Probably tired of watching the accentuating inter-party rift and the government’s desire to run the country through ordinances, President Ram Baran Yadav, in his meeting with top leaders of major political parties in the last week of August, emphatically urged them to give priority to reaching a consensus on the contested political issues and also be clear about the process to achieve it. The President and the people alike were disgusted that our leaders, instead of narrowing down differences, were seemingly involved in rift-augmenting activities such as the creation of a federalist’s alliance headed by UCPN Maoist, and showing of black flag to Prime Minister and other leaders by political activists of different parties. It may be mentioned that twenty political parties had formed a Federal Democratic Alliance, reportedly to forge consensus in favour of ethnic-based federalism, which was not recognized by the two major opposition parties, fearing that this would polarize national consensus politics. Accusing Maoists of trying to draw a line between them and other political forces in political disagreement with them in the country, the two opposition parties expressed their reluctance to hold further dialogues with the so-called divisive force. Some contribution to the creation of a confrontational situation was also made by Prime Minister Bhattarai who brushed aside the protestors on the street as having no muscle and challenged them to come up forcibly. This confrontational message from Bhattarai further widened the already huge gap between the ruling Maoists and the opposition parties. Moreover, his controversial remarks that the key to the governance of the country lay elsewhere and his one -on- one meeting with Indian Prime Minister on the sideline of Non-aligned Movement summit in Tehran, ignoring Nepal’s Foreign Minister present there, have brewed additional controversies of a serious nature. Anyway, in the midst of a tense environment in the country, came the much desired initiative of the President, which has succeeded in bringing together our leaders for discussion. Prachanda, as the chair of the largest political party, visited opposition party leaders at their respective residences, soon after the meeting with the President, before the commencement of the leaders’ formal meetings. Some initial outcome of the meetings made public indicate that the leaders might agree on holding parliamentary elections in the next seven to eight months, but what they should not forget is the fact that holding elections, no matter when, requires amendment to the Interim Constitution and some electoral laws, which need resurrection of the dead CA. One more thing that leaders of this country should not forget to note is that people of this country would not mind resurrecting the CA for six months provided a deal is struck on goals and the ways to achieve them in a given time period. President Yadav also wants, it seems, political consensus at the soonest possible time, which could open doors for so many things, including revival of CA. He has also made it clear that, in the absence of consensus, he is not going to approve controversial ordinances forwarded by the government even if he is accused of taking politically motivated decisions as did the Maoists after the rejection by him of two election-related ordinances.
In the midst of heated political environment, came Prime Minister Bhattarai’s televised address to the nation to mark the completion of one year in office, which blamed the failure to achieve expected goals on non-cooperation from NC and UML and the traditional state mechanism. Branding NC and UML as status-quoists, Bhattarai specifically blamed NC president Koirala for poor performance on the political front. He referred to windfalls(balance of payment surplus and comfortable foreign exchange reserve) to suggest that economy was doing good, completely forgetting the huge current account deficit, the hardship that consumers have to go through on account of soaring prices, mainly food inflation in recent times, and supply mismanagement of basic necessities. Neither did he speak of the need to control rampant corruption, which has surpassed all records of the past and the epicenter of which is his cabinet, nor the need to improve the deteriorating investment climate in the face of excessive liquidity with financial institutions, including cooperatives. In keeping with the tradition, he did talk of the second international airport at Bara district, expressway linking Kathmandu to Tarai and some other projects, but failed to mention a time line for beginning and completion of these so-called national pride projects. He did not also bother to speak a word about the plight of people in Far Western Nepal where inhabitants are dying this year, as in the past, of cholera and where faulty vaccines have taken toll on children. Political leaders hailing from the region have also not spoken a word about it. Astonishing is the silence of these leaders who were in a kind of rat race to express their views a little earlier in support of the people who had brought the region to a complete halt for more than a month demanding undivided Far West. It may be mentioned that as a result of unscrupulous acts of some leaders, communal harmony that existed between people, mainly between indigenous Tharus and those coming from the hills, is completely destroyed. Needless to mention that equally pitiable is the condition of people living in a large part of hilly mid-west such as Dailekh district where hundreds of people are affected by viral flu outbreak and death toll on account of it has already reached six. Some districts in mid-west along with Far Western Region require special attention of our government. Tax rebates and subsidies are provided to relatively backward regions in different countries ranging from developing India to developed Norway. It may be noted that as high as 55 percent of certain state’s gross domestic product in north-eastern India comes in fiscal transfer from the center. Instead of drawing artificial lines of communal disharmony, our leaders will have to struggle to get adequate quantum of resources in the form of fiscal transfer from the center for these poorest regions.Otherwise, no matter what form of polity we have in the country, these pockets of Nepal inhabitated by the poorest Nepalese will remain as they are now for decades to come.
Looking at the divergent opinions of leaders on the issue of fresh election and resurrection of CA, it does not look like the ongoing talks among the major political parties would yield substantive results soon. It would be advisable for political parties to first thrash out intra-party differences before sitting for inter-party discussion to reach consensus on major issues. Fresh polls and revival of CA may not necessarily be taken as mutually exclusive propositions. While the body can concentrate on preparing constitution, parliamentary elections can be held on the specified date, which should be announced on the very day of revival of CA. Leaders should also be ready for timely referendum if they fail to reach consensus on major issues. People are open to any kind of timely, viable, option with a clear cut implementation calendar. They want their leaders to shed their lust for power, some glued to the chair of power and others in queue for the same, at least for sometime so that people with untarnished image in the society could be requested to run the affairs of this country for some months, if not more. Leaders, can we hope, you will not disappoint and frustrate the people too much this time?
(Dr. Rawal is former governer of central Bank and former CA member.)