credible evidence of behavioral change, at least they have signed the peace deal renouncing their bloody armed struggle. At the same time, though ‘inclusive’ democracy has been widely publicized, the functioning of the political parties and actions of the functionaries of political parties often fail to provide assurance of ‘inclusive’ democracy.
On each political rally, on each press conference, on each political speech, on each page of newspaper, and on each interview, ‘new’ Nepal finds reference as long-term priority. And the first step to create ‘new’ Nepal, as any speaker clarifies, is the elections to the Constituent Assembly and the new Constitution that it will prepare and promulgate. To put it simply, there is broad consensus that the immediate priority is the elections of the Constituent Assembly and long-term priority is prosperous and equitable ‘new’ Nepal.
However, the actions of various stakeholders appear working against the very cause that they all have joined together to achieve. The Maoists, for instance, have not shown sincerity to upkeep the peace deal with the SPA. Their strong-arm tactics, extortion, vandalism, and brutal repression of any opposition have continued unabated. The frequent strong-worded statements that veil threats, unsubstantiated allegations, and statements without accountability of the Maoists leadership will not help the process of the Constituent Assembly elections. The government, on other hand, appears meek and feeble in handling any situation either head-on or proactively. It must understand that some situations require stern actions since its foremost responsibility is the safety and security of the citizens. In fact, negotiation about everything under-the-sun may not be applicable in all situations and, definitely, it is not panacea in itself. Other political parties continually place onus of failures on the government, whereas they themselves are part of the government holding important portfolios. It appears that they intentionally fail to understand that the failure of the government is the failure of the respective political parties as well.
In totality, stakeholders are caught in other peripheral issues rather than addressing the immediate priority. For the Constituent Assembly elections to acquire any credibility, three issues appear important: distribution of citizenship cards to the excluded groups, law and order situation, and understanding of why and how the Constituent Assembly elections define the future of Nepal and her citizens.
Though distribution of citizenship cards in hills have been relatively smooth (except where the Maoists intervened), distribution has been severely hampered in the larger parts of Terai. Because of indefinite strike announced by the MJF and resumption of armed struggle by JTMM, it is unlikely that it will be smooth anytime soon. Secondly, the law and order situation has reached a dismal point. The security apparatus has become inactive and its presence is negligible. Thirdly, there is clear lack of understanding of the purpose of the Constituent Assembly. The most highlighted feature of the Constituent Assembly is a decision regarding whether the monarchy will exist or cease in Nepal. Apart from that, no one seems to be aware of its relevancy and purpose. There is also confusion regarding the proportionate representation and federalism. Many smaller and regular surveys sponsored by NGO and other agencies, and published in the national newspapers also indicate people’s vagueness regarding these issues. It cannot be that all these surveys provide biased results. And this is where the importance of political parties lies. They must understand that only interaction programs, press conferences, consultations, seminars, workshops, training programs, and rallies in the capital city will not increase understanding of the general Nepalese. The political leaders, civic society, human rights activists must have courage to venture out of the capital city to make people aware why the Constituent Assembly is a stepping stone towards better Nepal. Even in metropolitan cities, political activists have remained dormant and disinterested; they are only active at times to protest against ‘regressive and reactionary forces’ or to protest the King’s statements.
When we judge two important parameters, distribution of citizenship cards and law-and-order situation, the chances of holding the Constituent Assembly elections on time (Jestha) appears remote. Even if aforementioned two conditions drastically improve and the Constituent Assembly elections will be held by due date, it may yet fail to fulfill its basic purpose. Because then people may vote as a result of enthusiasm to vote, and not because they understood why they are voting and what they are voting for. Again it may fail to include aspirations of many Nepalese, defeating its very purpose and perhaps resulting in another bloody and brutal armed struggle. Therefore, time has come for the political parties to move forward and work to create awareness regarding the Constituent Assembly, its purposes, its aims, and its importance. Only then, the Constituent Assembly elections would acquire credibility and it would be meaningful. It is only way to carry forward transition without difficulty.